Big Barefoot Questions

I am now well past the one-year mark.  Perhaps my perspective on some of these questions will evolve over time but I suspect my views on the big questions about barefoot running are pretty well settled in. So here we go:

Metro Boston Barefoot Crew (me on left)

Why?

For me it’s mostly about the fun, but also the ease on the knees and hips. Running feels better when you are barefoot.

Don’t your feet hurt?

Running on smooth concrete feels great. Great! Hitting a small pebble wrong can provide a quick ouch, but it only lasts for a few steps. A surface of one-inch chunks of gravel surface is doable. I’ve seenBarefoot Ken Bob glide across a really gnarly parking area, and I followed him across, albeit uncomfortably, putting on a good face. Podiatrists will tell you barefoot on roads is bad but may be OK on trails; in my experience acorns, sticks and roots can be the trickiest obstacles.

What about broken glass?

I’ve run many miles in urban, suburban and rural settings. I’ve very rarely seen glass that could cut your feet. Occasionally I’ve had to avoid some. Once I felt something poking with every strike; I stopped and pulled a small sliver from my sole. That was once and it was nothing, but it’s prudent to watch where you are running.

Does barefoot mean barefoot?

I am always surprised at how many people, upon hearing that I run barefoot, ask if I wear “those funny looking foot gloves.” No, I run with nothing on my feet., you know “barefoot.” I do own a pair of Vibram Bikilas and I think they look pretty cool. I wear them in the gym, through fancy hotel lobbies and occasionally in extreme heat or cold. Do whatever works for you, but I’d suggest keeping an open mind to barefoot barefoot, especially for those just getting started.

How prevalent is barefoot running?

Less than I thought. I’ve been surprised how small the community seems to be. I’ve run in California—the land of what’s new and weird—and engendered strange looks. When I went for a run with Chris McDougall just prior to the Marathon, 100 people showed up to hear him speak and only a dozen or so were truly barefoot. It’s been great in a lot of ways; I’ve been in direct contact with virtually all the big names in barefoot running: Dan Lieberman, Ken Bob Saxton, Jason Robillard (included me in his excellent book for beginning barefooters), Chris McDougall, and Ted McDonald. The good news is that it remains fresh, novel and a topic of interest for many.

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 that it’s easier on the knees and hips (although losing weight and cross training helps as well). The only downside for me has been my

Achilles tendons which still nag me now and again.

Bottom bottom line: It really is fun.

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