Barefoot Running: Not for Me Thanks.

by Neil Anderson

I read "born to run" 4 years ago.  After doing so, I was thoroughly convinced that if God had wanted us to run with 2 inches of padding under our heels, he'd have put it there to begin with.  I immediately began searching for some Vibram 5 fingers.  Had to drive to Provo to find them.  Salt Lake Running co. had some, but they were an awful green and orange color.  Hell, I was already going to feel pretty dumb in these things.  Last thing I wanted was to draw even more attention to my weird new obsession.  

I was careful when I got them.  I did everything right.  I realized that I'm a tenderfoot and it would take months to break in to using them.  So for the first 2 weeks I wore them for no more than 15 mins per day.   Never during workouts.  Never running.  After 2 weeks I began increasing my time in them to 20 min, then 30.  After a month I did my first workout.  A lifting workout.  It was 2 months of gradually breaking into them before I attempted my first run.  It was a 400 m run around the old Fitzone.  Was pretty pumped to do this.  I had been studying and practicing P.O.S.E running techniques and was excited to put some of that stuff to the test.   I only allowed myself to do 1 workout per week in the shoes, but was still gradually increasing my time in them.  Then it happened.  At about the 3 month mark, I woke up one morning to a twinge in my R heel.  

Plantar fascitis sucks.  I went into full rehab mode.  Unfortunately, I had to stay there for over 9 months.  People to this day still think I'm a tree-hugging, granola muncher due to the fact I had to wear Birkenstocks (for the arch support) for 9 months while trying to get better.  It spawned a nickname I hate and fear I shall never live down.  

Me and barefoot running have parted ways.  


During this time, Lizz and I were doing a weekly health and fitness talk radio show.  Our guest one night was John Wojciechowski Co-owner of Striders Running in Layton.  I happened to ask him what he thought of this new barefoot running craze.  He gave us an earful.  Said it was silly.  That there was once a time when running 26.2 miles was considered the limit of human capacity.  That is was only about 40 years ago that people couldn't really run a marathon.  Back then our recreational/athletic foot wear was limited to canvas shoes with no padding.  Those who used that type of foot wear to train for a marathons back then would generally and quite literally fall apart.  They'd blow up.  The jarring was just too much.  Joint damage and stress fractures were quite common and the only guys/gals who could finish a marathon were those who were quite gifted physically.  They literally were built differently than the rest of us and/or had very different running styles.  Styles that if adapted by most of us would also cause injury and joint damage.  

"Improved shoe technology with padding changed all of this." He said.  

Hmm.  It makes a lot of sense.  A WHOLE lot of sense.  I figured I need to do some more digging.  Might not be smart to take barefoot running advice from a guy who makes a living selling shoes, right?  

While digging, I learned that after the proliferation of shoe technology and padding in running shoes, running a marathon became something within the wheelhouse of just about anybody with the perseverance to put the time into training.  In fact since the invention of the padded shoe, millions and millions of people have finished marathons.  It is estimated that there were 25,000 marathon finishers in 1976.  Last year it is estimated that 518,000 people finished marathons.  A testament to good shoe tech?  I think so.  I mean could it just be coincidence that marathon popularity and shoe technology seem to be running (haha) parallel?  

Ok, so maybe shoes didn't have everything to do with the growth of marathons.  You could argue that training techniques have changed and that is the reason for the proliferation.  You could also argue that fitness wasn't as necessary back then, and people just weren't as interested.   Maybe so, but at the bottom of both of those arguments (where the rubber meets the road) is a good shoe.  

The question I think you have to ask yourself is, "If barefoot running is really so much more beneficial and productive, how then is it that the pro's at the highest levels of running sports aren't ALL running barefoot, ALL the time?"  Also, "If running barefoot was really so superior, how did we ever come to put shoes on our feet in the first place?"  I mean, I'm no idiot.  If wearing shoes while I run is slowing me down, injuring me or hampering my performance in ANY way, wouldn't I naturally gravitate back to what works better?  One time I tried to run a few miles in some cowboy boots I used to wear.  It was a miserable experience.  It really didn't take me long to figure out I was NEVER going to do that again.  Just sayin...

Speaking of "works better," it has been interesting to see all the runners switching back to their padded, high tech running shoes.  Have you noticed it?  Many, many serious runners tried very hard and quite earnestly to make the switch to barefoot running.  Most of them are back.  Many have even opted for MORE padding in their shoes.  Which they immediately loved.  No learning curve.  Hmmm.  Interesting, isn't it?   

I'm a non-conformist.  Lord knows I wanted this barefoot running thing to work for me.  It really appeals to my contrarian nature.  But it didn't.  I was grateful for the new tips and tricks I learned from the experience of trying.  Many of these have stayed with me.  Turns out barefoot running advice works pretty well for some.  What's cooler, for me, is it works even better for those of us still using padded shoes.  

Here me when I say this.  Barefoot running works, for some.  I have no doubt of this, because I have seen it first hand.  The claims proponents of this running style make about improving foot shape, durability and toughness are real, for some.  That barefoot running improves posture to some degree and encourages a lighter foot strike while running is also true.  And, for some, it truly improves their experience.  For me it added nothing but pain and misery.