How To Run Barefoot

by Tammy Strobel on March 11, 2010

One of the best things about blogging is meeting other people with similar interests and making new friends. Jessica has been reading RowdyKittens for a while and I’m thrilled she agreed to write a guest post about her barefoot running adventures. Jessica is a writer, photographer and blogs at chesapeake.

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Tammy Runs 46by Jessica Porter

I used to think that some people were made to run more than others. That marathons were for super-humans with a penchant for pain. Besides, I always looked funny running. I thus left the task of traveling great distances by foot to those better equipped for it.

At least I thought that until my mom, also a non-runner, gave me Born to Run, a book written by Chris McDougall. Chris is a journalist and amateur runner who was interested in answering the question of why he was constantly getting injured while running.  He found the answer in the form of history: all of us were literally born to run as we are. And we were born to run barefoot.

I was skeptical at first. Running shoes are made for running, how can they be bad? Everyone wears them! But by the end of the book, I was convinced: our feet are magnificent works of engineering evolution.  Did you know that the running shoe industry is one of the only industries in history that created a product we “needed?” The product and the market is completely manufactured by the man who invented the product. And that there are zero scientific studies to show that running shoes enhance athletic performance and decrease injury? It’s true. But there are many studies showing that running shoes make our bodies work unnecessarily harder and make us exponentially more prone to injury.

Not only was barefoot running supposed to be more efficient, it was supposed to be more fun. I knew that if any one could disprove the “fun” theory, it would be me. It turns out, I didn’t. A quarter of a mile into my maiden barefoot voyage, I realized that my face felt odd. I was smiling.  Smiling while running. I can say, without a doubt, that it was the first time that I had ever smiled while doing exercise of any kind. My breathing was easy, my form was upright, and I was having fun.  By the end of my first week, I was running eight tenths of a mile at a time. It may not sound like much, but for someone who never exercises, it was.

There was one glitch: I ran so much, so soon, that I injured myself. The great thing about barefoot running is that it allows you to be highly attuned to the signals of your body. The bad thing about a life spent ignoring said pain while exercising means that I wasn’t used to listening to my body.  The best advice I have is start slow. Take off your shoes and walk around the house barefoot for a few weeks. Mix it up by walking in grass, gravel, and over concrete to get your feet used to different surfaces. Let your foot muscles build up over time.

Patience is absolutely key. Once you are ready to run, study up on proper form. There is one site in particular with great information on this, or if you live in the Seattle area, look up Barefoot Ted for a coaching session. Remember not to increase your running mileage too quickly, either. Listen to your body. If it hurts, stop and adjust your form. Take rest days. It’s like learning to walk again.

Push past the fear, toss the shoes, and do it.  You were made for it.

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1 keeping up with the kozlowskis March 11, 2010

Hi great post yes, I think that book sounds really interesting. I love being shoe free as much as possible I find it so comfortable and relaxing. I will have to give running bare foot ago.

2 Lelly March 11, 2010

I am a huge fan of the idea of barefoot anything. I hate shoes. HATE shoes! They are restrictive and they cut off the circulation to my toes. Or at least it feels that way anyway. I also am a little more than grossed out at how dirty the ground is in the city. I don’t mind actual dirt so much, I barefoot it alot when I’m camping. So needless to say I wear flip flops alot. But I recently discovered a pair of shoes that I do like. They don’t feel restrictive. In fact, I still feel like I’m barefoot only I have a protective layer under my tootsies to keep them from getting cut up and such. They’re called Vibram 5 Fingers and they’re totally amazing. I have a pair of classics, but here pretty soon I’m going to upgrade to the sprints (I like the mary-jane like strappy). I haven’t tried barefoot running yet. I’m not one who loves exercise so it’s on my to-do list. :)

3 Felipe Cerda March 12, 2010

Are the FiveFingers worth the buy? I love to run but I’ve never done it barefoot, and I saw the 5Fingers on the web… but I’m not sure if I must buy them or not….

4 Tammy March 12, 2010

@Felipe – that’s a good question. I’m not sure and I have actually been thinking of purchasing a pair.

Maybe Jessica can help with that question?

5 lelly March 12, 2010

5 Fingers are worth every penny! Just make sure you get the right size. They are european sized so you have to measure your feet. They have a sizing guide at their website. http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/

Good luck!

6 chesapeake March 12, 2010

My fiance (he commented here as cbte below) has FiveFingers and wears them everywhere. My only caution is that running in Vibrams, while they are minimal footwear, is *not* the same as running barefoot. One of the key components of barefoot running is using the bottoms of your soles for sensing the ground. Vibrams can give you a false sense of confidence and make you run incorrectly and further than you should be, risking injury. But they are great for every day wear, or after you’ve trained awhile completely barefoot.

7 Joy Tanksley March 11, 2010

Love this! My exercise of choice is Nia, and it’s done barefoot. The awareness is huge! Our feet our so incredibly rich with nerve endings; it’s glorious to listen to the signals they provide.

My dad is a marathon runner and has many, many foot issues… I’ll definitely be forwarding this link to him! :)

8 denise March 11, 2010

interesting, second time I have been referred to read this book now. and the moment I have a slight case of plantar. I’ll start with barefoot in the house!

9 David Damron March 11, 2010

Great article…..Funny thing is that I have a post scheduled for TMP tomorrow on this exact thing. I swear I didn’t copy. I wrote and scheduled it days ago. So check out TMP tomorrow for my experience with barefoot running.

Dave
The Minimalist Path

10 Tammy March 11, 2010

@David – LOL! I’m excited to read your post and happy you enjoyed reading Jessica’s story. :)

I’ve been so scared to try barefoot running. Once my knees heal up, I’m going to do it.

11 cbte March 11, 2010

I’ve been barefoot running for about 3 months now, and I absolutely love it. I run in Vibram FiveFingers KSOs because I don’t trust the streets of my city to not have shards of glass and rocks in unsuspecting places. I even wear my KSOs to work, and everybody notices them. If you think your office won’t let you wear them, just wear them without telling anyone. If they don’t notice, or if they do notice and don’t care, you’re good to go either way! It’s worth a try.

To start out, I’d suggest going on evening walks around your neighborhood barefoot. You’ll start to learn where your feet want to contact the ground versus where your shoes force them to contact the ground.

12 David Porter March 11, 2010

OK Jessica! Enough with the wear your Vibram’s daddy, why aren’t you running barefoot daddy. I’m going tonight with the Five Fingers. Damn you Barefoot Ted!

13 chesapeake March 11, 2010

@keeping-sounds like you have the groundwork already if you go around barefoot often! Just be gentle and you should be fine.
@lelly-The good thing about Vibrams is that you can go “barefoot” in public. The bad news is that this coverage keeps you from really “sensing” with the bottoms of your feet, which can lead to injury. Fine for walking, but make sure you mix in some true barefooting as well so you don’t go too quickly. Good luck!
@Joy-I’ve heard of Nia and would love to try it. I hope your dad finds this information useful; I know he can turn his body around and heal himself.
@Denise-Sounds like the universe is urging you toward the book. I know you’ll love it. Good call starting out around the house.
@David D.-Great minds think alike. :-)
@cbte-Great advice from another barefooter. Running in shoes really creates an “impact” and running barefoot is all about stepping lightly. It takes a mental turnaround, not just a physical one.
@David P-Ah, family. Don’t take it too quickly! The Vibrams can lull you into a false sense of strength that could lead to injury.
@Tammy-Thanks again! :-) You’re awesome!

14 Chris O'Byrne March 11, 2010

Barefoot running is cool, but I have become a huge fan of barefoot sleeping. I worked my way up to it and now I can sleep barefoot all night long! :)

15 BikeBarefoot September 3, 2011

I even exercise my toes when in bed – toes spreads and other contortions of.

16 Karol Gajda March 11, 2010

When I first got to India I woke up every day around 6:30am and went for a 1-2 hour walk along the beach. Then I slowly started running (in vibrams). I’d never run before and I didn’t use any training method. I figured my body would tell me what to do. I was wrong. I haven’t run for weeks now. My knee is not good. I can’t go for the long walk, much less the run. And I miss it, because I absolutely loved barefoot running. I never liked “regular” running, but barefoot running along the beach is so nice. In hindsight I know I overtrained. I went from never running to running every day (even though they were just short runs) and it messed me up.

If only I’d read this article sooner! :) I’m sure I’ll be back to running sometime in the future, and I’m going to take it *really* slowly.

17 Calvin Miller May 23, 2010

I never tried barefoot running before, I afraid it will with side effect, better start at beach ? or in a gym ? I think I need time to try, thanks

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