Monday, July 12, 2010


It sure seems to be the fastest growing “fad” in running these days. More and more I am seeing people around town running barefoot, in the neighborhood and at races. One guy at a race recently said he had run 63 marathons—all barefoot. We even have a Barefoot Triathlon on the roster this year, so you can see it might be here to stay for a while at least. Not so sure how winter will change that, but I know they make some shoes specifically for winter.

For me, I have been running in Nike Free 500s since March. These are a more traditional type running shoe, but totally unstructured, with soft sides that remind you of putting on slippers, but with a firm yet flexible rubber sole.

After having run barefoot on the beach while in the Dominican Republic, while I knew I wouldn’t go that route once I got home, I did immediately go out and buy the Nikes, and have been loving them ever since. I honestly can say I am enjoying running more than I have in over 10 years.

Mainly this year, by my own choice, I have been running shorter distances with more intensity, so they work great for that, but I have also used them in one sprint tri, and finally, just recently, on a 6.5 mile trail run, working up to running a half marathon distance trail run in late August. Here’s what I am finding with the Nikes that I did not think about initially and never would have guessed about: on trails they are far more responsive in handling rocks, roots, up hills, and steep down hills. On grass, they are more responsive when you come across an unseen divot or uneven terrain. And why do you think that is? I don’t have any scientific answer but only my own opinion, and that is that when wearing more structured shoes, with orthotics as well, often I could not feel a rock or indentation or a root that was only partially exposed until I actually stepped on it, and that usually caused me to roll an ankle, trip, or lose my balance somewhat. With my Nikes, I am more fully able to feel the earth beneath my feet so to speak. The flex grooves in the soles of the shoe allow the soles to flex with everything under foot so I feel a lot more stability than ever before. I absolutely got to hating trail running because every time I did, I rolled an ankle. So far, so good. I’m not saying I’ll never trip over something again, because I’m just not that coordinated. I am just hoping the shoes will allow me more stability to keep me from many of the unplanned spills I seem to have on trails.

One article I have read, by Phil Maffetone, athletic trainer to triathlete Mark Allen, can be found here. This backs up my findings as well.

One thing worth noting from this article is that structured shoes force the foot to land on the heel when running, when the natural inclination is to land mid to forefoot. Running barefoot you would never land on your heel naturally, and I think this is mainly because the heel cannot withstand the impact of thousands of footstrikes when running any distance, particularly a long distance like a marathon. The padding is in the front of the foot for a reason. The article also notes that running with shoes with a thick heel (like most athletic shoes) is actually the cause of more trips and falls.

"When wearing thick soles, the body can’t make these important and intricate adjustments as well to the surface stress. This poor communication between the foot and the brain is referred to as diminished kinesthetic sense of foot position. While kinesthetic sense normally declines with age and is a contributing factor to the frequency of falls that occur in later life, many of today’s young athletes wearing thick sports shoes show significantly reduced kinesthetic sense similar to or worse than an elderly patient! (These same sports shoes, studies show, often worn by middle aged and older, inactive people also increase the risk of falls and hip fractures.)"

The only drawback I am finding to these shoes is that because the flex grooves on the soles are so deep, when running on rocky trails I pick up a lot of stones that have to be picked out by hand or with a stick, and running in mud they tend to cake up entirely in the grooves. If I ran through any manure, I might be in deep doo doo! I also can feel rocks, so sometimes my feet are a little sensitive to that, but I figure as time goes on I will not notice it as much.

Another thing I have noticed with my running is that with my feet lighter by a considerable amount, I am able to run faster and pick my feet up easier as well. And my feet when really going barefoot aren’t nearly as sensitive. I used to walk like a cripple when I didn’t have shoes on because it was like my feet were deformed from wearing the structured shoes for so many years. And they would ache then when the bones tried to go naturally when barefoot, so I rarely did, pretty much wearing shoes every hour I was awake. And its not like I go barefoot outside much, if at all, but I can at least walk through the house without having to put on a pair of sandals or other hard soled shoes.

All in all, I am hoping this fad catches on and stays so I can find the same pair of shoes when I am ready to buy my next pair. You know how that always works. As soon as you find a shoe you love, they discontinue it or “improve” it.

In the meantime, I really do need to get rid of my new, in the box, pair of regular shoes I bought before I tried these. Anyone? Make me an offer.


Flo said...

I got a pair of Nike 700 on sale at Sports Authority and I absolutely adore them. The problem I'm having with running in them is the cushioning. I have no cartilage in my right knee and the cushioning in running shoes really help. But I have to agree with everything you said, I feel more stable when I wear them. I also wear the Vibram Five Fingers but would never run in those.

Just_because_today said...

aghhh I'm still doubtful! I wear orthorics and always felt my feet were wimpy.
How new is this fad if so many people have run soooo many races? maybe it is just very popular now.
I wonder where they attach their chip.

Amy said...

barefoot running is very challenging for me...but it looks healthier than other run...:D