“If barefoot running is better, why are you wearing barefoot running shoes?” is a common question when it comes to running without high-tech athletic shoes, but the answer is really not that complicated.
I began barefoot running by accident. Having moved into a temporary location next the beach, I had a three-mile stretch of sand right outside my door, just begging for me to start running again.
A runner off and on for many years, there always seemed to be a point that I would end up experiencing some type of injury that would cause me to lose my desire and ability to consistently run. As I stared at that beautiful beach, the realization hit that it had been at least six years since I’d really been running regularly, and I fondly recalled that a few of my favorite runs had been barefoot on the sand many years ago. I didn’t want to waste this opportunity and hoped to become motivated to stick with the program this time.
After four or five months of running barefoot on the beach, I experienced none of the usual aches and pains, or even more serious injuries that used to occur at least occasionally when I ran, and I was quite a bit older. Unfortunately, winter was just around the corner, and my toes were starting to get awfully cold sans shoes up on the northern Oregon coast.
Delving into minimalist running shoes
I might have discovered barefoot running shoes in somewhat of a backwards way compared to most people, but I began doing some research about barefoot running. I wanted to find out why it was better, as well as comparing various types of minimalist running shoes to keep my toes toasty.
I eventually settled on the popular Vibram Five Fingers barefoot running shoes, and loved the feeling of the freedom of running barefoot without my toes numbing from the cold. It was also nice to be able to run on the pavement on windy days, when the sand would blow into my face if I ran on the beach, without pain from the little sharp rocks of the asphalt.
While I love to run completely bare, it’s just not possible all of the time. Most of us don’t have the luxury of an easily accessible beach or soft, grassy fields, let alone year round mild temperatures. If I didn’t have to worry about stepping on sharp and potentially dangerous objects, or experiencing frostbite, I’d be tempted to go barefoot everywhere.
Where I’m living now, I run on a dirt trail that wouldn’t be very comfortable without shoes, so I’ve mostly stuck with my Vibram Five Fingers – although I have also tried a few different brands, none have done the job as well as Five Fingers. But is going with barefoot running shoes better than going completely bare?
Learn proper technique before wearing minimalist shoes
Barefoot running can help develop proper running form while causing less injury; therefore, some experts advise that barefoot runners at least start out completely bare. Many of the runners who transition directly into minimalist running shoes after wearing cushioned athletic running shoes get hurt because they run the same way they always did.
This may be where I got lucky in that I began barefoot running without the minimalist shoes, training myself to run properly, without realizing that it was the right way to do it.
If you don’t want to take the time to harden the soles of your feet and develop a natural, thick cushion like some hard core barefoot runners do, it is important to do some training completely barefoot on soft grass or the sand before transitioning to minimalist shoes.
Going completely without
If you decide you’d like to become one of those tough, completely bare barefoot runners, it may take some time before you “break in your feet,” and get them accustomed to the sensations derived from the ground. Your pace will naturally be slower, and you’ll also have to accept having sore, but not injured, feet until your skin develops a thicker covering.
You’ll need to look ahead consistently to see where your foot will come down to avoid anything potentially dangerous like a piece of glass. Even in traditional running shoes, you don’t want to step on sharp objects, but this is extremely important when running barefoot or in minimalist shoes.
Find a balance
While there may be no right or wrong answer to running completely bare or running with minimalist shoes, for many people the best bet may be a combination of both. Consider barefoot training whenever you can, combined with minimalist running shoes out on the trail, or wherever you might experience discomfort on the soles of your feet.