Barefoot Runners


Does it hurt? (Read 387 times)


Barefoot and happy

    The following was my response to someone who said "I could never run barefoot, my feet hurt if I just walk around my yard without shoes!". I'm copying it here for reference: That's because your feet spend all their time wrapped in dark, damp, overpadded cocoons. If you wore a blindfold all the time, opening your eyes outdoors would hurt like hell too. I see the constant stream of runners complaining about their overuse injuries (there's a whole thread dedicated to "what hurts today?" right now), and just have to shake my head. Running shoes don't work for the majority of people. But we are social creatures, and very few are willing to do "odd" things like run without running shoes. Lots of people will get angry at me just for contradicting the dogma that running shoes are great. But they will be unwilling to perform the experiment themselves to confirm (or reject) their belief. Running is a very complicated activity. We are still unable to build two-legged robots that can run like humans. The feet alone have a very large number of joints and muscles, and some of the most dense nerve endings in the body. The nervous system provides a sophisticated feedback control system. It depends on those nerves actually being able to feel. Let me give a concrete example. When I was first learning to run and walk barefoot, I went for a two-day hike in the woods in FiveFingers. Typical rocky, root-strewn New England trail. It turned out to be a bit much for my still-weak lower leg and foot muscles -- afterward I ached in placed I didn't even know I had muscles before. There was one particular tiny muscle in my foot that I had never been aware of before that got really tired by the end. The odd thing about it was that I couldn't actually find it most of the time! I could walk, run, stretch, massage my foot and not feel it at all. But if I happened to step on a little rock that was shaped just so, with just the right part of my foot, this tiny muscle would instinctively react to make my foot conform to the terrain, and I would again feel how tired it was. Now that my feet are strong, those same little muscles protect me from taking any significant damage from rocks and uneven surfaces. Your feet are not dumb solid slabs, they can actively react to the surface they're on. I step on pebbles barefoot every day, they don't bother me and they don't do any damage. Sure, an extremely sharp one could still hurt me, but those are very rare. Even most glass bits you find around are perfectly safe for me to run over -- the combination of active reaction and very thick skin prevents all but the biggest and sharpest from getting through. And the big ones you can see. When you pad your feet, your body loses much of the ability to judge impact properly, and so you're likely to adapt a high-impact running form. There was actually a study that measured impact forces in runners -- they all exerted more force on the ground when wearing more heavily padded shoes. If you don't believe me, just go try to run barefoot. You'll be acutely aware of how much impact you're generating, and you'll instinctively start treading much more gently. Don't get me wrong, I'm not an extremist. If you live in a parasite-ridden third world country, or you're trying to run with a windchill of 20 below, or cross broken lava rocks, shoes are pretty freaking handy. But this insidious idea that they can help you run better by deadening all sensation and immobilizing many important muscles is dead wrong. The whole point of running is to gradually make your body stronger by pushing a little bit outside your normal comfort zone. It's no different with your feet. You may have the body of a runner from the knees up and still have the feet of a couch potato.
    Curious about running barefoot? Visit the new barefoot running group.

    Future running partner.

      Very intriguing!

      Half Fanatic #846

        My history is that just the thought of going barefoot sent shivers up my spine because I was such a tenderfoot. Barefoot in the house was okay - but outside, NO! Fast forward to this summer when I started experimenting with barefoot running at age 61. Starting out, I would frequently walk with my daughter on a short section of uneven gravel road with twigs, pieces of brick, and other junk in it - she wore shoes, I was barefooted. Each time, she patiently waited for me at the end to catch up. After about three or four weeks, I was walking with her, and at a faster pace. Then I would finish by walking or running 3/4 mile on asphalt. Had I not stopped running for awhile due to injury, I'm certain I could have soon began running that gravel section without much discomfort at all. (I restarted a barefoot regimen today - the PF injury began well before barefooting). So, toughening up the feet gradually and learning how to run helped me transition to BF running - something I never thought possible really. Oh yeah: it feels really good too! Big grin In a few months I'll try some trails - I think that's where some Vibram FFs may come in handy.

        "I don't always roll a joint, but when I do, it's usually my ankle" - unk.                          Run like the winded

         I ran half my last race on my left foot!                   "Frankly autocorrect, I'm getting a bit tired of your shirt"


        Barefoot and happy

          Great story, havanarnr.
          Curious about running barefoot? Visit the new barefoot running group.

          Queen of 3rd Place

            You're tough, havanarnr! Your story made me cringe... Since I'm such a wimp, last week I tried the track. Ow. But the only thing that was tender was my skin... So this week, I tried the neighborhood sidewalk. Ahhhh! Yes It felt awesome! At first I was sort of tip-toeing, by the end I felt as though I was moving pretty normally. I've asked Santa for the FF. Santa thinks I'm weird. Arla

            Ex runner