Perhaps you are familiar with the barefoot running craze, started by the book Born to Run by Author Christopher McDougall. Perhaps you have been thinking about giving barefoot running a try. Many run and triathlon coaches recommend running barefoot to some degree on a soft surface, such as grass, to help improve your running mechanics. Most experts agree however, that running barefoot most of the time is neither safe nor practical.
Although great in theory, running barefoot is not for everyone. Raise your hand if you came across any barefoot runners in any race you ran in the last year. The good news is that the running shoe industry is taking note of the interest in barefoot running and minimalist shoes. Minimalist shoes, or minis, are lightweight because they have few bells and whistles, such as built up heels that many experts claim make our legs and feet weaker, causing injury. Shoes like Vibrams provide a barefoot ride and feel, while providing some protection against puncture wounds from debris and road rash.
Running barefoot is dangerous for the vast majority of runners for two main reasons. First, rocks, twigs, glass, and other debris will likely cause injury at some point. Second, the muscles and joints of the legs and feet typically are weak because we wear shoes continuously. Some runners attempt to eradicate this, running a few miles each week barefoot, performing foot and leg strengthening exercises, and walking barefoot in and around the house. Running stride drills barefoot on grass, the track, or at the beach are good examples. Strong feet provide a solid platform for the body to ride upon – weak feet do not. Start out slow focusing on your form will help you prevent injury.
If you are determined to take barefoot running to the road here are a few considerations. Start slowly until your calves, arches, and Achilles tendons adjust. Increase the distance slightly each week, and listen to your body if you experience aches or pains as mentioned above. Run on a smooth, soft surface. When transitioning to hard surfaces, such as the road, try using minimalist shoes, which are low to the ground, lightweight, and provide the feel of being barefoot. Vibram, New Balance, Nike, and Newton Running make some of the better-known minimalist shoes.
If you are prone to injury using running shoes, running barefoot is not likely to change that; if you do not get injured often in running shoes, than why change? Trade in your heavy, clunky shoes with the anti-sway this, and the heavily cushioned that for a pair of minimalist shoes. Trade your heel strike for a mid-foot strike and rejoice at the results. Allow for a proper transition, and seek a qualified run or triathlon coach for assistance. The time and resources invested will be well worth it in the end.