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The Newbie Barefoot Runner Turning Purist… Let’s Give Them A Break

Posted by on Dec 9, 2010 | 6 Comments

There are two types of barefoot running purists, both have similar behaviors.  Both groups admonish the use of shoes.

One group consists of long-time barefoot runners with thousands of miles of experience.  This group generally shuns shoes based on their collective experience.  The would have accomplished great feats barefoot.  Off the top of my head, I can think of three people that fit this category- Rick Roeber, Jason Spooner, and Victor Palma.  Their point of view, while I disagree, has been earned.

The second group consists of new barefoot runners that lack significant experience.  This group is usually responsible for starting debates on the merits of shoes, sometimes within the barefoot running community; sometimes with the general running community.  This group is sometimes subjected to ridicule from all runners because of their passion.  I say we give this group a break.

Here’s why.  Whenever we make a decision (in this case the decision to go barefoot), we experience post-decision dissonance.  It’s an uneasy feeling that represents the paradigm shift from shod runner to barefoot runner.  Our behaviors aren’t necessarily matching our beliefs.  Since we’re changing our behaviors, dissonance ensues.

We deal with dissonance a few different ways.  In the case of the new barefoot runner, the belief that barefoot running is superior is adopted.

As soon as this paradigm shift occurs, the confirmation bias sets in.  The new barefoot runner begins searching for examples and evidence that they are correct, while simultaneously ignoring evidence that refutes their new-found belief.

This is the same phenomenon when we buy a new car.  Suddenly we see the car everywhere.  It’s not that there’s a sudden influx of these particular cars on the road.  We’re just attuned to that particular stimuli.  We make a mental note every time we see that specific car and ignore all other cars.  It’s a bias that makes it appear as if that car is much more popular than what it really is.

The new barefoot runner will actively seek out evidence that supports their new change in behavior (all barefoot running is good), and ignore evidence that refutes that behavior (sometimes shoes can be useful).  The result is what is often described as the “barefoot zealot” attitude.

Rest assured, this one-sided bias does not last long.  Eventually the new barefoot runner encounters situations that are not favorable to barefoot running.  Through experience, the barefoot runner gradually comes to understand the utility of shoes, which softens their stance.

I went through this very same process myself.  I spent about two years as a hardened barefoot purist.  I stubbornly ran in VERY adverse conditions just to confirm my belief that being barefoot was always superior.  Eventually I abandoned the position after many discussions on the Runner’s World Barefoot Running Forum with friends like Michael Helton and Jeremy Clegg.

I still tried pushing my own limits when running barefoot, but I was attempting to satisfy curiosity.  Today I’m more than willing to slip on a pair of good minimalist shoes if the conditions or terrain get too hostile.  I still prefer being barefoot, but I’m not going to let my stubbornness interfere with my enjoyment of running.

So the next time you encounter a new barefoot runner giving an impassioned speech about the merits of barefoot running, let them go on.  Instead of chastising them for their short-sightedness, embrace their enthusiasm.

On an Unrelated Note published a list of the 40 most exhilarating reads for runners, and ranked my book as the #1 read.  Thanks guys!

You can check out the first 52 pages of my book for free by clicking the link in the far right column of this site, or by clicking here.  The book is available from a variety of retailers, check out the links on the book’s site:

The Barefoot Running Book

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  1. Matt
    December 11, 2010

    Well said. I’m still not sure when the newbie stage ends. I’m 3 1/2 years into barefoot running, and I still consider myself a beginner. Given how many decades I wasn’t a “barefoot runner”, I figure it will be at least another 5 to 10 years before I’m there.

  2. Ramblin' Dan
    December 10, 2010

    Well said! I am in the second category, but reforming quickly. The point isn’t to run barefoot per se, but to run healthier, with fewer injuries, and most important, to enjoy it.

  3. Angie Bishop
    December 9, 2010

    Nice job on being #1 🙂 Very cool!
    Iowa winters squash my puritanical ways real fast!

  4. Pete Kemme
    December 9, 2010

    Congratulations on the #1 ranking. I might be a little biased, but your book is extremely easy to read and informative. If others have not read it yet, it is a must. Christmas is in a few weeks, so there are no excuses!

  5. Brandon Mulnix
    December 9, 2010

    If Jesus Christ himself wore sandals I know that its not all about being barefoot 100% of the time. I like my VFF’s this time of year. I ran a trail yesterday, that would have tore me to pieces if I was barefoot, and I wouldn’t have enjoyed the one hour of running a bit. I like to take everything to the extreme, including barefoot running, but if it means not enjoying it, but only doing it to prove a point to my ego, than forget about it.
    Your information about minimalist running shoes is great and helps me understand what to look for in a shoe. I have a pair of running shoes that used to drive me nuts, but now I took out the insoles and am wearing them around the house and back and forth to work… they now serve their purpose. You wouldn’t catch me running in them, but they keep my feet protected from the winter weather.

  6. joe welsh
    December 9, 2010

    Great post and dead on.

    I am a year in and just coming out of my Damn the Torpedos barefoot running stage, where I would run with bare feet no matter what and cause myself a ton of stupid pain and problems.

    Now I can finally accept barefooting as the way I want to run, but not necessarily the ONLY way I should run. We just got a foot and a half of snow, and let’s call a spade a spade – right now I would much rather be out there in my Evos.