Most everything you read about barefoot running is wrong except for what I’m about to tell you

Barefoot running’s in the news again, this time with some anecdotal evidence claiming now that it is bad for you or at least maybe not that natural.

First is an article which appeared on ESPN, called Born to run barefoot? Some end up getting injured. It starts off with this:

Swept by the barefoot running craze, ultramarathoner Ryan Carter ditched his sneakers for footwear that mimics the experience of striding unshod.

The first time he tried it two years ago, he ran a third of a mile on grass. Within three weeks of switching over, he was clocking six miles on the road.

During a training run with a friend along a picturesque bike path near downtown Minneapolis, Carter suddenly stopped, unable to take another step. His right foot seared in pain.

Am I the only one to notice certain odd details? Let’s start with “ultramarathoner.” I mean no offense, but ultramarathoners run races over thirty miles at a time. So barefoot running is more dangerous than running thirty miles straight, okay, totally, I totally see that, not really.

Next, notice how he started: on grass, and within three weeks he was up to six miles.

Call me a wimp, but it took me months before I could get up to five miles, and nearly a year later, I’m only up to six. (I’m talking completely barefoot.) I’ve had no injuries in that time, and this is running about three times a week.

Is there any possibility that this is a highly motivated person? Like maybe it’s not the barefoot running, but that this is a guy who just feels compelled to push himself beyond his limits? Like most athletes?

Maybe athletes shouldn’t run barefoot. I heard once that the only three animals on the planet to suffer from stress fractures are race horses, greyhounds, and humans athletes.

Moving right along, the Huffington Post has published some semi-decent barefiit running tips  in an article called How to Start Barefoot Running.

Most of this advice here is good, minus two of the most horrible pieces of advice of all time: running on soft, bouncy tracks, and “minimalist shoes.” Geeawd.

With that, I shall now debunk all much of the bad advice or commentary ever dished out about barefoot running.

  1. You should run on grass. Maybe an advantage to this is that grass is soft and might feel good under your feet, but this isn’t necessarily a great idea because a lot of times, grassy fields are uneven. Unless you’re watching carefully where you’re going, you could twist your ankle in an unseen hole, step on a bee, step in dog poop, and so on. Yes, you can do these things on pavement, too, but they’re at least visible.  And the big lesson of barefoot running is to run with good posture, which is really hard to do watching your feet.
  2. You should run on a treadmill. I wouldn’t even run on a treadmill with shoes, so why would I do that barefoot?
  3. You should run on a soft, cushy high school track.Yes, you should do this if you are totally interested in getting hurt. Any surface that absorbs impact, and this includes shoes, is preventing you from learning how to do this with your legs.
  4. Running barefoot isn’t natural. Like, we weren’t born to run on concrete. We were born to run on tons of surfaces, including tough slabs of rock. Smooth concrete is one of the best surfaces for running barefoot. You don’t need to watch your step as much, it’s cooler than asphalt, and its stiffness teaches you to run with good posture and to relax.
  5. You might step on a syringe. Totally, because these are, like, everywhere. And they’re also known for sneaking up behind you, and suddenly throwing themselves into your path. Be careful!
  6. You could step on glass. This is actually the one legimate concern, and so to that I would recommend keeping your eyes open and watching out for this type of hazard. I have yet to have glass embed itself into my foot.
  7. Dog poop? You avoid this already!
  8. This only works if you are six years old. I think maybe, possibly, this could be true, but if this is, then we shouldn’t try anything new for the rest of our lives, ever.

And now, for the worst piece of barefoot running advice of all time:

You should run in minimalist shoes.

No. No! You should not run in minimalist shoes, not at least until you can run barefoot, confidently, for about an hour or so. (Walking around, that’s a different story. Huge Vibram Five Finger fan here.)

I don’t know why I say an hour; that’s arbitrary. Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton advises that you should build up for about three months before going back to shoes, but it took me even longer. The reasons for this adaptation period are simple yet so vast, I could write a book on it. Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton has. So has Michael Sandler. So have a ton of people. I don’t know what to say about barefoot running that hasn’t been said.

I’ll try it anyway: you have 200,000 nerve endings on the bottoms of your feet. They scream at you when they step on sharp objects. Your tender footsies are also prone to developing blisters. Don’t fight nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong.

Every blister, every time you scream Ow!, those are your feet saying, “Hey, I think you need to do this a little differently.” So you make little changes here and there. You learn how to relax, to bend your knees, to lift your feet instead of pushing off.

If you go barefoot over an extended period of time, regularly, whilesincerely not over-doing it (which is impossible for most people), your feet will actually teach you how to run.

Over time, you may think you’d like to try shoes. What you look for in a shoe will evolve. It might be minimalist shoes, it might be sandals, it might be army boots. Or you may discover you love running barefoot.

Shoes aren’t the problem. You don’t just kick them off  all your problems disappear. You have to be mindful about it. At least read up about it, especially on how to do it. If you get hurt, ask yourself, Is it really because I went barefoot? Could maybe running more than I should have have anything to do with it? Could it be, maybe, gasp, my running form?!

But as for this barefoot “craze,” maybe that is what it is. I question the motives of anyone who tries it, especially those who claim to run barefoot but really run in minimalist shoes, because I wonder how much thought they put into it. What is it that they’re looking for?

For me, it wasn’t my dream to run barefoot. It was simply my dream to run. Now I can’t imagine running any other way.


About katiekelly

I grew up in a parking lot.
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