Considering Barefoot Running

I was reading my Runner’s World Magazine this month, and there was a great big article in it about barefoot running.  Barefoot running is rather a craze right now, and people wanting to run barefoot but simultaneously protect the skin of their feet have been buying shoes like the Vibram Five-Fingers.

Here’s a photo of these shoes, courtesy the Vibram website:

They are certainly interesting looking.

The pharmacist where I work occasionally wears his FiveFingers to work.  They are brown and kind of suede looking, and it really makes him look like he has gorilla feet.  He says they are very comfortable, though.

There are also a lot of shoe companies marketing minimalist shoes, like the Nike Free Run+…

Photo courtesy Finishline.com

…or the Terra Plana Evo…

Photo courtesy Amazon.com

…or the Ecco Biom.

Photo courtesy Eastbay.com

But the point of this post is not the shoes, interesting though they are.

I’ve been thinking about barefoot running, especially after reading the Runner’s World article, which seemed pretty balanced.  Proponents of barefoot running say that we were meant to be barefoot, meant to run barefoot.  We weren’t born with shoes on our feet, and if we ran barefoot, we’d have fewer problems with injury.  Humans weren’t intended to have these thick-soled, high-heeled, cushiony things at the ends of our legs.  If we ran barefoot, they say, we’d be more in tune with our bodies and how they are feeling.  Most running shoes sold today encourage a heel-to-toe running form, whereas running barefoot causes the runner to land more on the ball of the foot.  The supporters of barefoot running say that a heel-to-toe form leads to back pain, plantar fasciitis, and other injuries.  They say that running barefoot or in minimalist shoes strengthens the feet.

Skeptics say that there’s no evidence to support the idea that running shoes cause injuries.  They say that running itself — the hard surfaces, the pounding — is what causes injuries.  (Supporters say there’s less pounding when you run barefoot because you land more lightly.)  They say that it’s when people switch from modern running shoes to barefoot running that they really get hurt.  (Supporters say that’s because the runners didn’t make the transition gradually and allow their feet to get used to the changes.)

When I examine the arguments, those who support barefoot running seem to have a stronger case.  It feels like the opponents are just saying, “Nuh-uh.  Can’t prove it.”

I’ve been thinking about this for a while.  Did I have more problems with my bunions because of the kinds of shoes I was wearing?  If I had been running barefoot, would I have needed surgery to relieve the pain I was having?  Of course, there’s no way to know that, and now that I’ve got one foot done, I’m not going to cancel the other surgery just to find out.  But maybe it could have been a factor.  I don’t know.

When I’m able to run again, I’m not planning to go out in my bare feet and run through the streets.  Or even the sidewalks or the trail in the park.  There’s too much gravel and broken glass and tiny pieces of metal that could cut me or dig into my skin.  And I don’t know yet what kind of running shoes I’ll buy.  I’m used to having to search hard to find shoes that can accomodate both my bunions and my overpronation.  (But if I were running barefoot, would the overpronation be as much of a problem?  I wouldn’t be landing on my heels as much, so maybe I would not have the problem of rolling my feet inward as I step.)  Next spring, I’ll be bunion-free, and that will certainly change the kinds of shoes I’m able to wear.  I’m not sure if I’m ready to try a minimalist shoe… especially one that looks as strange as the FiveFingers.

But maybe I’ll try kicking my shoes off and running a couple of laps around the soccer field while Chef plays pick-up games at lunchtime.  Or maybe I’ll go down to the park, take off my shoes, and run in the big green space in the middle of the paved path.

It certainly can’t hurt to strengthen my feet and become more aware of my body as I run.

Do you have experience with or an opinion about barefoot running or minimalist shoes?  I’d love to hear it.

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. merry
    Oct 27, 2010 @ 10:48:45

    I just read that article also, along with reading several websites recently about primal/paleo living (and replacing all the evolution ideas with creation in my mind while I’m reading :P) that discuss the virtues of barefoot running.

    I’m very intrigued by barefoot running, but I have extremely high arches which is one group recommended to not try barefoot running by the middle of the road people. I do make efforts to go barefoot more often – when I’m doing strength training and so forth so I still have more natural exercise for my feet and ankles.

    The thing about trying it out is that you either have to go completely barefoot, and that scares me a bit, or spend a lot of money because none of the options above are cheap. I spend quite a bit on my running shoes to begin with, but those aren’t experimental. I *know* I will wear them so it’s not a waste of money.

    Please keep us updated if you try it out.

    • Karen, the Small Town Runner
      Oct 27, 2010 @ 11:11:05

      I feel pretty okay about running on the grass in the places I mentioned (the park and the soccer fields.) That is where I would start first, just to try it out. And I honestly don’t know that I could ever bring myself to buy the Five Fingers. I may be too vain for that. But those Nikes are kind of cute. The Evos aren’t bad either. I will definitely blog about it if/when I try it. Too bad it won’t be until spring.

  2. jogoflap
    Oct 27, 2010 @ 13:54:08

    I started barefoot running about 3 months ago, on a whim. It has been a blast. My entire day is spent either in anticipation of or in fond recollection of my lunch-time run.

    I am not a big blogger, but I have been keeping a little journal of the adventure at http://jogoflap.wordpress.com/, if you are interested.

  3. Mike Rives
    Oct 27, 2010 @ 16:11:35

    Karen, you might visit our website http://www.barefootrunners.org. We are an online community of barefoot/minimalist runners that share our successes and failures on our running journeys. You would certainly find some kindred souls there. Good running!

  4. riTa
    Oct 27, 2010 @ 16:14:35

    Very interesting.
    Mike, however, still feels the effects of running barefoot on the hard sand in NW Spain. Ask him about it.
    Can’t believe the commentor above runs barefoot in snow and on hard/harsh surfaces…and loves it!?

  5. Michelle
    Oct 27, 2010 @ 16:56:00

    All I know is that the more I go barefoot, the more my feet hurt! Especially my heels. (I think that’s plantar fascitis.) I think I’ll stick with my shoes, thanks. Especially in the snow! 🙂 Maybe I’m just getting old. . .

  6. Dawn
    Oct 27, 2010 @ 16:57:02

    I’ve never tried the Five Fingers, because I don’t want to spend the money, but I tried on a pair of those Nikes (I think they were the same kind. At any rate, they were minimalist shoes). They felt very odd because they were so light. They actually felt cheap to me. Now, I didn’t go for a run in them, so who knows? Maybe I’d love them. I wasn’t willing to spend that much money on the chance though.

    I try to go barefoot as often as possible. I never wear shoes at home, at times I take my shoes off at work, etc. When I take my shoes off at work, I consciously land differently than when I have the shoes on. I walk harder in shoes than out of them. So I can see how shoes in general could be hard on us and not what was intended.

    Definitely let us know if you try one of those types of shoes! 🙂

    • Karen, the Small Town Runner
      Oct 28, 2010 @ 13:26:12

      I’m wondering if wearing my old, broken down running shoes that don’t have any support anymore would substitute for expensive minimalist shoes. You think that would work?

  7. Michael Jobs
    Oct 28, 2010 @ 10:52:50

    I actually can’t stand barefoot running although I love it. I had tried over the past few months but it was no good. My feet hurts especially the calves part. As an alternative I tried wearing minimalist shoes like Vibram Five Fingers or Kigo Shel. So far I’m very impressed with it. It also emulates the feeling of barefoot running — the only difference between them is that when wearing barefoot shoes, it adds protection for our feet. The photo above regarding Terra Plana Evo is kind of cool. I’m also thinking of getting one in December.

    Have a great day!

  8. stephan
    Oct 28, 2010 @ 13:23:13

    Ok, so I don’t care about barefoot running or not but the idea that we weren’t born with shoes so why wear them now is a little simplistic. I might as well say we weren’t born with clothes so let’s all go around in the nude! Any takers?

  9. jogoflap
    Nov 01, 2010 @ 11:22:35

    Karen, your idea of using old shoes will achieve one of the goals of the bare foot runner, which is to save money! But you still have a relatively heavy shoe, and it is worn out in some places more than others. That might be worse than a new shoe. And your shoe is still binding your foot, so the bones and muscles can’t do what they were meant to do.

  10. prairiepre
    Nov 16, 2010 @ 16:08:40

    I’m actually blogging about my experiences with minimalist running shoes (which I believe in), so check it out if you feel like it. And good luck with your running!

    http://prairiepre.wordpress.com/

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