I get asked that question sometimes. When I first started running barefoot, I wrote often about it on Facebook and on my blog. So I figured it's time to set the record straight.
At this point, I'm not a barefoot runner. I'm a minimalist runner. I don't know why, but the balls of my feet have started hurting after I run barefoot--like I have stone bruises or something. One foot gets pretty bad pretty quickly. And somehow, the ultra-thin soles of my Vibram Five Fingers KSOs (a.k.a. "itty bitty gorilla feet") are enough to protect my feet so that when I do feel that discomfort, it's minimal.
When I'm chatting online with other barefoot runners, I'm a little embarrassed to admit...I'm wearing shoes. Barefoot runners and minimalist runners usually congregate together, since both groups are committed to running with a gentle form, and to feeling the ground (whether on bare feet or through very thin-soled shoes.) Even the Barefoot Runners Society, a group that has helped me a whole lot, states on their site that they want "To offer resources that unite barefoot and minimalist runners from around the world."
But sometimes there's this attitude within the barefoot/minimalist community, that barefoot running is the only really pure way to run. That minimalist runners are kinda...I don't know...weak or ignorant or something. And minimalist runners can have the same attitude toward those who wear traditional, heavily-structured running shoes. I hate to admit it, but I've even had that attitude.
And that's just plain silly. Do I even need a prefix like "barefoot" or "minimalist" or "shod" before the truly important word..."runner"? I don't want to only identify with a small segment of the running populace. Sure, it's fun to talk about minimalist shoes with others at races when I see them wearing Vibrams or Merrell Pace Gloves. But the most important thing to me is being surrounded by other runners, whatever they wear or don't wear on their feet. We're all one group, joined by our love of running.
Yes, I believe in the ideas behind barefoot and minimalist running. But when it comes down to it, I run in minimalist shoes because it works for me and because I like it. I love the light feel on my feet, and I think I run with a gentler form than I did with heavily cushioned shoes.
If you run, you should do the same. Run however it works for you, whether you're barefoot, or in minimalist shoes, or in thick-soled Nikes, or in combat boots.
And we'll all be joined, not by what's on our feet, but by our passion for getting out there and moving those feet.