Latest musings about barefoot running
Updated: Jun 28, 2020
I was out running the other day and someone stopped me to ask why I was running barefoot.
I still never quite know how to respond to this. Or, at least, I know how, but assume the person doing the asking hasn’t got several hours to spare while I go into the ins and outs of my choice. I have realized though that my reasons and priorities have changed over the years.
When I first started, the draw was a physical one: I wanted my running to feel more comfortable. I am also quite ‘minimalist’ by nature (I am currently three weeks into the “no poo method” – i.e. washing my hair with just water. The state of my hair is quite disgusting, but that’s another story) so the thought of just heading out the door without faffing with shoes was very tempting.
And the theory made total sense – we were not born wearing shoes, our feet are part of an integrated movement system, so let them do their thing. There was also increasing research out there suggesting that the more cushioned your running shoe, the more likely you are to get injured. Seemed like a no-brainer.
As I experimented, the theory held but the reality was entirely different. Most of us have some minor mechanical deficiencies and removing the support from shoes can have an initial, detrimental effect. It hurts. A lot! And when you stupidly start in winter, as I did, your feet get very cold!
Furthermore, most people I know who have transitioned to barefoot running have suffered an injury (myself included). However, this is ALWAYS as a result of not listening to your body. And this is another aspect of barefoot running: your feet do really tell you when enough’s enough. They are giving you constant feedback which keeps your senses active. People often describe feeling more awake and aware when they run barefoot. If you listen well to your feet and learn to listen well to your body, that is the main reason, I think, why barefoot running has been linked to reduced injury. Anyone can run injury free with anything or nothing on their feet, as long as they allow their instincts to control the speed and mileage rather than their brain and ego.
People talk about the grounding effect of barefoot running. They liken it to martial arts and yoga, saying it helps you become more centred. It’s occurred to me that it’s the opposite: I feel more spiritually connected when I run in bare feet. More in tune with nature. Less worried about the small stuff. Realizing how small and insignificant I am in the grand scheme of things so what’s the point in worrying? I am less grounded. Running becomes less physical without shoes.
The man that stopped me the other day was a runner, so we had quite a long chat about barefoot running and technique. Most people though just want the short answer so I tell them: “Because it’s more fun!”