Sunday, March 11, 2012
There are already many blogs and forums that address all the questions that people have about the wisdom or barefoot running. I share many of the concerns that are common but have still decided to do some of my running miles completely barefoot from now on.
Here is a short version of how I've dealt with the concerns:
1. What to do about stepping in a rusty nail or other object
The easiest way to step into a rusty nail is not on the average street but in places where objects are hard to see: in grass, in sand or in water. The one time I stepped into rusty nail I was walking through a shallow stream in sandals. It hurt like hell, I got some antibiotics and an update of my tetanus shot right away and the injury healed in about a week. Having a tetanus shot every 10 years, and more often for people who are at higher risk is a good idea for anyone.
2. Stepping into things that are unpleasant
This can be avoided by looking where we are going. There are bacteria on the surface we walk or run on barefoot but not as many as in our shoes, a moist environment that bacteria love.
3. Possibility of getting blisters
People who take off their shoes and gradually walk barefoot more will develop tough skin on the bottom of their feet. This is no different than guitar players developing calluses on their finger tips very quickly when they play regularly. The key is to listen to our body and stop when it starts getting uncomfortable. Our bodies are incredibly adaptable. The calluses that develop do not look rough and ugly but like fairly normal skin, just thicker. If you don't believe me look at some feet of barefoot runners on youtube.
4. Getting stone bruises
Stepping on occasional small pieces of gravel on an otherwise smooth road is a little uncomfortable, but no more so than getting a piece of gravel caught in our sandals. We stop, remove it and forget about it. When I ran barefoot for two miles yesterday this happened more than once. My body immediately, without conscious thought, adjusted by my spreading my weight differently for that step. This is the miracle of our brain responding by initiating movement in response to pressure. My conscious self was merely observing after the fact.
5. Taking shoes off will lead to overuse injuries
This one is true - if we don't listen to our body
Any running through pain and even discomfort can lead to injuries. Pain is the body's natural signal to slow down or stop. We can mentally override mild or sometimes even severe pain responses in an emergency (when we are chased by a Grizzly) but most of the time we should not try to ignore pain.
For any new activity we start we need to gradually condition or body. How long this takes depends on the number and size of muscle groups and connective tissue, age, speed of the movement, duration etc.
6. Going barefoot will only work for "normal" feet
There are situations where barefoot running is not a good idea. Examples are a comromised immune system, diabetes and other problems of circulation in the legs that make minor infections more dangerous.
Having flat feet or overpronating are not reasons to avoid barefooting. Using muscles in the foot that were not used much while wearing shoes every day can improve overall foot health dramatically. There are many barefoot runners who report that their feet develop nice arches after months of barefoot running. There is much discussion about this among podiatrists currently whether orthotics help or hurt.
This does not mean that there are not foot problems where going barefoot is contraindicated. If in doubt do your own research.
On the plus side I have to report that beyond the benefits of saving money on running shoes and making good running form easier that my own biggest worry, that of stumbling and getting bloody toes, has not happened. Even in my minimalist shoes I will occasionally stumble towards the end of a run when I get tired and don't lift my feet as much. I typically catch the front of the shoe and can usually catch myself. Barefoot this has not happened. My body knows it's own dimensions better than I thought, proprioception at it's best.
7. Looking like a weirdo
Yes, if you live in redneck country this could be a problem.
In most other places not so much.
I did feel a little self-conscious as I was jogging in my jeans when I did not have time to switch into running gear yesterday, holding a pair of VFF's (Vibram Five Fingers) in my hand (in case my feet needed them) going down the local trail. A couple of people smiled, amused at what I was doing. Nobody seemed offended, maybe curious.