Dare to bare? Barefoot running is the latest fad.

This is an old blog I posted on The Good Foot when I was with my last job. It got a lot of great response, so I figured I’d throw it up on her for archive purposes if not anything else. And, as always, feel free to comment with your two cents!

If you read my last post, you understand how important shoes are to the sport. So, you may be surprised to hear that many people don’t believe in running in shoes – at all. Yep, barefoot running groups are popular in many areas. I’d like to think that so is the podiatry, because what’s a ying if there isn’t a yang? Advocacy groups like Running Barefoot believe that people today are “handicapped, by wearing shoes” in this “shoe-addicted society,” and that “it is this pain that teaches us to run smoothly.”

Basically, their claim is that we were born barefooted, so that is the most natural way for our bodies to function. And, hey, the Neanderthals did it, so why can’t we? The Running Barefoot organization actually attempts to coax readers into changing their way of running, giving instructions on how to transition from shoe- to foot-on-pavement action.

In theory, this sounds great! I mean, people all over the world do this; but that, however, is the exact reason we shouldn’t. As Americans in a modern society, we’ve operated our entire lives in shoes, obviously omitting those years you toddled around the backyard on a summer day. Our feet were physically developed in shoes; that’s all they know. The only way I see barefoot running as something that’s OK is if you’ve been – duh – doing it your whole life. If you were raised in a culture that operates like that from birth to death, then I say more power to you. I’m actually sort-of jealous because you’re saving some serious cash and headache in shopping, broken shoelaces, etc. One of the many things I love about running is the simplicity of the sport, and if that’s not simplistic sporting, I don’t know what is.

The oddest part is that in order to be one who runs barefooted, you’re encouraged to use “transition shoes” – mechanisms that are supposed to help the foot adjust from life in a shoe to homelessness on the street. Doesn’t that give you a hint right there? Your feet are happy in shoes. I know people who’ve lived their whole life wearing shoes and have yet to lose a single foot.

Plus, imagine what shape our feet would be in if they were pounding the pavement and concrete of our day-to-day lives. I can’t even fathom the idea of stepping onto the Canal tow path barefooted. Not to mention…ew!

While running sans-shoe seems pretty black and white, there is a gray area. Manufactures have begun, relatively recently, to develop shoes that are designed to mimic the exact motion of the muscles in our feet. I know you’re thinking “hello…these sound like those crazy transition shoes!” Yes, that is an easy distraction, but really these are shoes designed to still be worn while running. They’re actually designed to bend and shape to your feet as they flex upon striking.

Take, for example, the Nike Free. This shoe strives to give your foot a more natural motion while still providing the cushion and support running calls for. No lie – I got a pair when they came out. Probably not the sexiest running shoes, but they’re great to interchange with your usual shoes while training to help build the muscles in your feet. I’ve been advised not to wear them for more than 4 or 5 miles at a time, though. Their light weight and lack of structure also make them easy to pack for travel work-outs.


The Nike Free

Kristen Campbell, out in Boulder, Col., argues for barefoot running and talks about how wearing minimal shoes helps her running experience feel more “intimate.” She invested in a pair of Vibram Five Fingers which offer very little support and a thin sole. The article offers some great insight on running barefoot and the argument for and against running with shoes. As does this article in the Daily Mail out of the UK.


The Vibram FiveFingers Sprint

What do you think? Have you ever thought about transitioning to barefoot running? Would you feel more comfortable/be more inclined if we had all-grass trails?

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