Barefoot Running – Don’t!

The Metro newspaper (13/12/2010) had a feature on barefoot running. Seemed a strange time of the year to suggest about it considering the depth of snow we had at the time. the article featured two runners running in the rain ON CONCRETE!

My advice is don’t waste your time.

‘According to our experts, barefoot running, intensive training and blended exercise are just some of the fitness trends we should be watching out for in 2011.’ Said the article.

Bare foot running?! What nonsense is this?

Gareth Cole is head of education at The Third Space is quoted as saying,
‘The traditional way of running is with the heel striking the ground first and shoes have been built accordingly to absorb the impact,’ he says. ‘With barefoot running, or natural running, the emphasis is put on the forefoot or midfoot, allowing the natural arch of the foot to take the force. This style of running is already popular among the running fraternity and a small number of athletes have been running shoeless since the 1960s.’

Gareth predicts the new year will see us going au naturel when it comes to footwear.

Absolute rot!

It is natural? It may be if you NEVER wear shoes so your feet are nice and tough – and you live in a warm climate so your feet do not get damaged by the cold – and you NEVER walk or run on concrete or tarmac as both of those surfaces are not natural.

Yes you can now get special footwear to protect your feet if you break any of the above rules such as the Nike Fivefingers. There are other shoes that may not be quite as odd looking but are still an attempt to provide a minimal amount of protection. See barefootrunningshoes.org for a range of them.

I can speak with some authority on this matter. I started running as a teenager in the late 1960s when I was still at school. I hated playing football, rugby or cricket in school ‘games’ as it was called. I know the teachers were paid to get us running around so I told the teacher my plan and asked if I could run instead.

Behind the school were hills with pathways. They teacher said I could run on the hills. While the others played football I would run. I was aged about 13 and I would run for the length of the ‘games’ lesson.

The technical clothing in those days were a pair of thin cotton shorts (even with the ice on the ground) and no top. For footwear we all wore plimsolls with no socks. How is that for barefoot running? Yes it dictates your gait as the shock to the heels would be painful of you ran as though in padded footwear.

By the time I was aged 19 I was working as a chef in London and would run around Holland Park in the mornings, still in plimsolls. As the years went by I would run from time to time. When I lived in Birmingham I would run at night around the streets of Edgbaston, still in plimsolls. Because the running surface was not natural the running gait could not be natural, it could never be like running on a sandy beach.

After a gap of about 3 or 4 years I started again, but this time with the early version of the modern running shoe. What a difference! It felt like running on a sandy beach (without the drag) even though I was running on concrete and tarmac. I never looked back. And I have never gone back to running in plimsolls.

If you want to try this barefoot running malarkey you don’t need fancy footwear. Get some cheap plimsolls. They will provide just the right amount of covering for the soles of your feet to stop cuts or feeling the cold too much. You will only need to buy the very cheapest as you will not use them for long – unless you are daft.

8 thoughts on “Barefoot Running – Don’t!

  1. Mate, you need to do a bit of reading before you dismiss a new idea so casually.
    Looks like you gave your anatomy the perfect training by running in plimsolls from childhood so you have already gain the benefit.

  2. I’m assuming you mean Vibram Five Fingers shoes, not Nike? Nike have their Free line, but Vibram=who makes the soles for New Balance and several other companies… they look a bit weird, but for plenty of people, it’s more natural to walk flat and run toe to heel–it’s why we HAVE arches–they flatten after your forefoot strikes as your foot flattens, then voila, you push from the heel back onto the toe and bam, the whole force of your leg and hip are used, not just your achilles tendon to hamstring region. Sure, for casual and slow jogs, regular shoes are alright, but injuries are higher for people who wear them than people who don’t, and the thicker, more expensive materials double the injury count of cheap Wal-Mart type shoes that don’t give you the smooshy gel massage with every step but keep your body conditioned to perform, which your fortunate beginnings in canvas shoes did, too. You’re the perfect candidate for far more contoured-than-those, natural-shape minimalist shoes. I don’t wear virbacs etc… New Balance is as far as I’ll go; I injured (in cross trainers) my ankles pretty intensely and have arthritis and suffered a calcaneous fracture on my left heel… split right in half… so I have formed-to-my-foot support that intentionally restricts motion the way sneakers do… Frankly, our residents who wear minimalist shoes do a lot less whining about the tired feet they have at the end of 80 hours each week (weeks that never truly end for several years). Pity you gave up plimsolls simply because something else was soft as sand. You really want your feet to join the masses and become arthritic and osteoporosis-rich, be our guest… lord knows podiatrists and rheumatologists… and let’s not forget orthopedic surgeons/sports medicine specialists will enjoy their rich payout for your “comfort.”

    • I still think running on concrete can never be considered natural. Most running is on hard surfaces and preventing damage, particularly long term damage has to be avoided.

  3. Hi I appreciate your article, so please don’t take this in a bad way. I have spoken to many experienced competition runners (the ones who are doing insane long distance runs week in week out) and they are in the belief that you should be running with the balls of your feet striking the ground. I myself am a sprinter, but I have begun distance running too. Barefoot/thin sole running is logical as it helps you get that “spring” that guides you into the next step from the momentum of the previous step. As for common injuries, you will not overstretch your calves from running like this as this is how your feet are meant to strike the ground. Calf issues will be a result of overworking, lack of salt etc etc. Shin splints and all kinds of injuries come as a result of heel striking and to some extent being too flat footed as you don’t use the energy as efficiently to propel yourself forward. From an analogistic point of view, remember when you were a kid and had to wear plimsollls? Did you not find that when your wore them and ran you felt lightning fast, but when you swtiched to trainers, you were noticeably slower? Perhaps you personally aren’t convinced because you started running with correct form and have since maintained it. Just look at the trainers of the top sprinters in the world or the top long distance runners and you will see the thin soles they have, which naturally gives them the inclination to push off from their toes and put that energy of each step to good use. If you can do this in modern trainers then good for you, but be careful you don’t adapt and then become a heel striker!

  4. Coming late in the discussion, but let me share my opinion. Yes, its true when humans were evolving feet and bipedal locomotion, they did not have concrete or similar hard road surfaces to enjoy running on. Thus attempting to use “barefoot” style footware on those surfaces is not conducive to good performance. However, if trail running/ cross country running, I see the barefoot shoes being useful. What I do consider useful about running in the “barefoot” shoes on concrete is the change in running gait necessary to avoid hurting the heels (by avoiding heel strike, and eliminating much of the vertical movement in conventional running gaits) as the fore-midfoot, knee and hip work in a more integrated manner to absorb and minimise the shock of each footfall. This avoid the repetitive impact on the same areas within the knee joint surfaces which eventually lead to OA and curtail the running career. Once learned, the runner should probably be fine with a cheap plimsoll which has a thicker sole, but still does not bother to incorporate arch support or wedge shaped soles. Conventional design shoes encourage heel strike and pronation of the feet. Such innovations in my opinion improve athletic performance, but at the expense of length of running career.

  5. Well I guess barefoot running could be a “drill” for people with totally f**** up running styles to show them where they are wrong, since there are joggers with running strikes so atrocious that the only way they keep going is the humongous heel cushioning of their running shoes. They`d literally f*** them up after a few minutes of running barefoot, were they able to continue running as they do…barefoot. That being said I agree, running barefoot for prolongued times on pavement is madness. I’ve run a 10k barefoot as a result of a lost bet and even though I ran kinda slowly afterwards it felt as if I had run an all-out-marathon…worse actually. Running barefoot on meadows or the beach feels cool, indeed. I’d understand why people would like to do that for the sensory experience. But running barefoot on concrete – worse for prolongued milage- don’t do it guys…concrete is really f***** hard. Abebe Bikila also used shoes once he had a sponsor…

  6. It’s counter intuitive that running barefoot on hard surfaces is lower impact than running barefoot on irregular or soft surfaces. Our brains insist on a certain level of stability when we walk or run, and when we are on irregular surfaces, we tend to punch the ground harder in order to get the same stability that a soft impact on a hard surface would provide. Hard surfaces also sometimes have the advantage of being easier to inspect for sharp or irregular objects.

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