So after this week's crazy barefoot snow adventures, a few of you were wondering why in the HADES I actually run barefoot... besides the obvious answers being "it gets me lots of attention and people think I'm crazy" ... both pluses in my book.
There are a myriad of reasons really. But first I ought to tell you how I came across this little gem of a running subculture.
The Journey of a Thousand Barefoot Steps
I first heard about the concept about a year ago on NPR's Radio West, and then again here (I think it was about the time I also heard about the Harvard study that said (paraphrased) that people who run barefoot tend to land on the ball of their foot avoiding impact 2 -3 times your body weight.)
So the guest on Radio West, Christopher McDougall (author of Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.) talks about a host of things; but one that stuck out was how we run and walk differently in and out of shoes... and he said to just try it. (The book itself is not about the barefoot running movement... it's about our relationship with running on a larger scale, but the barefoot bit is discussed.)
So he invited us to try it...to try running, jogging, plodding, whatever, without your shoes. And I thought:
"That's crazy! What about rocks and glass, sharp pointy objects; not to mention how hard pavement is?!?!?"
In fact, I thought it sounded ridiculous - (funny thing, I had a similar reaction to co-sleeping and EC-ing when I was first introduced to the concepts...and we know how I ate my words on those.)
So Christopher McDougall is a runner, and an author (Men's Health, SI, etc) and ends up on this wild journey of discovery to answer the basic question 'why does my foot hurt?' And it resonated with me because I refuse to believe that the only way I can run injury and pain free is by loading up on advil, after cortizone shots and orthotics. (What the podiatrist told me 10 years ago when I came looking for help with a bone spur in my heel.)
“A lot of foot and knee injuries that are currently plaguing us are actually caused by people running with shoes that actually make our feet weak, cause us to over-pronate, give us knee problems,” says Daniel Lieberman (the harvard study dude) in Born to Run. “Until 1972, when the modern athletic shoe was invented by Nike, people ran in very thin-soled shoes, had strong feet, and had much lower incidence of knee injuries.”
"Barefoot running is actually something that's been tried and tested over millions of years of evolution, explains 'Barefoot' Ken Bob in a Runner's World interview. "Feet have become the engineering marvel that they are because they work."
So one day I tried it... on a treadmill, just a mile because I hadn't really run for years. No big deal right? Well, it felt great. Outside of my calves being on fire; but my heel didn't hurt, my knee didn't bother me...so I decided that there might be something to it.
The Sports Authority?
In every other sport I've ever participated in: volleyball, basketball, water polo, swimming, golf, tennis. They've all come with instruction on body mechanics and form. But running? Well you just run how you run? Right?
Well, you 'run how you run' and then invest $100 in a really nice pair of running shoes (and orthotics if you over pronate, etc). So the gear must be the answer. But we didn't do this until Nike invented the running shoe in the 70s. (Marketing Geniuses... but also who I will happily blame for my heel spur in the 90s)
Here's an interesting little factoid: Did you know the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found that running shoes can increase joint torques at the hip, knee and ankle? Their study suggested that even going for a run in high heels was better for preventing joint injuries than tennis shoes. (I knew my running in the airport in my 4-inch stilettos was not an exercise in futility!)
So maybe pronation and supination are not 'problems' to correct, but just normal processes in the foot's gait...maybe all the gear we need is in the myriad of muscles, bones, tendons and nerve receptors right at the foundation of our being. (But maybe that's too philosophical.)
But to answer the question:
I run barefoot because it doesn't hurt my body like running with shoes does.
I run barefoot because I feel like I'm bucking the system when I do.
I run barefoot because I'm a hippie mom at heart.
I run barefoot because I feel lighter and freer and enjoy running more without shoes.
I run barefoot because I feel like in some small way I'm connecting more intensely with mother earth.
I run barefoot because I like how it feels (minus the whole frost bite thing, or the occasional rock...that's where the socks help, and the duct tape is just because I was wearing through a pair of socks a day.)
But most of all, I run barefoot because it works for me.
So there you have it.
And now, the fine print:
From the article Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot verses shod runners
Humans have engaged in endurance running for millions of years, but the modern running shoe was not invented until the 1970s. For most of human evolutionary history, runners were either barefoot or wore minimal footwear such as sandals or moccasins with smaller heels and little cushioning relative to modern running shoes. We wondered how runners coped with the impact caused by the foot colliding with the ground before the invention of the modern shoe. Here we show that habitually barefoot endurance runners often land on the fore-foot (fore-foot strike) before bringing down the heel, but they sometimes land with a flat foot (mid-foot strike) or, less often, on the heel (rear-foot strike). In contrast, habitually shod runners mostly rear-foot strike, facilitated by the elevated and cushioned heel of the modern running shoe. Kinematic and kinetic analyses show that even on hard surfaces, barefoot runners who fore-foot strike generate smaller collision forces than shod rear-foot strikers. This difference results primarily from a more plantarflexed foot at landing and more ankle compliance during impact, decreasing the effective mass of the body that collides with the ground. Fore-foot- and mid-foot-strike gaits were probably more common when humans ran barefoot or in minimal shoes, and may protect the feet and lower limbs from some of the impact-related injuries now experienced by a high percentage of runners.