Friday, 5 June 2009


Time to say goodbye to my '09 Brooks Beasts, finally. They have served me and the 12 in 12 challenge admirably, at Carlsbad, Austin, Napa Valley, Salt Lake City, Big Sur and Rock and Roll San Diego. I think they need a rest.

The big question now I get new shoes...or not?

Here's the deal. I have been listening this week to an audiobook, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christoper McDougall, an amazing account of one man's search for an even more amazing tribe of Mexican native runners who, if they had a hankering to, could probably eat those pesky Kenyan/Ethiopian marathon giants for lunch in any race they'd care to enter with them. But there's more.

The author also does in depth research into how the tribe (the Tarahumara) runs, and how those of us in the mainstream run, and how we got to where we are. One of the major differences between the two is that they, the tribe, run hundreds and hundreds of miles, BAREFOOT and uninjured, We, on the other hand, run in shoes that can cost well over $100, that we replace every 300-500 miles, and that may actually be responsible for the worrying statistic that, in any given year, 6-8 of every 10 runners in the United States will suffer at least one injury that sidelines them, at least temporarily.

Now, I will admit that, in each of the 26 marathons I have run I have seen at least one shoeless runner, and have either not given them much more than a passing glance or rated them an 11 on a 1 -10 nuttiness scale. In last weekend's Rock and Roll San Diego, however, I was pretty much stride-for-stride much of the time with a guy sporting a perfect tan, no shirt and barefeet. He seemed to be having a grand old time, and he got me to thinking then, more than ever, about the sans shoe approach. (One thinks about some goofy stuff during the latter miles of a marathon!!)Little did I know that just a few days later I'd be listening to someone explain his bliss to me, via my iPod.

To say that I am intrigued would put it mildly, although I am not YET ready to take the plunge. I love learning about new stuff, and then trying it out. In my excitement this morning I posted on Twitter that I was looking into this whole barefoot thing, and got a lot of quick responses, every one of them positive. I did not expect, however, to inspire someone to take to a bike path in Trieste (in THE Italy!) with her shoes ON HER HANDS and NOTHING on her feet, but, that's just what my friend Karoline did (click on her name to read about how it went for her). It will be interesting to see if either of us is still in shoes when we run the Trieste Marathon together next May.

I also heard from a guy named Joe, in THE New Jersey, who sent me a link to a video showing a runner doing the barefoot thing on the treadmill. What I noticed right off was that he was NOT hitting the ground first with his heels. Interesting. Different. AND, he seemed to be quite light on his bare feet. Joe's experimenting with barefoot running, too. He's warming up to the running with some walks and then walk/runs. I like Joe's style. May try his method this weekend, as I resume my training for Rock and Roll Seattle in three weeks. I won't be running RNR barefooted, I am sure. Don't have time to work up to that. But, I may get a pair of Nike Free's and try those out.

Not sure I'll ever go whole hog on the barefoot thing, even though I don't really care about maybe being an 11 or 12 on some random shoed-runner's nuttiness scale. What I know about barefoot running, at this early stage of my investigations, makes a lot of sense. That frightens me a little.

Would love to hear from any of you've tried to run without shoes, successfully or otherwise. Would also like to hear from anyone who's run in Nike Free's.

Gotta run!


Megan said...

If you're running in Beasts... then you probably should buy another pair of shoes. Running occasionally barefoot is totally cool, especially if you have great biomechanics, but it also helps to strengthen your feet. The downside is that, if your biomechanics are poor, running barefoot "all of a sudden" or for long distances without proper training can destroy you feet, knee alignment, hip alignment, back, musculature, etc etc etc. I suggest getting another pair of Beasts, and heading out toward the nearest grassy park (sans dog poop) or football field to run 100m strides midway through every run. You'll want to do such a strength workout before your legs get too tired, so use good judgment before running them at the end of a long run. Take care.

Michael B said...

thanks megan. really sensible advice! i wasn't really going to just stop running in shoes. it would have been a gradual thing if i did it at all. i am going to experiment a little this weekend...but will not be crazy about it. thanks again.

TokyoRacer said...

Yes, I agree with Megan. I have actually moved from heel striking to midfoot striking, which gives you many of the benefits of the barefoot approach without the worst disadvantages. The thing about barefoot running is, running on the balls of your feet (forefoot striking) is dangerous - you can easily come up with calf and achilles injuries. (As I did when I tried Newton shoes ( Even midfoot, you have to work into it gradually, for barefoot running, VERY gradually. Even 100m striders would be hard on the quads...I would say try some easy jogging first.
Coincidentally, I will be going for a 20k trail run tomorrow. One guy who was supposed to go with us just mailed me and said he will not be going...his achilles is very sore because he tried running on the balls of his feet after reading Born to Run.
And more coincidentally - my copy arrived yesterday! This book is certainly getting popular.

Michael B said...

bob- thanks for your input. i value your wisdom highly. thinking i am going to get a pair of free's for ocassional training and a new pair of beasts for everything else. cheers

Kch said...

I'm not running barefoot, but I am running some of my runs in Vibram 5 fingers. I do thin they are helping me to improve my form.

I recently finished Born to Run and loved it. Very inspiring. It almost makes me want to try an ultra!

leslie said...

In my early 40s I dealt with plantar fasciitis and stopped running for over a year. Now I rarely go barefoot at all, and while barefoot running sounds like it would be a good thing, it might not be a good thing in my case.

I may attend a POSE running clinic in August. Have you heard of that? Wonder what they have to say about barefoot running.

The other thing to consider if you run barefoot is that your pedicure and polish may not last as long, so it could be more costly than you think. Don't say I didn't warn you!!!

TokyoRacer said...

Leslie: POSE loves barefoot running. However, before you try it, in fact, before you go to the clinic, read this:

It's part of a six-part series on the Science of Sport blog, which is really good.
Bottom line: interesting ideas (I have actually switched to midfoot striking), but you don't need POSE, and you certainly don't need to pay them money.