Barefoot running’s big questions: Three months in perspective

I’ve been actively running, researching and thinking about barefoot running since the first of the year. That renders me far from an expert, but for what it’s worth, here’s my current take on the big questions:

Why?
Cause it’s fun.

Don’t your feet hurt?
The sole is the least of one’s concerns in transitioning to barefoot running. After a month, asphalt in good condition is a perfectly comfortable surface.

What about broken glass?
I run through urban/suburban blue collar neighborhoods in Waltham severaltimes a week. I occasionally see glass, mostly car safety glass. But there’s just not that much stuff out there than can cut you. Gravel on crappy streets is a pain.

Does barefoot mean barefoot?
You’ll often hear, “Yes, I run barefoot in Vibram Five Fingers.” Purists like Ken Bob will barf on the semantics. Most pundits will tell you that it’s best to start barefoot barefoot to get your form down before going to minimalist shoes. So far I prefer bare feet, but I will keep trying alternatives and am particularly interested check out the forthcoming VFF Bikilas.

What about cold weather?
On a sunny 40 degree day my feet are not at all cold. At 14 degrees (yes, Fahrenheit) I’ve had trouble going more than a mile. Snow and slush between the toes can be uncomfortable. It will be interesting to see if my feet are more cold resistant after a year, but my guess is I will opt for VFFs when it’s under 20 and when running through snow.

How many prevalent is barefoot running?
Less than I thought. I’ve been surprised how small the community seems to be. It’s been great actually; I’ve been in direct contact with virtually all the big names in barefoot running: Dan Lieberman, Ken Bob Saxton, Jason Roubillard, Ted McDonald. My sense is the numbers are growing rapidly, but my empirical observation is that there are not a lot of folks engaging in this sport yet.

The Bottom Line- Is it good for you or bad?
The research inconclusive, actually amazingly so. There are plenty of people both for and against, but there seems to be no solid data to support the theory that barefoot is more healthy or fast, nor does there seem to be evidence that modern shoes reduce injury. Dan Lieberman’s work shows pretty clearly that the force curve increases less steeply for forefoot strikers than for heel strikers. And, there’s pretty strong agreement that barefooters run differently than shod runners, but not one has conclusively connected the scientific dots to more or fewer running injuries.

My own experience is unfortunately almost as inconclusive, though I’m extremely hopeful. I am doing great and I think it’s quite possible that I will be a lifelong barefoot runner (hope so) but I continue to struggle with my Achilles tendons.

Bottom bottom line: It really is fun.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Background, Barefoot Running, Experience, Other Runners, Research

4 Comments on “Barefoot running’s big questions: Three months in perspective”

  1. chuck Says:

    I have found stretching to be counter productive, especially in the achilles area. There are many studies out there that seem to support that.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/02/sports/playmagazine/112pewarm.html

    I have hurt myself or exacerbated existing issues by stretching in the past.

  2. Jennie Says:

    I’m with Chuck on stretching–I’ve done more damage doing it than running without doing it.

    And I’m surprised you didn’t see more barefoot runners in California!

  3. Kathy Says:

    I’m a big believer in less is more. Less foot wear! Less running. I only run three days a week. If you are trying to get over an injury run every other day. Cross train including yoga on the other days.
    I bet if you run 3 days a week for 3 weeks your Achilles tendons will be better.

  4. Phil Odence Says:

    All great thoughts; I appreciate. Kathy, I have been more or less following your recipe (plus some ice) and I feel like it’s working.


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