Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole

Walk this way….run this way.

14 Comments

Choose your weapon or free your sole.

Yesterday afternoon I had my first appointment with the sports podiatrist. She told me I have injury to the intrinsic muscles of my foot. She put me in a walking cast for 1 week and told me to take 800mg of Advil twice a day for four days. She also told me that I’ll be able to run the half marathon I signed up for, in the beginning of October.

I remain skeptical.

Of course, being that she (like most of the medical community) isn’t a fan of barefoot running, she made the cursory attempt to convince me that I shouldn’t be running barefoot. Though, with that same breath she touted the advantages of barefoot form, and told me that I should try to mimic that form in supportive running shoes. It made me think the following two things:

  • Why does everyone hate you when you’re barefoot? You’re born barefoot – why is it so difficult to imagine living and exercising that way?
  • Maybe there’s some truth in what she is saying.

I’m not going to expand on the first point, because really it’s just more of a complaint. But I will say that nobody has ever been able to satisfy that question for me, and it is sort of frustrating. That’s a post for another day. I’d like to talk more about the second thought. In the year that I’ve converted from a hobby-jogger to a runner, I’ve stood firmly on the extreme deep end of the barefoot spectrum:

  • Barefoot is best, but minimalist shoes such as Vibrams or Merrels are acceptable.
  • There is a right and wrong form in which to run.
  • Arch support is your foot’s arch enemy.
  • A bare or minimally shod foot is a strong foot.
  • Everyone running in those cushy built-up Asics trainers is a damn fool.

I started running barefoot and minimalist because I read Born to Run and it inspired me to change the way that I run. To run smooth, light and strong. To run for health and happiness, like the Tarahumara people of the Copper Canyons (who don’t actually run barefoot at all, by the way). Caballo Blanco became my hero. But somehow along the way I completely forgot his message:

“[Running] is about form and it’s about running free. It’s not about what you wear or don’t wear on your feet.”

And it’s the same message that Christopher McDougall preaches to the crowds that gather to hear him talk. It’s the same thing that Mr. McDougall said to me when I briefly ran alongside him in Boston this spring. It doesn’t matter what you wear on your feet. Just have good form. Run smooth. Run light. Run free. In my forced hiatus from running this summer, I have thought a lot about what I should change in the future to prevent this from happening again. But being that I am so very prone to injury (I’ve barely ever gone an active year without something happening to my feet or ankles), and being a supinator (I land on the outside of my foot and fail to roll inward enough, which means no shock absorption) it’s tough to say that anything could change my future. However, since I have no plans to ever stop running, I am willing to adapt and find what the right thing is for me.

But what is the right thing for me?

  • Barefoot runners say that Barefoot is best, no matter what issues or ailments you may have.
  • Shod runners say get some cushioning shoes with curved lasts to force your foot to pronate when you run, with a pair of $400 orthotics stuffed inside.

I am finding that I agree with neither of these inflexible viewpoints. Life experience has taught me that being on one extreme end or the other of any issue is never as beneficial as seeing the positives of both sides and then falling somewhere between. Of course, there isn’t much of a supported middle ground when it comes to barefoot vs. shod running. For example, if I strap on a pair of Nike Frees I’m going to get an egg in my face from both sides. If I don’t shun one side in favor of the other, I have no home. And that sort of sucks because whomever I turn to for advice and support will just start by telling me I’m doing it wrong. But if I just remember what my first motivator taught me: “it’s not about what you wear or don’t wear on your feet,” then isn’t that where I belong? If I follow the Caballo, who runs in just about every kind of shoe there is, and also barefoot, then how can I go wrong?

I believe running is a sport of one: and that is why I love it. I run for myself. I motivate myself. I compete against myself. The only person I have to answer to is me, and I should run in whatever suits my feet, my body, my stride. What I should take away from others is the importance of good form and the inspiration to learn more, to work harder. And after using all the information I know to find what’s right for me, what others say about my footwear is of no importance.

The only thing that is important to me is to run. Run free, run happy, run smiley.

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14 thoughts on “Walk this way….run this way.

  1. Here are the reasons I am skeptical about barefoot running. People like to say things like, “We have been running barefoot for thousands of years!”
    To which I want to say:
    1. Yes, but that was on tundra, and grass, and dirt, not pavement.
    2. But I grew up in shoes. To suddenly switch to barefoot seems a bad idea.
    3. People used to live to 30. I’m already older than my great-great-great-great-grandparents when they were running barefoot. I’m also a lot heavier.

    I am open to having these beliefs changed with evidence, but I haven’t heard a convincing counterargument other than “Barefoot=natural and natural=better”.

    • Alex, thank you for reading and responding. And congratulations, you’ve just hit upon many of the excuses that people typically come up with for never trying barefoot/minimalist running (you forgot hypodermic needles and parasites :-p)! The reality is it doesn’t take any research to come up with reasons not to do something new. There is plenty of material out there that supports the natural running movement (and, you’ll be interested to learn, absolutely no evidence that modern running shoes are good for you). If you take the time to research it with an open mind, you just may find yourself a little dubious of your own preconceived notions about running in shoes.

  2. Hi! I’m dealing with much the same pain you have been describing in your blog. I’ve actually been following it from the link in the signature in your RW Barefoot Forum posts. Yes, I started barefoot and I’ve been dealing with this pain. No docs think it is a sfx. Any progress on your new treatment plan?

    Emily

  3. Oh, and how did you find your sports podiatrist? I’m so nervous about getting a good doctor I’m not sure how to pick one!

    Emily

    • I actually found my sports podiatrist by chance, a friend of mine works for one. There were no good doctors in my healthcare network, so I had to fight sorta tooth and nail to have them let me go to her.

      But anyway, the week’s worth of walking around in an aircast and taking ibuprofen (800mg twice a day – I have a whole new respect for ibuprofen) did seem to help calm down my foot a lot. But I feel like it’s going to be a long time before I can run barefoot again. The muscles in my foot are just fried. But, I can’t stop running altogether so I will have to run in regular sneakers for awhile. Thankfully I have learned how to run with good form so hopefully my knees won’t suffer too much in the interim.

      How long have you had the foot pain? Are you able to run at all? When/where does it hurt? I know for me, I almost never had pain unless I ran, I would only be able to run like a half mile before giving in, and then there would be residual pain after the running for a couple days. It was just too much on the muscles, and those muscles are just so tiny and delicate, you can’t mess around with them. So I’m sad to day that my barefoot running days are over for the time being, but I still believe in it so eventually I plan to try again.

  4. Treeves,

    Hi..I would have posted a response on RW but I am banned from there 😦 …lol. Sorry that you are having injury issues. I agree with the fact that what is or isn’t on your feet is not what is most important. Running happy and injury free is. I have found that there are many lovely minimalist options out on the market that encourage a barefoot style form. It is sad though that you will be like me and have no home to hang your hat.

    • Agel – do you run in regular trainers? I guess I always thought you were a barefoot 100% of the time runner. Sorry you were banned from RWOL. I have some Merrell barefoot shoes but alas those illicit pain still. Boo. Something about my foot being locked into position in a cushy sneaker keeps the pain at bay (although for some reason WALKING barefoot is okay). Thanks for your vote of confidence, though. I do sorta feel like I have no “home” when it comes to running buddies, but at least I have made friends with a few of those guys on Facebook, so they have been there to support me through this.

      • I have been a minimalist runner since 2005 and I practice some barefoot drills and short runs as a fun training tool for technique. I have run some miles barefoot but I prefer minimal shoes when I run. My current models that I wear are Stem Primal Origins, Puma Street kosmos and Altra Instincts. The pums line has been my favorite since 2005 however after 2 weeks of testing out the Stem model I am quite certain it will be my new favorite for the future. It is more like a Vff without toe pockets. Looks like a normal shoe but only a 7mm zero drop midsole. It is very soft and very flexible. It is like having a glove on the foot. If cushioning is what you are being advised to wear I would suggest you check out the Altra Intuition. It is the female version of the Instinct. It has a zero drop midsole as well but has a very beefy 14mm of cushioning. It is quite beefy compared to the VFF, Merrell trail gloves and Stem origins. I can’t say that I agree 100% that you should be wearing more cushy shoes but if you are going to go that route atleast look for zero drop like the altra or Saucony hattori and even the new balance minimus zero that will come out in early next yr. Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions.

  5. Hey Treeves-

    I followed your thread from RWOL. I just wanted you to know you’re not alone! I tried being minimalist (with a dash of bf) and had similar issues. I had major pain pretty quickly barefoot, could make it 2-3 miles in VFFs, and up to 10 in Frees before my toe/arch/foot would start to ache. Big time. So after almost a year in minimalist shoes, I finally caved and bought a pair of Mizunos (after trying on a ton of shoes at the local running store). No, they’re not minimalist, but my foot pain is gone, and I ran a 1/2 marathon in them with no foot or ankle aches.

    I have super flat feet, especially my right foot (and that was the one that gave me issues!) and a year of minimal running didn’t change that or improve it. Whether or not my flat foot was the source of my foot aches, I’ve accepted that for various reasons a stiffer shoe works better for me.

    Oddly, and similar to your story, I am super comfortable and happiest barefoot or in vffs casually. I also feel like my legs recover faster from runs if I’m in vffs the rest of the day. It might be a placebo effect, but it works for me.

    And you do have a home, anyplace runners gather, regardless of what’s on our feet! Good luck and I hope your feet heal strong no matter what you wear.

    • Carly – thank you for commenting. It’s comforting to hear that I’m not the only one who has had this issue. Figures that someone who believes so strongly in the sport can’t do it. :-/

      And thank you for the kind words.

  6. Hi,

    I wanted to post again to let you know how I’m doing and what seems to be working. I met with an acupuncturist last week who suggested I leave my running shoes on (the ones I was never going to wear again) when walking anywhere, even around the house. I started doing that and two days later I noticed a huge difference. Within 4 days I was basically pain free. Wearing my running shoes everywhere = awful. Having a pain free foot = totally worth it. Doc’s plan to get me running again is to start back in the trainers for a few weeks as my muscle finishes calming down and start incorporating very small runs in minimalist footwear or barefoot into my routine. It’s not ideal but at least I can run again, for which I’m very grateful. Best to you as you heal and get back on the road!!

    Emily

    • Thanks for the update, Emily. I’m glad to hear that you have been improving. I would venture to say that your acupuncturist did pretty much the same thing with you that my podiatrist did with my aircast – only the aircast was perhaps a bit more aggressive. LOL. And after it was off I bought some light-weight running shoes with some cushioning (Saucony Kinvaras) and so far I’ve been running pain free. I was told to do 1/4 mile and then 1/2 mile – of course because I’m a bit of a freak I did 1 mile on Saturday. I was a bit sore yesterday, but I did find that if I’m wearing regular sneakers, the pain goes away. You’re right, it’s not ideal for a barefoot/minimalist runner, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right? I think I’m going to plan on being in these Kinvaras for awhile before I try putting the Merrell’s back on again. Oh well. At least I’m running!!

  7. Why does everyone hate you when you’re barefoot? You’re born barefoot – why is it so difficult to imagine living and exercising that way?

    — it’s kinda like religion – they are so set in their ways that they have no desire to see something that challenges their beliefs especially something so radical. Another perspective is that shoes represent social status and are a minimum standard set for social acceptability (“what do you mean your a nudist?” if you emotionally reacted to that statement, same thing). If people you meet don’t see you wearing shoes its a red flag that you are “poor”, “off”, “backward”, or “anti-authoritarian”. Then they smirk and hobble away. Meanwhile you can throw down five miles at a clip and love every step of it. The same thing happens if you happen to be vegetarian or even champion just natural eating habits (people seem to emotionally defend their meat and sweets eating habits like a lion pride over a wilderbeast).

  8. Treeves,

    I just wanted to say that I also don’t think you should try to force your foot in a straight line. Allow it to move relaxed as possible as it swings and moves with the core of your body. If you are going to think about doing anything let it be getting your foot under you as rapidly as you feel your core move out of balance. As always it should be light quick and with only this smallest amount of effort necessary. Good luck in your running.

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