The marathon is a challenging distance to run as it is 42 kms of hard running. They are hard on the body due to the sheer distance that has to be run. In particular, they are hard on the feet which which is why almost all marathon runners spend such a lot of time on the type of running shoe that they wear on their feet. Marathoners spend a lot of time finding the most suitable footwear and a lot of money is involved in running shoes. However, back at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, Abebe Bikala from Ethiopia arrived for the marathon and there were no shoes remaining in the teams supplies that would fit him, so he ran the marathon without footwear and won the gold medal. This is commonly praised as a extraordinary achievement. Recently there has been a community of runners who are suggesting the running shoes are not all they may be believed to be and are advocating that running must be done barefoot, the same as nature intended. The story goes that we were not born with footwear and historically humans simply had to run great distances without shoes to stay alive as they had to hunt animals on foot, stalking them and running after them over great distances.
Athletic shoes are actually only a relatively recent creation. Runners who propose the barefoot method of running like to point to the achievements of Abebe Bikala as further validation that we do not need running shoes. There are obviously many other arguments both for as well as against barefoot running, with very little scientific evidence supporting it. While Abebe Bikala getting the gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics without running shoes obviously suggest that it can be done, what those who like to tout his successes as evidence often omit that he subsequently went on to get the gold medal as well as break the world record in the marathon at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games. Abebe Bikala managed to set the world record this time wearing running shoes; to put it differently he had the ability to run faster when he was using running shoes. We might well have evolved to run without shoes, but we also evolved in an environment ahead of concrete and hard surfaces emerged. While the successes of Bikala were outstanding, using him as proof that barefoot is better does not stack up to scrutiny.