Sunday, October 25, 2009

Barefoot Running Fantasy

I’ve been reading a lot about barefoot running, as in running without shoes. It’s the kind of concept that frightens the uninitiated. The first time I saw a man running the LA Marathon sans shoes, I was appalled – 26.2 miles of dirty Los Angeles streets without the comfort or protection of shoes – yikes!

But if you believe some of the new research, it could be that those high-priced, name-brand running shoes are not quite as much protection as you might think.

There is a growing body of runners who adhere to research suggesting running shoes actually increase injuries -- knee injuries, twisted ankles, etc. For one thing, some researchers think that the heavily padded running shoe encourages a heel strike, putting more stress on the knees and other joints. At least one study seems to indicate that the more you pay for your running shoes, the more likely you are to experience injuries. I can think of some good counter arguments to this one, but I won’t bore you.

After I saw Chris McDougall at his book signing, I decided to try running barefoot around my neighborhood park. I ran a couple times around with shoes, just to make sure there were no visible pieces of trash or doggy droppings.

After a couple loops around the park I ditched the shoes and socks and ventured into the cool, muddy path. Regular park walkers who typically don’t make eye contact with me stared and shouted out comments as I passed.

“Aren’t you afraid you’re gonna catch a cold?”

Uh, no. I think colds are caused by viruses.

“YOU are a brave woman!”

Not really, I sleep with the light on when Kip is out of town.

“Does it feel good?”

Oh Yeah!

It was the most fun I have had on a run in a long time. It felt great. My feet actually felt massaged, certainly exfoliated. I felt light and I ran fast.

I could totally be a convert, except that the rest of LA is covered in asphalt, concrete and God-knows-what toxic grime. Our streets and pavements are so gross, that when it rains, everything flushes into the ocean and surfers don’t venture into the water for days.

I’d love to try the new Vibram Five Fingers, a brand of sports slipper shoe that provides protection for the bottom of the feet. But they are kind of expensive for feet gloves.

I told a couple of my best running buddies about my experience and they discouraged me from making any drastic lifestyle changes. One told me to forget about my “barefoot running fantasy” while I’m training for the marathon. He went into father-like detail about all the things I could step on.

I knew my friends were right, at least about the marathon. It would be foolish to transition into barefoot running with a long race on the horizon. So I reluctantly replaced my old marathon shoes which were decidedly “flat.”

I stopped by our local running store and dropped $100 on a new pair of Brooks. That is more than I have spent on any shoes in my life, except the last two pairs of running shoes which were about the same amount.

And if I follow manufacturers’ recommendations, I’ll be stopping back for another pair before the end of the year. It’s enough to make me wonder if barefoot running is better.

On the other hand – or foot I should say – I ran 20 miles Saturday on my new shoes. And they felt better than my old ones. I had been experiencing pain on the outside of my right foot, due to rolling it a couple weeks ago. And that seemed to disappear with the new shoes.

So maybe it is helpful to buy new shoes.

I don’t know.


  1. I have taken about 8 months to go from full-cushion running shoes to running almost exclusively in converse all stars. My feet are stronger and I run with far more attention to correct human running biomechanics (*no dynamic heel strike!). I will continue doing some barefoot running on the beach occasionally and doing road and trail miles in converse... and then gradually move into 5 fingers. I am going very slowly and patiently so I dont wreck my plantar fascia and so my entire body can adapt. I began by doing SHORT (1/2 mile) runs once and week with converse... and the rest in traditional running shoes. I am almost ready to phase in the 5 fingers. Be patient... after all-you have worn shoes for almost your entire life. Make the trainsition slowly.

  2. Theresa, Joe is considering this wild notion over here as well. there def is a growing contingency of dedicated runners who can't say enough about it! all I can say is, you go girl! I'm so impressed with your running and training. best to you guys!

  3. When I was growing up my dad always ran in Converse (and played basketball in them too, of course). He ran to get in shape for mountain climbing expeditions, he's only done one race - a marathon to celebrate his 65th birthday. The only injury he ever had was blood poisoning after he stepped on a nail and didn't get it treated, not really a 'running injury' per se.
    It's cool to think about and try more natural ways of doing things, good luck on your running!