Over the past few years barefoot running has soared in popularity, bringing along with it a slew of “barefoot shoes,” scientific studies and articles, evangelical followers and bloggers worldwide. Since I started riding the barefoot tidal wave myself a couple years ago, I’ve sorta been wondering if and when the backlash would ensue. I mean, whenever you have this much of a swing in thinking, it is inevitably followed by some backslide toward the center again, nice and neat like a pendulum.
I can’t say for sure whether the pendulum has yet reached the other end in the barefoot running world, but I think we are maybe at least starting our descent. Recently I’ve been seeing more and more articles by barefoot enthusiasts (not just nay-sayers and middle-of-the-road-ers) who are now starting to nudge into more inclusive territory when it comes to running footwear. Some ideas like going totally barefoot maybe isn’t always best, that some cushioning isn’t such a no-no in certain situations, even that heel-striking might not be so bad for everyone, are starting to wash up here and there along the shore.
In the very beginning of my barefoot running life, I listened to, read and regurgitated everything that the gurus told me. It was probably best that way back then anyhow, because without enough experience, I may have caused more harm to myself than good. But once I had a handle on the general concepts, I made allowances to some critical thinking of my own. I was able to decide things like running totally barefoot 100% of the time isnt really my style, and that I’m okay with a little cushioning when I’m freshly back from an injury. And most importantly, I’ve decided that I’m okay with it if my friends hear how wonderfully life-changing this has been for me, and then still continue heel striking in their traditional running shoes.
At first I was somewhat of an outsider for this (an outsider to the outsiders! Imagine that!). I started writing unpopular blog posts like “What You Can Learn from a Cushiony Pair of Running Shoes” and “Why Form?” Also I wasn’t always taking my shoes off in the warm spring weather and I shunned the popular Merrells for my very favorite (and most hated by the cool kid majority) Vibram Bikilas. With laces. But now, some of the more popular bloggers are finally saying the same stuff I was thinking all along. Which is good, because that means people will probably begin to follow this shift in thinking, and then I’ll get to feel like I’m on track again. Weird how that works. But I digress.
The real thing I wanted to talk about here is the fascinating irony that people will come to your way of thinking, eventually, once you stop trying to pull them along. It is just a fact of life, but we often forget it. So around this time last year I was sitting at a table across from my boss and a bunch of coworkers at Truffle Café in Atlanta, getting a bit ruffled while trying to explain why I run barefoot. One person who was all too familiar with the argument muttered to herself, “Here we go again” as I began. Thankfully the conversation ended well enough, after the boss’s daughter generously piped up, “hey wait, my best friend wears those toe shoes to run. They’re so cool!” But basically it got to be a battlefield every time someone asked me about my weird shoes. And it was only because I cared. I wanted others to hear about how awesome it was to run in lighter shoes, and I wanted everyone else to share my epiphany.
But sooner or later I became disenchanted with the whole idea of spreading the word. My friends eventually got used to my monkey shoes and stopped asking about them. I endured the occasional barefoot joke, and it was fine because I can laugh at myself. Soon enough the only people even bothering to read my blog were already converted barefooters. Even my husband got bored of the content and just started blindingly re-tweeting my posts to qualify as showing his support (which I still do appreciate). And it didn’t matter much to me, anyway. By then I’d formed a thick skin and a nice group of barefoot running friends, all across the continent, with whom to share my triumphs and failings. I was pretty content with myself and with my non-barefoot running buddies, with their Brooks Ultra-Cushion Pillow Shoes and all. I didn’t care anymore if they decided to run barefoot or not.
But then it started happening.
“So, I’ve decided to start minimalist running…got any advice on what shoes I should buy? I saw that you review some of them on your blog.”
One person asked me at a party. And then another messaged me on Facebook. And then a couple inquired as to whether I would mind taking them minimalist shoe shopping. It was like music to my ears! At last I’ve been given the invitation to impart my mid-foot-struck running knowledge onto a few people, and it is marvelous!
I guess I’m learning that it pays to care a little less about whether I’m being heard – because sometimes people learn better with sight. I’m learning that if I’m to show anyone how freeing it is to run barefoot, I should do it with my life experiences, not with fact-spewing and propaganda. As I said in my latest active.com article, a happy runner is an inspirational one.
And I’m perfectly content to inspire in silence. How about you?
January 18, 2012 at 7:47 PM
Great point about letting things just happen. I was proselytizing to my friends when I first started with minimalist shoes to the point of getting annoying . . . then I just shut up. After about year and all my friends seeing their fat barefoot bud still running (with Bikila LS’s), they’ve started asking questions. One has even taken the step to purchse minimalist shoes, Skechers Go-Run. Not what I’d’ve suggested, but it’s going somewhere.
January 18, 2012 at 10:26 PM
I love the idea of being able to teach my friends what I have learned on this journey – and it’s really nice to have a few actually ask for it.
January 18, 2012 at 10:20 PM
🙂 we have very similar stories! i hope i’ve inspired a few, and those that ask me for advice get both sides of the story. i want people to have information and decide for themselves you know! keep up the good work!
January 18, 2012 at 10:24 PM
January 19, 2012 at 10:09 AM
Great post. I’ve had similar experience in my few years of transitioning into a barefoot lifestyle. At first I was a zealot, and have slowly gotten off my high horse to just walk the path. The more settled I became in myself, the more others began to ask for more guidance. We are much better teachers when people want to learn as opposed to information being crammed down their throats.
I am a massage therapist and personal trainer in Austin, TX. I specialize in the treatment and prevention of chronic pain and injury. I am an advocate of a barefoot lifestyle to promote a healthy posture with less chronic pain and injury over a lifetime. Below is training program for slowly transitioning into barefoot/minimalist running incorporating self massage using a foam roller, corrective exercise, flexibility, functional exercise and of course running. If you find it helpful, feel free to share. Thanks.
Jesse James Retherford
January 19, 2012 at 12:09 PM
Funny that just after I started calling myself the Barefoot Rose, I quit putting such an emphasis on the fact that I still run barefoot. I think longevity will inspire those that know us as barefoot runners will convince them to try it. Silence is golden.
January 19, 2012 at 5:33 PM
if you want to change the world, do nothing. change yourself.