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A Fictional Interview with a Barefoot Skeptic

Posted by on Feb 13, 2011 | 6 Comments

I’m beginning to see a change is perception among many in the medical community.  The fundamental principles of barefoot running are beginning to be accepted.  This is an interesting turn of events.

A few years ago, almost everyone in the medical community dismissed the concept of barefoot running.  There were a few rogue researchers and doctors that recognized the prevailing attitudes were probably flawed.

Over the last year, more medical professionals started objectively investigating the logic behind barefoot running, recognized it was valid, and began reevaluating their paradigm regarding shoes.

As is the case in any social change, the laggards (discussed in this previous post) will drag their feet.  They will cling to their previous belief system despite contradictory evidence.  The greater their investment in the “old way”, the greater their resistance to change.

The anti-barefoot messages we encounter reflect this change.  The messages given by critics is growing progressively more absurd.  The critical arguments don’t even pass a simple logical test… even the least skeptical among us could easily make a case against these arguments.  The best part- some professionals are posting these arguments online for all to see.  In some cases, they have removed the comments after posting.  At the very least, I give some barefoot opponents credit for not hiding their identity.  Even if I think their arguments are silly, I have tremendous respect for anyone that doesn’t hide behind a cloak of anonymity.

Anyway, the following is what I would imagine as an interview with the modern-day barefoot skeptic.

Jason: Hi, I’m here with Zippy Gorillashorts, a confirmed barefoot skeptic.  Hi Zippy, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us here at Barefoot Running University.

Zippy: No problem, Jason.  Thank you for giving this opportunity to reach the barefoot running audience.  My own website, has received very little traffic.

Jason: Okay, let’s get started.  On your website, you make the claim that there is little or no research supporting barefoot running.

Zippy:  Yes, this is true.  Currently, there are no studies that indicate barefoot running reduces injury.  As you know, all research is infallible.  Furthermore, the absence of research supporting barefoot running proves barefoot running is a farce.  Only an unqualified idiot would recommend anything that is not supported by research.

Jason:  I see.  Well, I was perusing the research and wasn’t able to find research that supported the use of the modern running shoe or orthotics for the reduction of injuries.

Zippy:  Oh.  Well… that’s different.  You see, the modern running shoe and orthotics limit the natural movement of the foot.  This eliminates pain.  The foot has 26 bones and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  That complex system is obviously fragile and should be immobilized as much as possible, which will eliminate any pain people may feel.  That’s just good logic… no research needed.

Jason:  Interesting.  So immobilization is good?  Doesn’t immobilization result in weakening via atrophy?

Zippy:  No.  The belief that immobilization results in weakening is a rumor spread by zealots.

Jason:  So you would recommend not moving as a means of achieving optimal health?

Zippy:  Yes, that is correct.  This  is the precise reason we see so many doctors recommending a “couch potato” lifestyle.  The general recommendation is to find a good, cushioned, supportive couch.  Sit or lie on the couch and move as little as possible.  This will prevent your body from wearing out.  Over the course of many years, you will definitely see the benefits of this lifestyle.  Humans ARE complex machines, after all.

Jason:  Okay.  Moving on, you mentioned the complexity of the human foot.  If the foot was meant to be immobilized, wouldn’t we have evolved with peg legs?

Zippy:  No, not at all.  You see, you can’t place a shoe on a peg.  Evolution anticipated the development of the modern running shoe, and developed this complex system of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments for one purpose- keep our shoes securely attached to our feet.  Don’t doubt the power of natural selection.

Jason: I suppose that explanation will resonate with some people.  Next issue- how about the need for arch support.  You claim the arch of the foot needs to be supported or else it will collapse.

Zippy:  Yes.  It is common knowledge that arches have to be supported from below.  The arch shape is inherently weak.  The fact that we have multiple arches in our foot proves that our feet are naturally weak.  Ask any architect… they will back me up.   Need more proof?  Watch the movie “Titanic”.  Notice all the arches in the ballroom?  Well, the Titanic sank.  I rest my case.

Jason:  Along the same lines, you are a proponent of the raised heel.  Explain.

Zippy:  Sure.  The human body is designed to land on the heel when running.  Why else would we have developed raised heel shoes with ample cushioning?  Again, it is a matter of evolution.  A few select shoe industry insiders evolved in such a way that allowed them to invent the raised, cushioned heel.  It’s a slam-dunk.  Need more proof?  Look at any race?  What do you see… runners running on their heels.  There’s nothing more beautiful than the bouncing, slapping, jerking, jarring form of a runner using a proper heel strike.

Jason:On your site, you make the case that minimalist shoes are a scam.

Zippy:  Yes.  Clearly these shoes are being produced to capitalize on a fad.

Jason:  Us barefoot runners use these shoes to provide protection and still allow natural running form when conditions make barefoot running dangerous.  They allow the foot to function naturally.  What is wrong with that?

Zippy:  Everything.  Your assumption that the human foot has a “natural movement” is based on baseless observations and inaccurate assumptions.  Didn’t you listen to my explanation of the evolutionary history of the foot?

Jason:  Let’s talk about running surfaces.  You make the claim that shoes are required because our modern environment is not barefoot-friendly.

Zippy:  That’s right.  In the ancient world, everything was soft and squishy.  Sharp pointy thing simply did not exist.  Neither did hard surfaces.  Our ancestors did not have to worry about the hazards we face today.  Ask any geologist… they will tell you we didn’t see the appearance of rocks until 1972.

Jason:  When I was reading through your site, you talk about the dangers of stepping on something like glass, rusty nails, or other debris.  Couldn’t a barefoot runner just run around anything they see in their path?

Zippy:  No, that is a lie propagated by the barefoot running community.  Through my own observations, I found two facts.  First, humans, once in motion, are incapable of changing direction.  If there is debris in their path, they have no choice but to plow through it.  Second, humans look at the sky when running.  This makes sense given the dangers modern man faces.  Have you researched the statistics?  Each one of us has a 1/12.6 million chance of being struck by a frozen hunk of feces dropped from an airplane.  I have been to airports and watched what people eat while waiting in the terminal.  I’m not about to take that chance.

Jason:  You also make the claim that being barefoot is unsanitary.  Could you elaborate?

Zippy:  Of course.  You see, our environment is filled with unsanitary conditions.  The last thing humans need is to subject themselves to bacteria, fungus, and other unsavory things.

Jason:  But aren’t shoes, with their moist, warm, dark environments, ideal incubators of those very things?

Zippy:  No, that is a common misconception.  Shoes are actually nearly sterile.

Jason:  Really?  Why do they smell so bad?

Zippy:  As far as I know, there is no research supporting the hypothesis that shoes have the potential to smell bad.  The bad smell people report probably comes from a more likely source, like old tacos.

Jason:  Okay.  Well, I’m running short on time.  Is there anything else you would like my readers to know?

Zippy:  Yes, I want them to avoid this barefoot running fad at all costs.  As you can see from my answers, science wholeheartedly supports the use of cushioned, raised heel shoes and orthotics.  If you experience any pain, this is the obvious solution.  In fact, even if you do not have pain, I’d suggest getting into the most restrictive footwear possible.  The whole idea of strengthening the body to solve problems will soon fade out, just like other frivolous cult-like things like weather forecasting, refrigeration, and the internet.  Prevention, after all, is the best medicine.

Jason:  Thanks Zippy.  I’m sure my readers will find this interview helpful.


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  2. Tyro
    February 13, 2011


    After spending 10 months now trying to adopt a mid-foot strike and experimenting with barefoot & VFFs, I got to say that the skeptics do have one good point – little (and big!) rocks hurt! Maybe if I was able to build up some solid callouses I could run on the trails near my house but it’s a catch-22, without putting in the time barefoot I don’t build the foot toughness but without the foot toughness it hurts too much to put in the time.

    Whenever anyone asks questions like “doesn’t it hurt”, “what about big rocks” or “what about stubbing your toes”, the answers are generally evasive or outright deceptive.

    That’s why, personally, I see so much value in this new line of running flats which support a mid-/fore-foot strike while still providing protection. It lets me run with a lot less pain and a lot more confidence, not to mention speed. Ultimately I find this more pleasant and fun.

    By presenting this as a battle between barefoot and 15mm heels sounds like a losing fight to me, as neither is right. Barefoot runners are valuable because they show what can be done but I doubt it will be the path for anything but a small minority. The *style* of running that they use, now that’s something interesting…

    • Jason
      February 13, 2011

      Precisely, which is the reason so many of us support the idea that minimalist shoes should be used as tools for conditions that are not favorable for barefoot running, but still allow the same form. Having tried two barefoot 100 milers AND living in the snow belt, I can definitely attest to the value of quality minimalist shoes.

      • Tyro
        February 13, 2011

        Yeah, you get credit for your work with Merrell, your discussions about all sorts of minimalist shoes including the explicit checklist of criteria you look for. You’ve also talked about some of the difficulties with barefoot running, something I see others dance around. I slot you in as one of the good guys.

        But if the question is “Couldn’t a barefoot runner just run around anything they see in their path?” then I think the actual answer is “sometimes, but not always and maybe even not often.” I guess it depends on what you find uncomfortable or painful to step on and whether this is an occasional, obvious hazard or something that is cropping up all the time. Even running on the road I’d find plenty of streets would have a scattering of gravel which would dig painfully into my feet unless I slowed down to a prancing walk. It also leaves unmentioned the fact that even if you slow down to avoid these obstacles, just one or two mistakes can have big consequences.


        Maybe it’s just me but I’ll happily sacrifice “ground feel” for the chance to run without bruises.

        Sorry man, didn’t mean to look like I was attacking you personally – just some disillusionment with the way in which some people hype the advantages while downplaying trade-offs.

  3. Tweets that mention Barefoot Running University » A Fictional Interview with a Barefoot Skeptic --
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  4. OreMan
    February 13, 2011

    Great interview! I am down! 😀