Is Barefoot Running Right for Me?

My wonderful feet – they have a lot of miles on them 🙂

Over the course of my career as a runner, I have seen many fads come and go, especially with running movements and how to run.

Right now barefoot running is gaining a lot of popularity and publicity about being an alternative to the running shoe.

After reading Born to Run see my review here, this book really piqued my interest in Barefoot running again.

This move back to running barefoot has left me in a bit of a quandary. I admit there are some things about it that I really like and then again there are some other stuff that bother me about running barefoot.

My Definitions

There are many definitions of Barefoot running out there and the one that I consider to meet my definition of barefoot running is nothing between your foot and the ground.

Having something between your foot and the ground to me is minimalist running and is something different from barefoot running, along the same lines but is not barefoot.

Minimalist running is on a continuum from extremely thin sandals to 8MM drop fully enclosed running shoes – there is no real hard and fast definition of minimalist running.

In my opinion the use of “Barefoot running” when talking about running shoes or sandals is part of the marketing strategy by companies, to climb aboard the barefoot running advantages bandwagon and associate those advantages to their products for marketing purposes. Great strategy and it seems to be working from the number of Barefoot running shoes that I see advertised in magazines, websites and blogs. Hell I even want to try some of those shoes too.

I believe that this moving target of a definition of what barefoot running is, has caused a great deal of confusion for some runners like me, who are wondering what it is all about.

My definitions make sense to me.

My two questions about Barefoot Running

  • First is it a fad that will go the way of other fads that I have seen over the past 40 years?
  • Second is it right for me?

Is it a Fad?

I have to agree with what I have read so far, that barefoot running probably does force runners to run with a more efficient form and gait – otherwise it hurts to run, but in my opinion is not the panacea, that some of its more dogmatic proponents would have us believe. I tend to stop listening or reading and tune out those barefoot adherents who spout the “my way or the highway” gospel of barefoot running and who argue that their way is the only way. Which is unfortunate, but that is what I do and I have a feeling that many others do as well.

The Negatives

There are more than a few negatives that runners have to get by to reach the panacea of running barefoot.

From what I have read, there is a pretty significant transition period before you can actually run barefoot, after a lifetime of being in shoes, humans need some time to readjust to running barefoot. The opportunity for injury during this period is pretty good, if you overdo it too soon. I will find out a little more about this during the spring when I start going to the track and try running barefoot a little.

We also have to take into consideration that the modern landscape of concrete, tar and rubbish is much different from the natural surroundings that our ancestors had to run barefoot on. An apples and oranges comparison.

There there is the weather factor, for many of us living in the snow belt and with colder temperatures, running barefoot is not really a year round option. Sorry that is my opinion. Can it be done – sure, will many people do it – no. Most will want something one their feet, call it psychological, being comfortable or whatever you want, it is the way it is.

The other issue is that there isn’t a lot of money to be made from running on what we already own and hopefully doesn’t wear out, so the shoe companies are not going to get on board with true barefoot running and will use their marketing might to downplay its benefits.

There are other negatives, but I am not here to bash the barefoot running movement. I think that many things they are doing are good and might be good for other runners and running as a whole as well.

Mainstream?

Will barefoot running ever go mainstream?  That is a good question, while there might be seem to be a lot of proponents for barefoot running, now all they are is a very vocal minority. From my experience and observations of the running community, I do not believe that barefoot running will become the primary way of running in most places or for most runners.

Most of runners will continue to wear shoes when they run. Probably as the running shoe industry’s might, swings behind more minimalist running, that will will become more mainstream, but actually running barefoot in my opinion will continue to be a fringe group of runners.

To answer the question – Is running barefoot a fad? No I don’t believe so, but believe that it will have different periods of popularity and waning interest. Right now we are in a period of increasing popularity.

Is Barefoot running right for me?

During this spring and summer I am planning to run barefoot, as a supplement to my regular running, which will force me to improve my running form. I believe that this will be the main reason that I use barefoot running initially – to help straighten out my running form.

However due to some of the reasons above, especially the winter weather one – it gets mighty cold up “heah” in Maine during the winter.

I just ain’t tough enough to run barefoot during this time of year – yes you can call me a wimp or a wuss anytime you want. However, to do so you, you have to come to my house and run with me on a cold day during December, January, February or even March.

If you do, I can promise you a decent meal and something to drink after, plus a place to warm up your frozen tootsies, while we swap lies about our running and yes then you can call me a wimp. 🙂

The transition time doesn’t really bother me (it does a lot of people though, who just want to run), however, the different landscape is a definite concern, the trash, rubbish and junk thrown where I run is ridiculous and can be dangerous to someone running barefoot.

Are these all obstacles that could be overcome if I really wanted to run barefoot – absolutely.

The biggest obstacle

The biggest obstacle to my running barefoot is me.

I simply don’t want to run barefoot most of the time now.

There I said it, sorry Brian and the others that have attempted to convince me of the benefits of why I should convert. I just am not ready to do that yet.

I can see barefoot running as an extension to help and improve my running – for that purpose barefoot running has a place in my running tool belt, but it will not be my primary form of running.

Right now I want something between the ground or road and my foot most of the time.

Even in the book “Born to Run” the Tarahumara wore sandals on their feet when they ran. So in spite of what some of the barefoot running zealots say about the benefits of walking or running barefoot – humans turned away from being barefoot for a reason and went to running with something to protect  their feet from the environments they were in.

The reality is that 

I plan to move further down the minimalist running shoe spectrum as I get more comfortable with being back to running and build my base conditioning up. I will probably move to a zero drop shoe like the Altra, Skora, Merrell, New Balance or Saucony minimalist shoes this summer. That is if I do not get another pair of Saucony Peregrines (which I just might after the positive experience I am having with my present pair).

I would like to try the Vibram Five Fingers/toe shoe or other more minimalist shoe eventually.  However, at some point I will probably find my comfort level on the minimalist shoe continuum, to the point that if I go below certain level, I don’t enjoy running as much. Then I will go back up to previous level, because I run for the joy of running and am not restricted by a certain dogma or style of running.

I simply want to run in the style or method that works for me.

Who knows, as I run barefoot over the course of the spring/summer and move further down the minimalist running spectrum, I might change my mind and run more barefoot than I anticipated. I have learned to never say never.

To answer the question – Is barefoot running right for me? Probably not.

Keep smiling and good things will happen! 🙂

Originally written by Harold Shaw published at “A Veteran Runnah” © 2011 – All Rights Reserved. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Harold Shaw and A Veteran Runnah” with appropriate and specific directions or links to the original content.

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8 comments on “Is Barefoot Running Right for Me?

  1. My thought would be that a small amount of true barefoot incorporated into your overall running is better than lots of minimalist running. Barefooting isn't all or nothing (though I tend towards the all) and a few regular short runs likely help out.Minimalist just doesn't seem to have people focus on the feedback and adjust form the same way as barefoot does and as the feet are still 'numbed' from the ground you tend to overdo the distance/pace. Barefoot doesn't really let you get away with over-doing itBarefoot Running

  2. Great post! I am more of a minimalist type of girl, I feel if I run barefoot I will step on glass or something, I need something between the ground and my feet. From your snowy picture I'd say it would be safer to run with shoes, you know, no frostbite. I did we a runner run the Virginia Beach 1/2 marathon barefoot, looked kind of painful but he appeared to be doing well…ran right past me..lol! I wish you luck with your barefoot running when you do it….I look forward to reading all about it!

  3. B.C – I plan to incorporate a little bit of actual barefoot running in the spring, probably at the infield of the local track to see how it goes and do a lot of barefoot walking around the house and yard and be careful to not overdo. Even though the minimalist shoes may not provide the same amount of feedback that true barefoot running does, from what I have read and experienced it does promote better form than the high heel height and motion control or marshmallow shoes that have been so popular lately. To me better form should lead to less injuries and as long as I continue to monitor my body carefully should do better. Thank you for commenting and it should be an interesting journey.RLL Thank you and it would be in my mind pretty tough running up hear right now barefoot – yep I am a wimp. Like you I want something under my sole for the most part when I run. I give those who run barefoot a lot of props, they deserve them, but not my cup of tea at this point. I will continue to give updates on my running progress and have a feeling that attempting some barefoot running will happen this spring/summer.

  4. Great thoughts on the barefoot movement. I definitely don't think I could be running barefoot in that snow, or anywhere for that matter. I'll stick to my minimalist shoes =) I think it's definitely a great way to supplement your training and help you learn better form and running stride. I have a 13 miler that I'm getting ready to do in my Minimus shoes, which is the longest distance I've done to date in these shoes. I'll have to let you know how it goes. Happy Saturday!

  5. I love running barefoot in the sand in the summer, and own a pair of vibrams which I like for short distances, but running several days in a tow leave my knees and ankles hurting. Not great on heavy gravel. so I keep to my short distances in the warmer weather for running. I may have to try them on the track to see how that goes

  6. It took me 20 years to go from shod running to minimalist running. So far, the benefits of running minimalist are enormous. I am learning how to run with good form, my plantar fasciitis is non existent, and over pronation is no longer a problem. I don't need to be a purist and go barefoot to enjoy, once more, this activity called running that I love so very much. Maybe, after another 20 years of minimalist running, I will completely ditch my FiveFingers and go 'bare'. Thanks for the article.

  7. Born to run is such a great book. You will definitely learn a lot from it especially when it comes to barefoot running or barefoot running shoes. Ever since I've switched to barefoot running shoes, my lower part of the body great improves. I'm much healthier than before. In fact, I'm going to buy a new pair of running shoes this month.Happy New Year!barefootrunning shoes

  8. Pingback: AVR – January 2012 in Review « A Veteran Runnah

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