Barefoot running isn’t just running barefoot!

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.

The content of this post does not constitute and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have about your health or a medical condition.” to the bottom of the blog post.

8 thoughts on “Barefoot running isn’t just running barefoot!

  1. That sounds really, really painful. Beyond painful. Most of those people are going to be sore for a week and give up barefoot/minimalist running forever.

  2. I follow this blog on my google reader and could not believe my eyes. Wow!

    Some say that barefoot running is the new fad, so I assume people are trying to “fit in” and say “hey, look at me” to their friends and family. But really? Why don’t they do research as to why people run barefoot? This kills me.

    I fear these people will then give barefoot running a bad wrap due to their painfully self-inflicted run. I sure hope a good majority of them will actually look into why they were in pain.

  3. Agreed! I’m hoping as well that people who have a difficult time with barefoot running figure out how to adjust their form so they can have FUN, instead of thinking that barefooting is hard, or requires building callouses.

    Yesterday, I made a pair of Invisible Shoes for someone who had been barefoot running for quite a while. But from our conversation, I could tell he had form problems. We ran for a bit to confirm that, and then I gave him some cues and pointers to clean up his form… he instantly noticed a difference. Now he just needs to work a bit to get those new patterns etched in his brain/body.

  4. […] Barefoot running isn’t just running barefoot!: “ […]

  5. I am far from being an expert on this, and there are probably lots of fixable things in my form and stride, but I was very careful before I allowed myself to proceed with barefoot running. I researched for a long time before I even began. In fact, I tried to teach myself the proper form without having to go barefoot. I thought maybe I could get the benefit of a lighter mid-foot strike without having to take off my shoes.

    Eventually I did take off my shoes and then I went round and round on what I decided to call “The Barefoot Mile” until I felt that I had a good technique in place — (and even now I’m not sure how good it is) — before I allowed myself to begin to add some distance.

    After having been so careful — perhaps even too careful — it makes me wince to hear what you’ve described here.

    However, I am not impressive as a runner at all. I am very slow and usually at the back of the pack.

    1. Makes *you* wince? You should have seen me and a few other knowledgeable spectators wince! The sound alone was cringe-inducing.

  6. Just saw this post and I totally see the point of view of the initial post and most comments. I was out there wincing with you but I think some thing that is usually missed by most barefooters is that if you go to ANY 5k you are going to see plenty of people that haven’t run in years, with brutal form, out there hacking it up risking the same chance for injury.

    We need to give positive encouragement so these people will keep moving, any way they choose, for a long time after the finish line has passed.

    Happy running, or walking, or hiking, or…

  7. I went recently to an event with inflatable bouncers which required a lack of shoes. Like you described I cringed at the sound of barefoot heel slamming from the folks moving to different bounce houses or jumping off of one onto cement.

    Funny the things you notice when you look for them.


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