Monday, 15 June 2009


Few weeks back I let it slip that I was looking into the whole barefoot running thing, thanks to the new book Born to Run. I was intrigued by the author's explanation of how running shoes were developed and the possibility that they could be responsible for the lion's share of modern running injuries. The alternative was, naturally, no shoes at all. I was in no hurry to run unshod, as I have a bunch of marathons still to run this year, one of which is RnR Seattle on the 27th of this month, and I didn't want to do anything stupider than I normally would, for fear of injuring myself.

If memory serves, it was the very next day (after I revealed my interest) that my online running bud, Karoline, from Road to Paris blog fame and fortune, hit the road shoeless. She returned unscathed and, apparently, jubilant for the experience. That's when the subtle (?) pressures began to be applied. Kari was a convert, and it was clear her Paris Marathon partner in crime, Laura, was under the gun to give it a try. They go way back, you see.

Laura and I twittered and facebooked a bit back and forth about Kari's, shall we say, intensity?! Yeah, that works. At this point I was feeling a little self-applied pressure to take the plunge, as it was my suggestion that created this monster (used in the nicest way!) in the first place, but, I was still planning on saving myself til after Seattle. Then, out of the blue, surprising me and our friend in Trieste (Kari), Laura dove in last week. She, too, was hooked. I had no choice but to follow suit.

My intent, when I headed into San Francisco at 6:30 this morning was to put in 18-20 miles as by last long run before Seattle. I was thinking about kicking things off (including my shoes) at the Marina, where I could run barefoot around the Green, either on the grass or the pavement path, for MAYBE a mile...just to say I'd tried it.

Got out of the car in my "birthday shoes" (as Kari calls them) and walked across the blacktop parking area to the green. The only thing I could say right then was "damn, that hurts". The parking area is a bit rough. I was sure at this point that this was not going to go well, but stuck to my guns and started running on the grass. It felt good. Nice and damp...and cool...and soft. I was, however, immediately concerned about the sprinkler heads that are almost hidden in the turf, and did not want to hit one of those, so I stepped out on the amazingly smooth and even blacktop path. It did not take long at all for me to be blown away.

I was amazed, primarily, just how much this did NOT hurt. Seems there are pretty much more nerve endings in the foot than almost anywhere else in the body, which might lead one to surmise that, therefore, running barefoot would hurt a lot. But, turns out, all those sensitive nerve endings allow the bare foot to respond and adapt in nano seconds to the stimulus, pleasant or otherwise.

I also quickly felt as though all the energy I was spending was being efficiently used. I was setting a really good pace (for me), with surprisingly little effort. The experience was so enjoyable, that I ended up going around the green seven times, just under 4 miles, before deciding it was time for shoes...and the rest of my run.

Hitting the road again in the new Kayano's did feel first. The cushy heal was comfortable and first. But I soon had the feeling that I was leaving a lot of energy in the cushioning, and perhaps, having to work way harder to get the shoes to go where I wanted them to.

Turns out the balls of both feet got a little tender during the barefoot section, which led to the development of one big blister, late into the shoed portion of the run. That was painful enough that I bailed on my 18-20 mile plan and settled for 15...five minutes faster than my previous 15 mile pace.

All in all, I am blown away by what a positive experience this was. I'm not an expert or a coach so I can not say it's for everyone. But if you're game, give it a go. If you do, even if you don't like it, please let me, Laura, or Kari know. We'd love to hear your tales.

Right now, gotta go lance a blister.
Gotta run!


Laura said...

I want to post this post on our blog- it's so good and only seems natural that we play blogging FOOTSIE, if you will! In any case, I will comment here - and hopefully our readers on Road to Paris will have now become followers HERE and get the message. I couldn't have said it better - the part about springy heels in the shoes and what-not. I felt the same thing, but quickly thought that I, too, was wasting energy in that spring that I wasn't wasting in my birthday shoes. On a similar note, I had a blood blister on the bottom of one of my toes from running on the track, but it was re-absorbed the next day.... all-in-all, a great experience that I am happy to have shared with you in cyberspace. (Barefoot Chardonnay!!!)

CewTwo said...

Too much basic foot damage, I'm afraid. An electrocution in my younger years blew the layer fo fat through a pinhole in the sole of a shoe. Lots of scars now and a diagnosis of fibraomatosis. But I wish I could try it!

TokyoRacer said...

Well, anyone who reads Born to Run (and everyone should!) will want to try it. I did, and after 4 200m striders on grass discovered what all the enthusiasm is about. I'm not ready to run 4 miles barefoot on asphalt, but I am ready to: 1) do some running on grass at the end of my workouts, 2) switch to lightly cushioned shoes, using midfoot or even forefoot striking, 3) try a pair of Nike Free 5.0 or 3.0 (one guy says that even though the heel looks big, they feel almost like barefoot running), 4) try another pair of shoes (like Terra Plana) listed on sites like and 5) become a follower of Barefoot Ted (Born to Run and google him).
PS: Michael, there are photos and stories on Caballo Blanco and Barefoot Ted's websites about the Copper Canyon ultras (they've continued each year). BT even has a nice slideshow. Caballo's has great photos of Arnulfo and Scott Jurek. I captured and printed them; they're on my wall.

kara said...

When I was a kid, I stepped on an old sardine can - almost sliced my heal off.
Me running barefoot - Noway!

ryanarn said...

As a barefoot runner for the last two years I have a few tangential observations.

Grass alongside pavement holds too many hidden hazards to be safe: sprinklers, dog-poop, sharp sticks, walnut shells, shredded pop-cans, etc. The pavement is much safer.

Blisters? You may have burned your foot pads. This happens to me when I run on hot asphalt for too long before my feet are properly conditioned for the season. It is less a concern as my foot pads toughen up.

When I run shod I have a habit of placing my feet on whatever they land on in front of me. When I run barefoot I flow around the terrain like water in a stream flows around rocks. It makes me feel so graceful.

kch said...

Glad you enjoyed your barefoot experience! I do like my Vibrams, but I also intend to try going totally barefoot next time I'm on a path that seems reasonably clear.

leslie said...

Your commentary about your barefoot run is fascinating. But I just got a pedicure yesterday. It's TOUGH being a girl, I tell you! :)

Best of luck on the 27th!

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