Back in 2010, I had the pleasure of attending the “Naked Foot 5k” barefoot race. Actually, it was a series of races including a kids race and a 1mile race and the 5k.
It was a beautiful Colorado day, the course was wonderful, the organizers did a great job… but the runners scared the crap out of me!
Of the 45 or 50 runners, a handful were barefoot (including Michael Sandler, author of Barefoot Running, who put in a FINE performance), and many wore VFFs.
But regardless of whether they were totally barefoot or minimalist, the majority of the runners had one thing in common:
They ran exactly like they were in shoes!
Frankly, I’d never seen anything like it. Heel striking, over-striding (reaching your foot out in front of your center of mass), pulling against the ground instead of placing your foot under your body, pushing off with the toes instead of lifting the foot…
It was watching people land on their heels that really blew me away (aside from the fact that the sound of their feet slapping on the ground just plain scared me).
The point of barefoot running isn’t to simply take off your shoes and do the same thing you were doing in shoes. It’s to LISTEN to your body, to adjust your stride so that it doesn’t hurt when you run. And, trust me, running barefoot as if you’re in shoes HURTS.
And you could see it in the runners — the ones with good barefoot form finished the race and were tired from running but they had no problems with their feet. The ones with bad barefoot form had blisters and tears and abrasion. Their feet were hurting.
A number of those runners came up to me after the race (I had a Xero Shoes booth) and showed me their battle-scarred feet, some with a sense of pride (“Look what I endured!”) and others with resolution to “toughen up their feet for next time.”
I did everything I could to explain how running barefoot is not a matter of pushing through the pain, or developing callouses. That it’s an opportunity to naturally find a light, easy stride that you can maintain without harming yourself. It’s about being kind. It’s about listening. It’s about learning to make adjustments. It’s about becoming your own coach. It’s about more than just the fun of being out of shoes… it’s about FUN for its own sake.