Running on the beach in San Diego on our vacation recently
I'm going to admit something here: I got so excited about barefoot running that I was looking primarily at one side of the issue, instead of honestly doing research on all sides of it.
I'm trying to change that. Thanks to a fellow member of the Barefoot Runners Society, yesterday I read parts of this barefoot running thread from a podiatry forum. Reading what these podiatrists had to say about barefoot running made me realize they aren't just a bunch of uptight, orthotics-pushing nuts (as they are sometimes characterized by barefoot running proponents.) The doctors on that forum know a whole lot more about running research than I do, and they're worth listening to.
Here are the conclusions I'm drawing about barefoot running and shod running in general:
- There is not enough research to draw dependable conclusions about barefoot running or shod running, when it comes to injury prevention and performance.
- Many runners successfully run in heavily-cushioned shoes. A small (and apparently growing) percentage of runners successfully run either barefoot or in "minimalist" shoes. If you're running without injury, I think that's great...shoes or no shoes.
- While there probably isn't one ideal running form for every runner, if a runner is injury-prone, it makes sense to evaluate his/her running form to try to find a form that leads to less injury.
- We have bodies that are made to move in all sorts of ways. So if a runner wants to experiment with different running forms, different shoes, barefoot running, etc., that experimentation can be fun and worthwhile, if done safely.
- Because humans ran for a very long time before shoes were invented, it makes sense that most of us are capable of successfully running barefoot, if we take time to develop proper strength and plantar toughness. Running barefoot is probably harder than it used to be, due to modern surfaces and modern transportation (resulting in less walking/running overall), so making the switch to barefoot running often requires a lot of effort. If modern technology (in the form of shoes or orthotics) helps a runner, there's nothing wrong with that.
- I was having some recurring knee problems when I was running with heavily-cushioned shoes, striking the ground first with my heel. I know from the past that my knees tend to be one of my weak points, so I'm particularly concerned about protecting them. Learning to run with a different form (shorter strides, striking on my fore- or midfoot) seems to have helped my knees tremendously. Running barefoot or with minimalist shoes makes this form more natural to me. (Of course, after writing this, I had a run with an old knee issue cropping up. I slacked off on strengthening, stretching, and foam rolling while on vacation...so clearly running barefoot doesn't give me an excuse not to work to keep my legs strong and flexible!)
- With this different running style, I am more prone to developing (temporary) pains in the bottom half of my legs and in my feet. I think these are primarily beginner growing pains. But even if they continue, to me they're preferable to the knee pains I was having. Any runner can get injured; we all need to be careful and conscious--shoes or no shoes.
- I ran with minimalist shoes (ZEM booties, made for beach use) when we visited my husband's parents. I really enjoyed the shoes' flexibility and the protection they offered. I also enjoy the unique freedom of being barefoot. I'm not sure whether, in the long run (no pun intended), I'll be primarily a barefoot runner, primarily a minimalist runner, or someone who does a lot of both. I'm pretty sure I won't go back to heavily-cushioned running shoes, but I won't rule that out entirely lest I have to eat my words!