Latest in Barefoot Running

I already mentioned that I’m kind of fascinated by the whole barefoot running phenomenon… and I’ve mentioned it several times on here. Recently I switched back to running in Brooks Adrenalines, after the whole shin splint issue I decided to try going back to the support shoe. But I’m not in love with the shoes… and after taking a year off from them my black toenails had nearly completely healed, but now they’re starting to get painful and turn colors again. I even went up another half size, so I know my toes aren’t pushed against the top. I have yet to have that magical moment with shoes where you just know they’re right. I’m not sure I believe in that… of course, I’m pretty cynical.

Anyway, back to barefoot running… There are a couple of things I wanted to share with you in regard to the topic. I think that people should definitely do research on their own before blindly jumping into this method. (And if ever there is evidence of my need to over-analyze everything, just note how often I find research on this subject!) Also I do believe that some people actually need the higher stability shoes. And if people have been conditioned to be heel strikers, automatically setting out barefoot isn’t necessarily going to change that, which could generate even more problems. If someone wants to run barefoot, that means making a conscious effort to pay attention to gait and form.

Watch a video on force exerted with running foot strike

A site at Harvard is devoted to barefoot running. Basically it is all about the biomechanics of barefooting vs. shoe running. It is not a study on the injury prevention/possibility that comes from either practice, but I believe that is on the future and this could be a source to bookmark and reference. One of the people behind the study, Daniel Lieberman, has even got a video on YouTube about his barefoot running research.

The research funding was backed by Vibram Five Fingers so take it how you will. Newton has weighed in on some of this recently too, in an effort to show the world how their shoes can mimic the minimal movement. I have not tried either of these types of shoes because I am hesitant to dish out the money (and Newton’s are REALLY expensive), but I would love to try both types of shoe. If I get my hands on either type, I can guarantee you that I would be posting information on that.

But here’s what I have done: I’ve started running on my treadmill at home barefoot. I run at 5.0 mph and I only go 0.25 mile right now. And I’ve only done it for a few days so far. But in these early trials, I definitely feel lighter and the whole process of running on a treadmill feels easier. I often find myself dragging my feet on the treadmill, but that’s not the case when I’m barefoot. But then, I also don’t think a quarter of a mile is a really accurate comparison to 3 or more miles on the treadmill either. So once again, take that info as you will.

I’ll keep you posted as I play with this concept, I thought it was a hot topic in 2009 but it already seems like the subject is gearing up for a frenzied 2010.

20 Comments

  1. Barefoot running scares the heck outta me! But that might have something to do with stress fractures… And I have toenail trouble too :/ But I just tell myself it’s because I’m so hardcore!

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  2. After a year of battling plantar fasciitis and now stress fractures, I am fascinated by the barefoot running idea. I wonder, are all my foot injuries a result of the shoes I wear, and the effect they have on my gait? Would running w/o shoes (or in minimal shoes) help?

    On the other hand, running outdoors in bare feet? I (like you) live in a place covered with asphalt and concrete. That can’t be good either.

    ‘mill running is a reasonable start

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    • Yep, I will never run outside totally barefoot due to the urban setting, I don’t think I’ve ever been on a run where I haven’t had to jump over broken glass, definitely don’t want to accidentally step on that with my bare feet!

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  3. Several non runners I know have asked me if I’ve tried the Newtons. I don’t know why they’ve gotten such a following, and why its usually non runners that are asking me about them. I always explain that I replace my shoes ever 4-5 months and that would get very expensive with a $100 shoe (I usually get mine for about $60). Anyways, I’m interested in the research, because I guess I just don’t get it. It seems like taking away the padding and the cushion is only going to set you up for more injury, not less. Keep us updated on that treadmill running! I wish I could give it a try but the treadmills I use are at the gym. Can you imagine the funny looks I would get!

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    • I don’t know if I would dare run barefoot at a gym either; both due to funny looks and who know what could be on that belt!

      Newtons have a pretty loyal following of hardcore runners on Twitter. And their shoes are like $160-180 a pair! Can you imagine replacing those that often? Ouch!

      One of the main reasons why all the cushioning is considered a problem is that it trains people to slam their feet down harder and on their heels more, which generate shockwaves up their legs and possibly harming joints. Proponents say that landing on your heel acts like a brake, instead of assisting in propelling you forward.

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  4. Jill – thanks for sharing this piece, it is all the rage these days as you know. Personally I don’t see this as being a very viable possibility for the masses. I think improving your running economy and ground strike to reduce stress is something that can (and should) be accomplished whether running with shoes or not.

    I know that the more efficient I became the less stress I was placing on feet, ankles, shin, knee, quad, hip etc.

    I think a technique “critique” and coach could do as much good for some as simply tossing the Asics and going bare-foot. For that matter, why not run just in socks? Warmer, better protection.

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    • I agree completely about it not being reality for the masses. The thing I think that it can help with (in training and controlled environment) is with awareness in regard to gait and improving running economy. Even though I have made a conscious effort to improve my gait and foot strike, it is still helpful to receive that more “immediate” feedback that comes from barefoot on the treadmill. That’s where I think it could be beneficial for most people.

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  5. I could never imagine running barefoot based solely on how much debris I see while running. I would be all freaked out about weird objects and etc going into my feet. Oh, and I am a germaphobe.

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  6. I have to go with onelittlejill on this one. I’ve seen what’s on the ground, and I run a LOT of trails that are connected to sidewalks, and I am utterly unwilling to forego shoes so I can do more road running. Definitely this is preference, but there it is. It’s an interesting topic though, one that I am following, for sure.

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    • I am not looking to try running on the sidewalks, roads or trails barefoot either. There is too much nasty stuff out there. I just think it’s really interesting and has potential to help people improve their form, as long as it’s done in a careful and cautious manner.

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  7. I bought a pair today and tried them out on the treadmill when I got home. I’m just getting back into running after a couple of years. I enjoyed running in the shoes, but it takes a lot of concentration to not hit heal first. They definitely use a whole new set of muscles. It’ll take some getting used to, but I really liked them. And for $75, I thought they were reasonable. I had to go to a couple of different stores to find my size (or any) in stock. My husband hasn’t been so lucky. I guess the NPR report had a lot to do with the shortages.

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  8. Jill- LOVE your site. You are an interesting writer. Always something fascinating to read and think about. I have been reading “Born to Run”. Just finished the chapters on barefoot running. I think about it all the time now! I live next to a river trail- the reason we bought this house, and there is a man I see who runs barefoot everyday. Paved and gravel. I live in Utah- there is ALWAYS snow on the ground. My marathon partner tried to ask him about it one time, but he was defensive. Poor guy- probably gets asked constantly. The way he runs looks so so so painful. His gait looks agonizing. His wife is often with him– WALKING alongside him. Anyway, I find the treadmill a great way to try the theory- smart thinking. I’ll try it. I noticed in the book- the running coach who touts the barefoot revolution reccommends running barefoot “3 times per week on dewy grass”. Keep us up to date- Keep writing! Danna
    http://www.sherunslikeagirl.blogspot.com

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    • I imagine it would get annoying to have people question you on the barefoot running a lot… but then some people seem to relish that, they become almost evangelical about it! But I’ll just try it in the privacy of my own home… then share it on the public forum of my blog! :-) Thanks for the kind words about my site, I appreciate it!

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  9. I can see both sides of the argument. I personally won’t be running barefoot, but I do appreciate where the barefooters are coming from. On that note, I interviewed my podiatrist on the subject and he is definitely opposed to the idea. I’ll be featuring an interview with Chris McDougall later this week and guess that will give the other side of the coin. Please check both interviews out at http://www.misszippy1.blogspot.com

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  10. I meant to tell you — there are usually a handful of barefoot runners at races here in New England (yes, even in our cold weather!). I passed a barefoot runner during the Boston Prep 16-miler race on Jan 24th. I also talked to a few barefoot runners in November after a 10K, and they said they love it. Then again, I’m too girly for it (I like my pedicures and soft feet!)…but I also NEED shoe support. Interesting theory, though, huh?

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  11. Correct me if I am wrong, but running shoes did not start to become big business until the 70’s I am sure there were “running shoes ” available before then but what did these shoes offer other than protect the bottom of the foot. Shoes are an invention of man. Maybe we were meant to be barefoot. Who knows? Just a thought.

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