To barefoot run or not?

I’m just about to start reading a book entitled “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall which is basically about McDougall challenging himself to run  a fifty mile race through Mexico’s Copper Canyons with a tribe who run virtually barefoot and it got me thinking – There has been a lot of talk recently about barefoot running and the advantages of it over running in trainers and I thought I’d do a bit of investigating.

The Barefoot debate is quite a common one and I remember a few months ago mentioning barefoot running to my podiatrist and he said it is something that many podiatrists love to debate on. He never really said whether he was for it or against it, but I do know the numbers for it are increasing. Famous barefoot runners include Zola Budd, former world record holder for the 5000m and Brice Tulloh, a former European 5k record holder.

There are a fair number of people out there that consider themselves barefoot runners and there is a Barefoot running society and Runners World has forums dedicated to discussing barefoot running.

So what’s all the hype? Is it really better to run barefoot?

Advantages to barefoot:

The pro barefooters say that there is a huge advantage to running barefoot.

Web MD reported on 27 January 2010 in an article by Bill Hendrick in relation to a new study that barefoot running causes less collision force to the feet than running shoes. Researchers found that  runners who run without shoes normally land on the balls of their feet, or sometimes flat footed, compared to runners in shoes who tend to land on their heels first which is far worse for the feet.

Looking across a number of articles, many say that running in trainers actually increases injuries such as knee and overall joint problems and that trainers actually hinder rather than help.

Elizabeth Quinn wrote for the website looking at the pros and cons of going shoesless that whilst studies have found that running efficiency increases by 4% while running barefoot, there is still a lack of well designed studies  comparing the incidence of injuries in runners wearing shoes with those running barefoot. But even though there is a questioning tone in her statement it does still say that running efficiency increases running barefoot.

Barefoot running also apparently builds up the muscles in the feet whereas running shoes according to studies weaken the tendons, ligaments and natural arches. The pro barefoot runners also say that barefoot running is a change of running style for the better and also that it helps runners to have a better sense of balance.


Disadvantages to barefoot running

It is highly unlikely that you could just wake up one morning and say ‘right today is my long run and I am going to go barefoot’. There would be a number of teething problems. Our feet are sensitive and it would take quite some time for the foot to suddenly adapt to running without the protection of shoes.

I know around where I live in Queensland that there is occasionally glass on the pavement and the surface is hard and would be quite harsh on my poor bare feet.

Our feet of course will need to run differently when making the transition from shoes to barefeet which may actually cause injuries such as achilles tendonitis at first whilst the feet adapt according to a number of articles. There are an increasing number of ‘in between’ possibilities such as Vibram fivefingers – a kind of in the middle between running in trainers and running in trainers these are very thin shoe with protection but give the sensation of running barefoot – so that’s another option.

Personally I think I will always be a shoe runner but I think if I was to consider barefoot running I might try the Vibram fivefingers first – I have heard good things about them. But hey for those of you more adventurous than me, try it – you never know you might find you like it!


4 thoughts on “To barefoot run or not?

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  1. The thing that worries me about barefoot running is that there doesnt seem to be many ‘long’ distance runners that run barefoot. Most examples you see are 5K runners.

    If I was going to give it a go I would try it on a treadmill first. Mind you I plan on still running tomorrow in the wet so maybe barefoot would be a better choice 🙂

    Hopefully see you at the run tomorrow – Shuan

  2. I think if I ran a race barefoot I would be worried that someone would stomp on my foot as I have had a few people do that and I have trainers on!

    I think there are valid reasons for running barefoot and valid for wearing trainers, and I am definately in the latter camp but it’s an interesting concept.

    Will see you soon I am sure.


  3. I have worn Vibram barefoot shoes for two years and I feel my feet are very strong. The first time I put on the Vibrams I went 5 miles in the sand and ached for 5 days. A month ago I went 22 miles and didn’t feel any pain in my Vibrams. I can run over rocks at a good speed now and not feel any pain with the Vibrams. I run up steep mountains that go up and up as often as I can.

    Two weeks ago I took off the Vibrams and snail walked barefoot up the mountain and I thought my feet were going to fall off. It was 40 degrees outside and warmed up to about 60 degrees. I encountered dirt and pebble rocks all the way up and some grass. I had my shoes in my hand and would put them on the ground and put my feet on top of them when my feet really started to hurt. Today was my third day of barefoot walking and my feet are starting to callus like never before. My tolerance has really improved and it is only the third day. Hopefully, I will be running barefoot over pebbles soon and feeling no pain. It was 54 degrees today and I didn’t need to put my feet on top of my shoes. I realized barefoot is when you take off your shoes, including your Vibrams!

    1. Wow Corey you are hardcore! 22 miles in Vibrams is awesome as is barefoot walking/running! Very inspiring!! I am too chicken to do that now I think.

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