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
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