Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Running barefoot

Who would have thought more cushion for the feet could have a negative effect on your body during outdoor activities? In Christopher McDougall's book, Born to Run, he talks about how he went from being a runner that was constantly injured, to one that was "unbreakable and unstoppable" all because he started running barefoot. He goes on to explain that so much emphasis is put on making sure you have the right supportive footwear when really it's all about the technique, just like any other sport. As running shoes continue to become more supportive and cushioned it forces the runner to land in an unnatural way which causes more injures and damage to the body. He dug into researching why running shoes are considered so important and what he found was nothing. "Because there is no evidence that running shoes do anything to prevent injuries. None. In fact, research currently in progress indicates that runners in shoes experience far more impact than runners in bare feet."
While this running barefoot debate continues, it is becoming increasingly more popular to wear something that protects just the sole of the foot from glass and other objects, while offering no other support. What would that be you might ask? Vibram Five Fingers is a protective glove for your feet that allow you to still feel the ground underneath you, but stay protected because of the rubber sole. While I was home visiting a few weeks ago I was able to try these out; My mom had ordered a pair after a seeing a man wearing them hiking while they were on a vacation at the Grand Canyon. They take a few minutes to get use to because it literally is a glove on your foot and most people aren't use to that feeling. After the awkwardness wears off you can really get a sense of the appeal. To be able to go hiking and have your feet conform to the rock underneath it instead of possibly slipping is a pretty neat thing. The Vibram Five Fingers cost anywhere between $75.00- $110.00, which is similarly priced to regular running shoes. These "shoes" may get you a few weird looks, as their not as popular in America yet as in Europe, but if you're big into outdoor sports it might be worth the risk.


  1. "Because there is no evidence that running shoes do anything to prevent injuries. None. In fact, research currently in progress indicates that runners in shoes experience far more impact than runners in bare feet."

    Regarding the above quote, I have to say that I think this statement seems a little narrow minded. I know the quote came from him and not you, and I haven't read the book so he could have gone into the wide scope of other possibilities "no support" could incur.

    For a person with a perfect foot (i.e. small arch, minimal bunions and zero abnormalities), the barefoot approach works. I have a friend whose husband runs ultra marathons (the last one was 62 miles), and he wears the New Balance approach to barefoot running. It is excellent for him and people like him that don't have foot problems.

    For me, (and someone we both know), it would be impossible to get past a three mile distance like this. My arches are so big that it pushes my bunions out and caused a stress fracture when I had even moderate support. I had to go to a podiatrist and have a special insole just for my specific problem to even be able to walk again. I wore them constantly for three weeks in all of my shoes and finally I was pain free. It is the only way I can run now. I need the support of an Asics shoe and the insoles to be a runner.

    I think it really depends on the runner.

  2. Hey Elissa,

    Thanks for the comment. Certainly each runner knows what works for their body and what doesn't. I don't think the author of the book was suggesting that if something is working for you then you should stop. The research he did was based on a tribe in Mexico who are known for their long distant running, and who do it all with only something protecting the soles of their feet. Once he started practicing their running techniques, he no longer needed running shoes or had anymore injures.
    The author of the book is not the one who created the Vibram Five Fingers, so it does seem there are a lot of people who are trying it out. The shoes aren't just for running- they have hiking and water sports versions as well. My experience with them was good but I have really long toes that always hurt in running shoes, especially on hills. Since I don't do long distance running anymore my New Balance shoes are fine, but it was an issue when I ran cross country and it would have been nice to have tried the Vibram's out then.

    I just find all the research on this topic very interesting and want to keep an open mind about it, but I'm sure it won't work for everyone.

    By the way, good luck on your race!

  3. I have a pair of the five-fingers and absolutely love them!! They definately take some time to get used to, and you can't just go out and run 5 miles the first time you wear them...but now that my legs/feet have adjusted, there is no going back!!