I will never be an exclusively barefoot or minimalist runner…

25 Aug

…and thats just a-okay.

With the overwhelming popularity of books like Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and Barefoot Running by Ken Bob Saxton and Roy M. Wallack, there has been this massive shift in the running industry to start running barefoot and fancy-free! The running industry is no different than any other industry in terms of trends and fads (not that I am saying that barefoot running is a “fad” exactly), but it seems like everyone these days is eager to jump on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, many people are doing so without getting all the facts and information. They will read just enough about barefoot running, think, “Hey, that sounds totally logical! I think I will try that!” and head outside…armed with just enough information to be potentially dangerous.

Barefoot running is not for everyone. (Yes, I just said that!) I can safely make this statement, because I know for sure that it is not for me.

In my opinion, there are two types of barefoot runners. There are those that literally run with naked feet…no socks, no shoes…and then there are those that run in minimalist shoes like Vibram Five Fingers, INOV8 EvoSkins, Fila Skeletoes, etc.

INOV8 EvoSkin

Let me just say that the idea of running truly barefoot scares me to death. I have a tendency to be bit of a germaphobe and the thought of stepping on glass, getting a hookworm/ringworm, or otherwise injuring myself with some gaping gash on the bottom of my foot is enough to immediately nix the idea. I stepped in glass once (not a running-related injurty) and had to get 27 stitches along the bottom of my foot. After being on crutches for weeks, I can tell you…injuring the bottom of your foot is NOT fun. Not that there are dangers there too, but I think the ONLY place I could be convinced to run with naked (which is pronounced “nekkid” if you are my 94 year old grandmother) feet is on the beach. However, I think I would still be worried about broken shells, jellyfish, and the like. I digress…

Whether you aim to run barefoot all the way or in minimalist shoes, it does not necessarily mean that it is right for you and your body. With barefoot running, a runner must be very conscious of his foot strike. If you are a hard heel striker, this may not be the best option for you. While some runners have noticed improvement in knee and IT band issues with barefoot running (my husband actually being one of them), running this way can also exacerbate these issues and others like stress fractures and plantar fasciitis if you do not make the proper transition from your old gait and shoes to the new running form and feel. In fact, not having a plan and not transitioning properly can even injure you further if you are not careful. And, keep in mind, that even after if you do transition properly, barefoot running may still feel awkward and uncomfortable if it is not right for your body.

My point is, everyone’s body operates and moves differently. That is why there are a million different running shoes on the market with all different levels of support. You should not feel obligated to buy minimalist shoes or jump on the barefoot running bandwagon without getting all the facts and having a plan. While I am certainly not trying to discourage people from giving barefoot running a try, because it really does feel great and work wonders for a lot of people, I encourage you not to blindly drink the Kool-Aid. 🙂

Keep in mind that you also do not have to run in one kind of shoes exclusively. In fact, I personally find it more beneficial on my feet and legs to mix up my running shoes with the different types of run work outs that I do.

For example, I do run in VFFs, but I’ll only do it for short sprints on a soft track surface. I find that doing this helps strengthen the small muscles in my foot (everything below the ankle) and helps keep my feet strong. The added bonus with this is super duper balance in my Pilates class. 🙂 For treadmill runs, I will throw on my stability Brooks Adrenaline shoes and heel strike for a little while. This running form helps me keep my quads, hamstrings and glutes engaged and strong. But, for the majority of my runs and nearly all of the races I run, I run in neutral Saucony Kinvaras or Fastwitch 5s. I enjoy these for keeping my lower legs strong and I the lighter weight of them makes me feel fast and quick on my feet. Plus, I feel that they offer me greater response when turning corners or changing direction.

How do YOU feel about all the hype about barefoot running? Do you think it is here to stay or is it a running trend? Have you given it a try? What has your experience been?

17 Responses to “I will never be an exclusively barefoot or minimalist runner…”

  1. Tara Burner at 10:38 AM #

    I don’t like barefoot running myself mainly because like you I’ve stepped on glass, nails, etc. and have no desire to do that again. When I’m running I don’t want to be worrying about what I may step on. Though I do like my minimalist running and use Keen shoes (did review on them at http://www.taraburner.com/health-wellness/keen-trail-shoes-from-planetshoes-com-review.php) and love those and feel confident that I can run in them and not be overly concerned about what I’m running on.
    I do think it’s here to stay though.

  2. Lauren at 11:17 AM #

    Honestly, I think it’s a trend and not one I’m willing to try. I like my comfy running shoes and they keep my feet safe. Nowhere I run is completely without trash, glass, and other not so friendly things. I like my feet too much to do that to them.

  3. Stev at 12:25 PM #

    I confess, I read Born to Run and jumped on the band wagon because it made sense to me. I slowly transitioned into VFF’s and now I run exclusively in them, except for the occasional totally ‘nekkid’ run. You’re right, minimalist is still a lot different than total BF running. I can’t call myself a BF runner, and I’m not sure I can totally commit to that either. I can run a 3-4 miles BF but any longer and I get blisters. Maybe I’m rushing things and my feet haven’t toughened up yet, or maybe it’s my form… I dunno. I like your strategy… run in all kinds of shoes, or none, just to mix things up and work different muscles.

  4. Jeff at 1:01 PM #

    If your gait includes a HARD heelstrike – then I think barefooting is for you, because that’s something you’ll want to fix! (And if you run barefoot, you won’t heelstrike more than once!)

    I use barefooting as a tool to help me maintain form and I run less than 1% of my mileage in it. But I am a fan of minimalist shoes and cushioned shoes that encourage “natural running” like Newtons, Altra, etc.

    • AJ at 8:24 PM #

      I have only run barefoot a few times, for fun (and it WAS!). I don’t really have too many safe places to do it that are close to me, unfortunately.

      Like you, I have become a big fan of the pared-down shoes (I’m in Altra Intuitions right now) because they do encourage a more natural running style but still have cushion and protection. Personally I’m glad shoes are going more “old-school” and I think it could help many of us be stronger and more efficient runners.

  5. I think this is a great post, and you have a lot of good points. It is most definitely NOT for everyone. It does require some thought before you jump into it, because form is essential. BUT, like Jeff, I disagree with the part about it not being for a hard heel striker. I was actually a terrible heel striker with horrible over-pronation. I basically just decided that I didn’t like running in shoes that were 1 lb+ each, and they weren’t quite fixing my problems, so I’d try barefoot.

    I’m happy to report that it’s worked for me. Since the day I started barefoot in May, I haven’t worn my old trainers once. I’ve run in some minimalist shoes, but still trying to find the right ones. That said, I don’t go around recommending it to everyone, because it’s a difficult transition and you have to be committed to wanting to do it! I do think some of the theory behind it is smart, like that heel striking is just plain bad, but you don’t have to go barefoot to improve your form. Minimalist shoes and better form are definitely worth a look though!

  6. Patrick Fellows at 5:06 PM #

    Ladies, would you run without a bra? or men would you run without a lining in your shorts? Why then would you leave unprotected the point where 2-4x your body weight makes contact with the ground? Is there a place for barefoot running. Yes on a grass field after your run doing drills.
    If you want to run in less shoe, try and step down one level of protection or stability.

    • AJ at 8:27 PM #

      I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that I think comparing barefoot running and braless running is like comparing apples to…well, pancakes? (I’ll let you decide which is which.) 😉

  7. David H. at 8:24 PM #

    I think it’s just that — HYPE. I’m in the same boat that we’re all different, but the books and the articles and the passion of those who run barefoot do get a little old. I get tired of hearing the word “revolution.” Last race I did had 400 people in it — I saw 400 people with shoes and two Vibrams wearers. In all the races I’ve done this summer, I’ve seen two barefoot people. Less than 1 percent is by no means a revolution.

    This is actually the most I’ve said on this subject, but I don’t want people to take it the wrong way. If it’s what you like, then run without your shoes. Just quit trying to tell me to do it!

    • AJ at 8:31 PM #

      I have a difficult time with anything calling itself a “movement” – but I think there are a lot of good points and some great gear coming out of it.

      I think the number of people running barefoot or in minimalist shoes is probably dependent upon where you are geographically. I haven’t seen more than a few people running that way in my area but we tend to be tragically un-hip, so the “movement” hasn’t taken over just yet…

  8. I love all the different minimalist shoes and try to explain thoroughly why I like them. I think it is here to stay. I have always been a runner with a short gait and gotten yelled at by others in the Army to open up my stride and run from heel to toe. After researching I can’t believe they still tell soldiers to run that way. I generally run in the @newbalance Minimus Trail for every run except at track runs which I will do in my @Vibram5Fingers Biklia.

    • AJ at 8:23 AM #

      I definitely feel better without a heel strike. I don’t have much of one anyway (midfoot/toe runner here) but in the built-up heels of regular running shoes it’s hard not to do it every now and then. I have more nagging pains with regular shoes + heel striking than with shoes that help me run the way my feet want to run.

      I also have a short gait and used to try to lengthen my stride as well. I’m glad it never worked out since a shorter stride has proved more healthy and efficient. 🙂

  9. Samantha at 3:57 AM #

    I haven’t tried it but I would like to. I plan on buying different books to educate myself on it first. I also don’t plan to try it until waaay after my first marathon and once I’m a more experienced runner. If I do try it I’ll probably try to find a professional in my area who can give me the low down. I think it’s interesting though. However, I have no idea WHERE I would run barefoot!

  10. Nathan Bitecofer at 7:02 AM #

    This is exactly what I have been saying all along! Thanks for the great post!

  11. Concrete Runner at 8:39 PM #

    I have suffered from several foot injuries in the past, thanks to bad genetics (2 generations of foot surgery so far and I’m hoping to change that trend). After reading Born to Run, it just clicked that maybe we weren’t designed to put cushioned shoes on our feet, leading to injuries. I started cooling down with a quarter-mile of barefoot running (in socks) after every easy run. I then received VFFs for Christmas and continued doing short runs (no more than 1/2 mile) to strengthen my feet. All of a sudden, I no longer needed orthotics, my PF disappeared, and my feet felt better than ever. I will NEVER be a full time barefoot runner, but I definitely use it as a training tool and a way to keep my feet healthy.

  12. After having suffered a fracture on the ball of my foot, followed by a torn hip flexor, I am extremely careful about taking care of my feet. I was unable to wear ‘normal’ shoes (flip-flops, heels, sandals) for over 2 years and was stuck in various orthotic looking ones at all times (Earth shoes, Birkenstocks, Danskos). Running was out of the question. Now, I have my running shoes carefully fitted and have never experienced issues with my feet (knock on wood). I just can’t get myself to try barefoot running for fear of major injury.

    I suppose it bothers me a little that I would have to ‘toughen up’ my feet, build callouses, and slowly strengthen my tendons. I mean, I run just fine now…with no pain…even at marathon distances…if it ain’t broke don’t try to fix it (in MY circumstances). I’ve research the technique a lot…the philosophy being that many great runners from Kenya grow up without shoes…yet almost all of them transition into some form of running shoe when they start racing internationally…and they STILL kick everyone’s butt. It’s just not for me.

  13. Katie A. at 1:19 PM #

    The whole barefoot running “trend” cracks me up in the sense that it has also shifted the attitude of runners to thinking more along the lines of a midfoot/toe strike as best. For years while I was growing up and even while I was running cross country in Junior High, I was constantly told that I was running “wrong” because I was a midfoot/toe striker. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make heel striking feel comfortable to me. Everyone told me I was overusing my calves and running incorrectly. Now, the common stance seems to be that midfoot/toe striking is the more natural, better way to run.

    I’m like you and not sure that I could ever be a full on barefoot runner. The asphalt down here gets too hot and I’d worry too much about stepping on a rock or something else. I have thought very seriously about venturing into running in some VFF’s though!

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