There are as many reasons for running as there are days in the year, years in my life. But mostly I run because I am an animal and a child, an artist and a saint. So, too, are you. Find your own play, your own self-renewing compulsion, and you will become the person you are meant to be.
- George Sheehan

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dispelling Some Barefoot Running Myths

There is great debate in the running community whether running in shoes or running barefoot is better.  I'm not going to bother with this argument right now, because I believe it is different for everyone.  For me, being completely barefoot is the best option.  For others, that's not the case.  I always tell people that if they're happy and healthy running in their running shoes, then don't change.  Classic "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," situation.  For me, I was constantly broken running in shoes, so I had to change.  But I do want to shed some light on some misconceptions most shod runners tend to have when it comes to running barefoot.  Due to the increasing number of articles on barefoot running, there are so-called running experts (who have probably spent most of their lives in running shoes) who are spreading some incorrect information about barefoot running.  This is all based on my personal experiences.

"Barefoot running MIGHT be beneficial, but ONLY on surfaces like grass or sand.  People weren't meant to run barefoot on hard surfaces."
Not so.  Barefoot runners today compete in marathons, even ultra marathons over man-made surfaces such as asphalt and concrete without injury.  Sure, grass and sand are great "comfort" surfaces, but they have their own issues.  Grass, like sand, is soft and doesn't provide good feedback.  This muffled feedback prevents the runner from fine tuning their form.  Incorrect form can lead to injury.  Concrete provides instant feedback, and as a result, the form is easier to correct.  Also, grass hides what lies within it.  Non-barefoot runners are too concerned with stepping on the all-present shattered glass (something I have yet to see while running barefoot), but grass can easily hide such a danger, as well as rocks and other debris.  Grass can also hide uneven ground, which might also lead to injury.  One can easily see any debris or dangers ahead on concrete, though.  For me, running on clean concrete provides the smoothest, safest, and most comfortable run while barefoot.  I couldn't run on concrete in any type of shoe without shin splints (running shoes) or foot pain (minimalist shoes like Vibrams), but I can go for miles and miles on concrete while barefoot.  Go figure.

"You have to be biomechanically perfect to run barefoot.  Everyone else needs shoes!"
Also not the case.  I actually think it's the opposite.  I think people who naturally have good biomechanics and good running form are the most successful in shoes.  I have terrible running mechanics in shoes because I can't feel the ground beneath me.  I run totally goofy in shoes, and THAT is why I get injured in them.  The raised heel, millimeters upon millimeters of EVA foam, rubber, gel, and whatever crap is in the shoe...all that throws my stride off.  The improper mechanics from that bad stride is what eventually gets me in trouble.  That feedback I receive while barefoot keeps me honest and my body automatically knows what to do.  Barefoot running isn't for everyone, but I do think the majority of people would definitely benefit from even a little bit of barefoot training. 

"I over/under pronate, therefore I need special shoes."
Sometimes I wonder how much of that statement is inspired by misguided doctors or shoe stores pushing  a product.  People insisting on motion control shoes, stability shoes, preventing overpronation and all that other stuff...I can hardly believe it.  There is no one correct way to run, even barefoot.  There are principles to follow, but even then, no two people will run exactly the same.  People will strike the ground in different ways, and yes, landing on the outside of the foot is natural for some, and isn't something that necessarily has to be forceably correctly through motion control shoes.  I sometimes land on the outside of my foot while barefoot, and it's perfectly natural.

"It's too dangerous.  I'd be too worried about stepping on glass."
That's one of the first things I hear from anyone when barefoot running comes up.  I have been running barefoot for nearly a year, and I have yet to see broken glass.  It's out there somewhere, sure, but it's far from the nuisance that everyone else seems to think it is.  Small rocks are a bigger problem, but again, on concrete, any debris is very easy to see and avoid.

"Barefoot runners are out to change everyone else into barefoot runners too."
Barefoot runners are not out to burn your damn shoes.  I don't care what you wear, as long as you're happy.  So just don't hate on me for choosing NOT to wear shoes.  Going barefoot doesn't make me a better runner than you, so don't act like wearing shoes makes you a better runner than me.

That's all for now.  I'm sure I'll have more.

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