Is Barefoot Running the Answer?

Over the weekend I read this wonderful book called Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. Several people had told me about this book, and were emphatic that I read it.  I kept putting it off, but something made me as my friend to borrow it. Here is what the synopsis is from Goodreads

Full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration, Born to Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.

Isolated by the most savage terrain in North America, the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons are custodians of a lost art. For centuries they have practiced techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest and chase down anything from a deer to an Olympic marathoner while enjoying every mile of it. Their superhuman talent is matched by uncanny health and serenity, leaving the Tarahumara immune to the diseases and strife that plague modern existence. With the help of Caballo Blanco, a mysterious loner who lives among the tribe, the author was able not only to uncover the secrets of the Tarahumara but also to find his own inner ultra-athlete, as he trained for the challenge of a lifetime: a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the tribe against an odd band of Americans,
including a star ultramarathoner, a beautiful young surfer, and a barefoot wonder.

With a sharp wit and wild exuberance, McDougall takes us from the high-tech science labs at Harvard to the sun-baked valleys and freezing peaks across North America, where ever-growing numbers of ultrarunners are pushing their bodies to the limit, and, finally, to the climactic race in the Copper Canyons. Born to Run is that rare book that will not only engage your mind but inspire your body when you realize that the secret to happiness is right at your feet, and that you, indeed all of us, were born to run.

So, I read this book cover-to-cover in about two days. We had a long car ride to my Uncle’s house, so I got a lot of reading in, and I managed to ignore my family a little bit to get some more reading in. I couldn’t help myself. I was not only pulled in by his writing, but I was pulled in by the stories of the Tarahumara – I wanted to be one of those Indio Gringos out there in the Copper Canyons. As inspiring as it was to hear the history of the Tarahumara, but also the runners I am often reading about in the pages of Runner’s World Magazine. But, what really got me were the parts about barefoot running.

I am not a big wearer of shoes. I would much rather be barefoot than have my feet shoved into a shoe. So, I compromise and wear flip flops as often as possible…even in the rain. With that said, once I started running, I made sure I had the best shoes to best support me feet.

I have seen people run marathons with nothing on their feet and often thought to myself, “They are going to hurt themselves.” Little did I know that I might just be the one hurting myself with my stability shoes that are supposed to keep my feet from pronating and causing plantar fasciitis…I have aches and pains that I try to roll, stretch and Ibuprofen away to no avail. Could it be my shoes?

Yes. I still need to lose more weight and I am sure that would alleviate some of the pressure I place on my knees and feet. But, is it possible that by strengthening my feet by not wearing shoes I could happily walk on my left foot in the morning without wincing? I am seriously considering going minimal…I am starting out slowly. I started today…I walked to the market (a little over one mile round trip) barefoot. Want to hear something weird? When I walk, my back often starts to hurt. I don’t know why, but it does. Today, while walking barefoot to and from the market (from was carrying a bag of groceries) my back NEVER hurt! I never had to stop and stretch my back. My heel didn’t hurt…I never had to stop and stretch my calf.

Is this psychosomatic? I have no idea. Does ONE walk mean I am never wearing shoes while exercising again? No. I will continue to test out this theory. I will eventually try running short distances at the track barefoot and see how it goes.

Are you a minimalist? Why and how did you go about the transition? I would LOVE to hear from the barefooters out there!

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7 Responses to Is Barefoot Running the Answer?

  1. Jessica says:

    I know Aunt Leslie has done some barefoot running. I bet she has some interesting info!

    • I know. Funnily enough, I was just at her blog and she had a picture of Chris McDougall and others he mentioned in the book! I am sure she will have lots of great insight.

  2. Leslie Crohn says:

    🙂 I love minimalist running. I run in Vibram Five Finger footwear almost exclusively, because it feels right. I haven’t gone totally barefoot as much as I’d like, because living in the desert, I always pick up cactus thorns and once embedded into your foot–they don’t come out. I might do more of the real barefoot running here in Bemidji on some paved trails–to get the feel of it, but I think it’s pretty close to running with the Five Fingers. I combine this approach along with Chi Running and I now run injury free! When I do put trail running shoes on for some of the more technical trails, I end up with knee pain. I never have knee pain with the Vibrams. I used to feel a little self conscious about being seen in the frog feet, but now I don’t even think about it–they feel so normal. Just take it slow when you start out…muscles you haven’t been using will feel sore at first…especially the calf muscles. A funny and nice side effect of running barefoot/minimalist, is my shoes size has gone down about 1/2 a size 🙂
    I’d love to hear how you like it, if you do more of it…have fun!!

    • Thank you so much for the great insight!

      Crazy thing…in my post I mentioned walking into town without shoes and having no back pain – the other day we walked into town and I put my shoes on half way through and by the time I got back home my back was KILLING me. I found that SO interesting…my problem is that my strong hippie feet I once had are so tender that the ground hurts. I may look into the Vibrams just to have something on my feet.

      Hey…on a completely different note – are you going to the wedding?

  3. Yay! Yep. Matt, Sunshine and I will be there.

  4. Leslie Crohn says:

    Woohoo..can’t wait to see you, Matt and Sunshine!

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