Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dunlop Volleys- Still the gold standard?

I had a great day today, participating in a community triathlon. It also gave me a chance to road test a pair of Dunlop Volleys.

If you are not familiar with these shoes, they are a basic canvas plimsoll with a thin PVC sole which have been sold in their millions over the past 50 years in Australia. They sell for $20, have a thin foam inner sole, no arch support and a very slight heel elevation (my only complaint). Until recent times they were the sports shoe worn by every school student in Australia and by many sports people.

I really enjoyed the run. I felt very fluid and noticed no increase in impact forces despite not having run on the road for some time. My gait felt natural and very similar to barefoot, which begs the question- do we really require new 'barefoot' designs or should we first revisit successful designs of the past?

Clearly this shoe is very different in its design intent and function from a modern running shoe. As such, there needs to be a clear justification for why it has been effectively discarded from the runner's arsenal.

Is the modern running shoe any better than this 1950s design?

No one really knows.

How could we go about answering this question? Contrary to popular belief, it is a simple matter to measure the impact of running shoe designs on injury rates and perfromance. Any argument that a $10 billion dollar industry can't afford to undertake these trials is farcical.

Two testing methods come to mind. The first is a real world trial where manufacturers compete to demonstrate their superiority such as occurs in motor sport via competitions such as Formula 1.

The second is a randomised controlled trial where athletes are randomised to train and race in different shoe types. This is the study type used to evaluate the efficacy and safety of new medications and is ideal when there are multiple other factors which could affect the outcome which must be controlled for.

Ideally the two methods would be combined so that such a Formula 1 style race series truly tests the shoes rather than the capacity of each company to hire the best athletes. This could be achieved by randomly allocating each team athletes from a common pool of elite runners

The take home message is that we have the capacity to transparently monitor running shoe design. Can vested interests be overcome to allow this to occur?

Time will tell.