I have been a minimalist/barefoot runner for over four years. I started before the book “Born to Run” gave barefoot running widespread attention. Which, by the way, is a great, inspiring book, and not just because of the barefoot running aspect. It’s just a good read and I highly recommend it.
I don’t consider myself much of a runner. My athletic background is in basketball, a sport which is a series of sprints, jumps, and lateral cuts. I don’t think I ever ran more than three miles in any one run until I was over 25, other than the occasional Capital 10k, which felt brutal and unnatural to me. The only way I knew how to run was to go as hard and fast as I could until I couldn’t run anymore.
In 2003 I decided to run a marathon. I quickly realized that I really didn’t know how to run. Thankfully, I had colleagues I worked with who were great endurance coaches. They helped me with my training program and I completed two races that year… albeit slowly and painfully. I ran wearing thick, motion-control shoes, and running hurt… It hurt really bad. Again, it felt unnatural. After finishing the second marathon, I really didn’t develop much of a love for running out of the process.
About four years ago, something shifted. I had a series of serious injuries (dislocated big toe, and torn ACL) over the preceding couple of years that forced me to question the shoes I wore for both basketball and running. I recognized that my feet were incredibly weak. The more I thought about it, I recognized that my shoes were a major contributing factor. My shoes prevented my foot and ankle from functioning the way they were designed causing weakness and loss of functional mobility from my arches through my hips.
It was at this exact same time that I walked into a local outdoor sporting goods store, Whole Earth Provision Co., and saw the Vibram Five Fingers. I instantly saw the value in these shoes and bought a pair on the spot. Since then, I haven’t looked back. I now lead a completely barefoot/minimalist lifestyle. I am barefoot 90% of the time whether I’m working, running, or playing. And the other 10% I’m wearing the least amount of shoe possible. I wear my VFF’s, Merrell Trail Gloves, Soft Star Shoes, or Luna sandals when I have to. Like when I walk into a grocery store, restaurant, run on super rocky terrain, or when the pavement is 100 degrees in the summer time (I’ve burned my pads and it hurt).
Fast-forward four years: I follow the barefoot/minimalist conversation, and have kept up to speed with the back and forth debate over whether running barefoot is good or bad for you. Here is where I’m coming from:
I don’t run barefoot because it is the cure for all of my running injuries. It isn’t! I’ve dealt with chronic injuries that have prevented me from running regularly for over a year. It’s just within the past few months that I have been able to build my injury free barefoot running base again.
Buying the latest and greatest shoes won’t cure your injuries either. Hang out on the running forums long enough and you will quickly see the high rates of injuries for both barefoot and shod runners. Injuries have more to do with the how (form) and why (motivation) you run than anything you place on your feet.
What I do believe is this: that an intelligently designed training program (preferably one that includes the guidance of a great coach and includes functional movement training) combined with deep tissue fascial massage, and a barefoot/minimalist lifestyle, will give you the best chances of preventing long term pain and injury.
I don’t run barefoot because it makes me a better or faster runner. I run pretty slowly. Speed was never my gift. Although over the past four years, I have noticed that my running has become stronger. I have logged some of my fastest one mile times over the past few years, but this is not why I run barefoot.
What I believe is this: strengthening the arches of your feet, improving the mobility of your ankles and hips, and re-engaging the muscles of your hips – namely the gluteals – will and does improve running.
I don’t run barefoot because I think it makes me better than anyone else. I find this to be a very unattractive feature within the running community, or any community (food, exercise, or politics) for that matter. Anyone who moves their body with joy and purpose gets big points in my book. It really doesn’t matter whether your feet are bare or not.
Why do I run barefoot?
I run barefoot because I absolutely love the way it feels. I love feeling connected to the earth. I love how mindful I am of each and every step I take. I choose to run barefoot/minimalist for the pure love and joy of it. I feel youthful, activated, and fully engaged. The best part is that over the past four years, I have developed a profound love for the art of running. What better reason is there?