Sunday, January 3, 2010

Should you run barefoot?

That is the title of an interesting article in today's Parade Magazine, which is inserted into the Sunday edition of our local daily the Houston Chronicle. Nothing really new there except to confirm that running barefoot isn't 'bad for you'; a 2009 review article based on searches of 30 years of running studies did not find any research demonstrating that running shoes make people less prone to injury.

Having purchased a pair of Vibram Five Finger shoes some six months ago (thanks Billy for the tip!), I have been using them for the occasional short run of about a mile or so. This afternoon, I decided to step that up a little, if you'll pardon the pun. Strapped on or rather toed into the Vibrams (it gets easier but not a lot) and set off for 3 miles with Daisy. Running all but barefoot is a weird sensation especially for someone who has run on 'regular' running shoes since 1970. Not that there is a great deal of similarity between my first real running shoes - a pair of (now) legendary Nike Waffle Trainers - and most of the high tech shoes of today. In fact the first generation running shoes dating back to the mid 70's running boom were quite spare with a minimum of cushioning. Those were the days of Frank Shorter (who won the 1972 Olympics Marathon) and 'Boston Billy' Rodgers (4 Boston and 2 New York wins) when a decent marathon pace (for recreational runners) was anything under 8 minutes/mile. Like our running heroes, we were were looking for speed, not necessarily comfort, support or some massive boot-like behemoth on which you could clunk along for 6 hours.

Since those days running shoe technology has just about kept pace with the innovation in personal computers. We quickly started abandoning our 'Apple III-e' model sneakers for 'IBM PC's and a couple of decades later we were running on the shoe equivalent of modern-day computers, marvels of high tech - and priced accordingly. In the process we lost touch with 'real' running, adopting bad habits such as heel striking due to the support & shock absorption delivered by sorbothane and dozens of similar impact absorbing materials.

Running barefoot (or practically barefoot in a pair of Vibrams), pretty much forces one back into a more natural posture, which is on the balls of the feet, employing the body's built-in shock absorbers including the toes, the foot arch, the ankle, the many other foot muscles & tendons, the achilles tendon, calf muscles, the knee and so on...

Of course, how my feet and legs will respond to longer distances in the Vibrams or totally barefoot (which is the long term goal) remains to be seen. So far, so good.


Minken said...


Running barefoot is something that I have only tried on limited grass surfaces (i.e. football pitch). I do not have the courage to run barefoot in Houston - who knows what you will step on!

I also wanted to tell you that your pics for the LLR were incredible (well, all your pictures are great now that I think of it!). You have set a new standard for Strider photography.

Good luck with the trainer. I see that you and I are at the same weight right now. I will be following your progress for my own motivation!

Michael said...

I generally believe barefoot activity is very good for most people and I have written extensively about this on my site -
What is the name of the 2009 review paper you mention? I would love to track it down and read it for myself. Thanks for the info!

johnking said...

This is good new Bert. I just bought the five fingers and was looking to incorporate them as well. as always, great post and keep me updated on these funny looking shoes. people always ask what the heck they are!

Billy Burger said...

Awesome Bert - glad you're getting into it.

One thing of note though: I found that running in the VFF's (while the closest thing to BF running), did not allow me to gain the same feedback that I would get while doing a "true" barefoot run. I truly believe now in retrospect that this may have contributed to my stress fracture. In VFF's I probably ran faster and longer than my vulnerable feet were capable of. My 2 cents.

In short, be careful out there and tread lightly. But have fun!

Pony and Petey said...

Dude...this is AWESOME!! With your permission, can I suggest to John (Stridelines editor) a reprint in next month's issue?

I ditto Minken...your pics are amazing = )

Bert said...

Thanks everybody for stopping by. I'm flattered by the comments regarding my photography, it will spur me on to get better! I'm taking a short break from any kind of barefoot running until the daytime highs are back in the balmy 60's...