The Harvard Indoor Track Revisited (page 4 of 4, the gun lap)
For a shoe midsole to behave like the time tested Harvard Indoor Track, this midsole would have to measurably compress and release in perfect tune with the rise and fall of the peak body weight force. It would have to be a sole that remains stiff at impact but gradually, as the body weight force reaches it peak, compresses. Specifically, the slope of the amount of compression and release of the midsole would have to be equal and opposite to the rise and fall of the peak body weight force (when injury causing forces are at their peak). And just as important, there would have to be no cushioning at initial impact. The midsole couldn’t be made of foam, gel, or air bladders, which compress too early (at impact) and do not provide any substantial compression and release when the body weight force reaches its peak. And it couldn’t be a simple metal spring, which similarly begins compressing at the wrong time, adversely affecting feedback to the body.
Designing a shoe that could be definitively shown in a laboratory to work like the Harvard Indoor Track would take a comprehensive understanding of how the body weight forces are naturally transferred under the foot and how those forces relate to the position of the rest of the body. It would take combining motion data with body weight force data to understand where and when peak stresses occur. And it would take studying gait in many individuals with varying foot and gait types across a number of conditions to understand natural force and movement patterns and to know which patterns are consistent and which are not. Those comprehensive biomechanical studies were never done 30 years ago. Only recently have we been publishing data that is informing what are these natural and consistent patterns. Simultaneously we now have biomechanical standards that can be used to rigorously evaluate the effect of any new potential shoe design…hopefully before it is ever suggested to the public. The very same parameters used to evaluate the effectiveness of a plywood structure (before it was introduced into a running track), can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of a shoe – before it is introduced to people’s feet.
So you might have guessed by now that I’ve figured out such a shoe design – OESH – and this is what the Harvard Track looks like–24/7/365…on your foot:
As a footnote (badumdum…kish), my research pointing out the detriments of current athletic shoe design is often cited and is typically used to support that going barefoot is best. OESH is on board with this barefoot tidal wave–going barefoot is far better than wearing a standard athletic shoe design (even most all of these new minimalist shoe designs still incorporate major structural flaws). But all the meanwhile, I worked on bringing something new to the footwear party…the first shoe that actually works…like the Harvard Indoor Track.
I often wonder what Dr. McMahon would have to say about what we now know. He unfortunately passed away in 1999 and I never had a chance to talk to him about the new things we were just beginning to learn then about footwear. He was a brilliant scientist (and a novelist!). But it’s his success with the Harvard Indoor Track that is specifically noted in his obituary – that the track improved efficiency by 3% and reduced injuries by one-half. Powerful. And not forgotten.