Barefoot Runners


Orthotics versus a transition to barefoot running? (Read 695 times)

    So, I have been lurking for some time, and now I hope to get some advice from those of you who have made the plunge into barefoot running.


    I had quite a build-up going this spring.  All mileage of which was run in Brooks Adrenaline.  This shoe was a recommendation from a local running store and a shoe that I have been running in for a couple years.  Everything was fine unitl early May when I started to experience some foot pain which I believe to be attributable to a couple over zealous training weeks. The foot pain continued on, not really increasing in intensity, but always there as a kind of dull nagging pain.  In June, I decided to take some time off to see if the pain would go away.  Not running did not seem to affect the pain much. 


    Eventually, I went to see a podiatrist (after jumping through many hoops imposed by the HMO).  The podiatrist decided that I needed custom orthotics and that I would need to wear these for the rest of my life.  This threw up a huge red flag for me.  I keep asking myself how it had come to be that I survived perfectly fine for 28 years and suddenly I needed these supports.  I went ahead and got fitted for the orthotics, partly since my wife was pushing me to follow the doctor's orders, but I have had strong reservations to their use. 


    I received the orthotics a couple weeks ago, but I have refused to wear them to this point.  My feet seem to be doing well, and although pain is there on and off, running has not bothered me and I am beginning to increase my mileage again.


    I guess that brings me to my point of this post, which is to ask for some advice.  In stark contrast to what my doctor is recommended, I feel like my body can/should adapt to run properly and to build the strength and balance necessary to do so.  I also feel that if I am going to have to wear these for the rest of my life, I might as well first experiment to see if my body will heal and adapt on it's own.  But given what my doctor has been telling me, I am somewhat squimish about making a leap directly to barefoot running.  I will also point out that at my current weight of 185 pounds, I am heavier than the average distance runner. (Note:  I usually get down to about 170-175 when in training.. About 10 pounds added during my layoff)


    I currently do all of my running in Brooks Adrenaline.  But I am strongly considering trying to get back to more of a basic shoe and ultimately doing some portion of my running barefoot.  I am wondering if there is some middle ground shoes that I can run in to get a more gradual transition?  Has anyone done a transition to lighter more minimal type shoes?  Is there some good shoes out there that can help me bridge the gap from my current supportive shoes?


    Any advice appreciated,



      Since you don't appear to be running a ton of miles right now, and you're in pain sometimes, I would do the following if I were in your position (and wanted to start running barefoot):


      1. Stop running completely until the pain subsists.  If the pain doesn't subsist you may have something broken/strained (or you are really one of those 1% that need orthotics). During this time, walk around barefoot wherever you can.


      2. Once the pain is gone, start slowly and build up your running, all barefoot/minimalist.  No shoes. I tried to summarize my experience, were I to do it again from the start:


      I haven't been running in this manner nearly as long as Ed, so anything he says that contradicts what I say, go with him.


      Most of all, listen to your body, relax, and enjoy yourself.  I've been injury free with those 3.



      Creator of RunForth@robraux |

        Most of all, listen to your body, relax, and enjoy yourself.  I've been injury free with those 3.




        Check on those 3.  I am happy to be running once again and enjoying every run.  To be honest, I felt lost without running.


          Now that I have time to formulate a thought, I want to ask a more theoretical question about my topic ...


          If one of the benefits of barefoot running is that it allows you to improve form and strengthen muscles by removing overly support shoes and allowing the body to adapt a more natural gait, wouldn't there be a benefit in transitioning from a support shoe to a more scaled down shoe?  Racing flats come to mind.  While it may not be as good as barefoot running, I think reason would suggest a benefit in this type of transition.


            Transition shoes dull the feedback provided by running feedback.  So although it's an improvement, the common knowledge is to run barefoot (hence changing your stride as quickly as possible, as you're getting maximum input).  After that, you can ease into transition shoes if necessary.


            Apparently most elite runners would run the same barefoot as they do with shoes on (or at least pretty darn close), as they already have good form.


            Just a thought.

            Creator of RunForth@robraux |


            Barefoot and happy

              Yeah, "transitional" shoes are somewhat risky. You loose the padding you're used to having, but you still lack the sensitivity to make you run better.  I think running barefoot is safer, because it's very obvious when you're doing something wrong or pushing too far too fast.


              I agree with your sentiments about orthotics.  If you got this far in life without them, then you don't need them. 

              Curious about running barefoot? Visit the new barefoot running group.

                I think that is a fair point, thanks for the feedback.  I will continue on in my brooks for now and avoid changing shoes.  


                Thanks Rob for sharing the post about your experience.  I am starting to acclimate my feet by spending all of my at time at home shoeless.  I plan to start soon on step #2 as soon as any discomfort in my feet disappears.  I think there is still time before the snow starts falling. 


                Barefoot Jim

                  Hi Ryan -


                  This is my first post to the group, and I'll share my experience. It's also my three-year anniversary for transitioning to barefoot running.


                  Several years ago I was a fairly serious runner, and managed a couple of sub-3 hour marathons, with a 2:52 PR. I wound up with the dreaded plantar fasciitis, and like you, the podiatrist prescribed orthotics and told me I would have to wear them for the rest of my life. This solved the problem for a while, but the injury recurred. I wound up visiting several doctors, who scratched their heads, put me on anti-inflammitories, fiddled with the orthotics, even recommended cortisone injections and surgery. After almost two years of frustration, I did the one thing I thought would not make a difference: I change shoe brands. Out of my trusted Nike Pegasus to New Balance. Overnight - literally - the pain ceased. I traded back and forth a few times to be sure, but there was no mistake. The shoe had created the injury.


                  At that point I was running infrequently, and had become involved as a volunter high school lacrosse coach. I took a break from the sport for a while, but soon missed it, and wanted to resume. Surfing the internet for running sites, I happened upon and the Yahoo discussion group, where runners were going without shoes full time. I first thought they were crazy; surely they will wind up with stress fractures and other problems. But each time I checked back, the group had grown, and the participants were very passionate about it.


                  I finally decided to give it a try at a local high school track (I had already done some barefoot running on grass as a supplement to my regular training), and haven't looked back. It made running 'new' again. For a while I still wore the orthotics at work and whenever I wore shoes - just to be 'safe' - but in a few months, as my feet continued to strengthen, they actually changed their shape just enough that the orthotics no longer fit comfortably. At that point I stopped wearing them.


                  I've taken my time building up distance, and stuck with 5K and 10k races for the first year or so. But this last spring I completed a half marathon and marathon, and am now working to improve my time.



                  I think it's important for you to know what is causing the injury, and whether you really just need to rest it more. But my own expereince has taught me that orthotics are not a long-term solution. This is truly like strapping a cast on your foot and allowing those muscles to atrophy and weaken, making you ever more dependent on the shoe and orthotic, and more susceptible to injury.




                    Wow, with 3 years barefooting and a marathon under your belt, sounds like you are a hardened veteran.


                    I enjoyed your story, and it is great to get some insight from someone who has been through similar issues.  It is very encouraging to me to hear a success story.   


                    I don't know if you have experienced the same, but my podriatist was very against the idea of barefoot running.  I felt very disappointed that I was only being presented with what I considered to be a rather extreme treatment using the orthotics.  I brought up several time the idea of strengthening and balance exercies, but I was basically told that my foot was inadequate and needed the orthotic support.   But there was never any proof presented to me that this was the case.


                    Barefoot Jim

                      Hi Ryan -


                      There have been occasions where I have done too much too soon, and checked in with a podiatrist to make sure it wasn't a serious injury. While I 'm well aware there are podiatrists who have completely dismissed the idea of barefoot running, I have found one who is much more open about the issue, and has even read the 'Bon to Run' book. We have discussed the ongoing runing shoe debate many times, and I appreciate his feedback as a professional in the medical field. He doesn't think barefoot running is for everyone (diabetics, persons who have medical difficulties just to walk, etc), but thinks it does have benefits for those who can do it. We're both agreed that barefoot running probably won't become mainstream, but the concerns over the running shoe as currently designed will likely force shoe companies to rethink their products. In a decade or so, running shoes may better resemble the FiveFingers - less support, but still some protection.


                      Since we've never met and I don't know very much about your own injury, I hesitate to make any comments that might lead you the wrong way. Based on my own experience, if you have an injury that needs time to heal, you should make that the first priority. If you break or sprain an arm, say, you need to let it heal first, then work on strengthening it. If your foot needs to heal first, let that happen, and then work on strengthing the foot, ankle and calf muscles by way of barefoot running.


                      If your doctor wants to permantly fit you for orthotics because yoru foot is 'inadequate,' I'd ask how is it inadequate. I don't have a 'perfect' foot myself - it's on the narrow side - and I've worn orthotics for years. But just as you wouldn't permanently wear a cast for a broken arm, I discovered I could ween myself off of the orthotics.


                      Hope this helps,





                        Yes, it does help.


                        We're both agreed that barefoot running probably won't become mainstream, but the concerns over the running shoe as currently designed will likely force shoe companies to rethink their products. In a decade or so, running shoes may better resemble the FiveFingers - less support, but still some protection.


                        We can only hope. 


                        Thanks for all the advice, and listening to my rants...... off to drop back into obscurity, long week and I need a drink.