The following article was written by Jason Oliver, an American living in Germany. Jason is a fantastic writer, and has begun writing about his barefoot running experiences across Europe. Check out his blog at:
In just the last couple years, the barefoot running craze has exploded in the US. The books, blogs, running clubs, shoe offerings and events springing up weekly confirm the trend. Unfortunately, across the Atlantic Ocean, Europe hasn’t caught on yet. Sure, you find a few German or UK blogs talking about barefoot running, and you can even buy minimalist shoes at a few stores. But for the most part, true barefoot running is unknown here.
One has to appreciate the irony. My wife’s home country of Germany has no less than 27 official “barefoot parks”; open, grassy spaces where anyone (excluding pooping pets, thank goodness) is invited to “awaken” their feet by walking on different surfaces, including rocks and pebbles of all shapes, colors and sizes, wood chips, sand, and even broken seashells. Even Germany’s laws mandate the availability of walking and bike paths through farmland, making this an ideal place to get out and bare your feet. And one would think a country as environmentally conscious as Germany would be a hotbed for a movement like barefoot running. Sadly, almost no one’s doing it.
I can’t explain the lack of interest, but I’m doing my part to get the word out. In our little German town of Ratingen-Hoesel, everyone is talking about barefoot running. Most likely that’s because the resident crazy American (me) has been frequently spotted jogging through town sans shoes. Not a single run goes by without friends, acquaintances or strangers enquiring about my missing shoes, yelling, “Mensch, wo sind deine Schuhe?”. And the fact that my wife keeps our social calendar fairly full means the topic of the shoe-less American has found its way into pretty much every dinner party and town event in just a few short months.
Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed. But recently a couple of events have made me think this movement might find its legs over here. First, neighbors who had seen me run in VFFs asked me about minimalist shoes. I gave them all the information and opinions I had, and they went out and bought pairs of Nike Frees. Then, one of my running buddies, the one who teased me the most ever since I bought the VFFs last spring, actually took his shoes off for the last part of our run last month. He enjoyed it so much he’s done the same thing every run since.
Then, a week ago, several dads were watching our sons getting trounced on the soccer field by a neighboring club team when one dad remarked that the boys were getting beat to the ball too often. Another said they moved their feet too slowly. Of course, I opened my mouth to say their strides were generally too long and many of the kids were heel-striking, and I even casually suggested running barefoot might help.
After the laughter subsided, one dad, a fellow runner who knew that I was switching to barefoot, asked me to explain. So I spent the next few minutes describing what I’ve learned about running form, cadence, speed and barefoot running. To a bunch of soccer dads.
During my speech, the assistant trainer had strolled over to listen. When I finished, he asked if I really thought it would help. I said it can’t hurt, and that I would start with my own son. Not sure why I hadn’t done this with my son before, but I’ll leave the list of my shortcomings as a father for another time.
Low and behold, I hear the trainers are now seriously considering having the boys run barefoot at the start of each training session. The whole idea may never get off the ground, though, because altering a German soccer practice is equivalent to changing the course of the Boston marathon. It’s worked forever and you just don’t screw with perfection.
As for my son, he’s discovered he loves barefoot running. As a kid, his feet haven’t been trapped in casts for 40 years, so he runs on strong feet with no aches or pains. This will definitely be something we can always share together.
Who knows? Maybe barefoot running will eventually take off in Germany and throughout Europe. As a frequent traveler for work, I intend to keep tabs on progress. And maybe I’ll find some time to document my barefoot adventures in places like Barcelona, Milano and Tel Aviv. To date, the Italians have shown the most interest in yelling from across the street, “Dude, where are your shoes?”.
I want to thank Jason Robillard and his blog for giving me the idea and the motivation to begin documenting my experiences with barefoot running. To anyone in Europe who reads this and agrees that this region is ripe for barefoot running, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. No man (or woman) is an island.
Read about Jason’s adventures: http://www.runbarefooteurope.blogspot.com/