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Barefoot Running Goes Viral: The Most Compelling Story in the Running World Since Bowerman’s Waffle Iron

Posted by on May 19, 2011 | 26 Comments

We are on the precipice of something big. 

Really big.

Barefoot and minimalist shoe running (BFR/MR) has survived as a tiny niche within the running world for a number of years.  Over the last year, the movement started gaining some serious traction.  As of today, it constitutes 7% of the industry.  When I was this figure, I started getting excited.  Why?

This places BFR/MR on the cusp of the great chasm of product innovation.  The chasm is usually viewed as a major tipping point of newly-introduced disruptive ideas.  It marks the point between the innovators and early adopters and the early majority.  It marks the point where an idea goes viral.

BFR/MR is certainly a disruptive idea.  It directly conflicts the ideas developed over the last 30 years in the running industry.  It rejects the silly ideas that humans need a pillowy wedge under their heel.  It rejects the idea that all of us are “biomechanically-flawed” and need some sort of rubbery technology to “correct” us before we can engage in physical activity.  BFR/MR empowers us to capitalize on the innate ability residing within each of us.  It allows us to take responsibility for our own development as physical beings instead of relying on some foreign product that makes over-hyped claims of improved performance.  It turns the act of physical movement into something personal and sensual; something to be enjoyed.  It’s not about mindlessly and painfully plowing towards some arbitrary time or distance goal.  It’s about opening yourself up to the inherent joys of movement within your environment.  It’s about taking a step back and enjoying the journey.

Us innovators and early adopters, by definition includes everyone reading this right now, have recognized the wonderful benefits of BFR/MR.  This is obvious when I hear your stories, read our forums, or read your blogs.  This is a powerful experience that is spreading like wildfire.

Which brings us to this chasm.  This is a major tipping point.  Within the next few months, the general public is going to be introduced to these ideas on an accelerated basis.  Most of us take the ideas and values of the BFR/MR community for granted.  We forget that the vast majority of the public probably hasn’t heard of BFR/MR.  This opens up an incredible opportunity and also gives us a tremendous responsibility.  The next wave of people interested in BFR/MR is going to be fundamentally different.

First, the new wave will not actively seek out information.  There’s a wealth of information available on the Internet… but you have to search for it.  It’s easy to find if only you look.  We can no longer assume this new wave will look.  It’s the nature of the early majority.  They will come into the movement because others are doing it, not because of an innate curiosity.

Second, they will make a lot of mistakes.  They will run with bad form.  They will do too much too soon.  They will make every mistake imaginable.

Third, they will not be informed consumers.  They will not have participated in the discussions of what constitutes a good minimalist shoe.  They will buy the Fila Skeletoes instead of Vibrams even though it is an obviously-shitty knockoff.  At some point, I’m sure Sketchers will jump on the bandwagon, produce a seriously inferior product, get some fading Hollywood starlet or retired sports legend (Joe Montana, you should be ashamed) to peddle the crap, and give the entire movement a bad name.

As a community, I a calling on all of us to take a little slice of responsibility to help bridge this chasm and usher in the new early majority wave.  If we do this correctly, we can make a lasting positive impact on the lives of an entire generation of runners.  This is our opportunity to make a HUGE dent in the universe.

How can we do this?  You don’t have to become a blogger or barefoot running coach.  However, if you ARE interested, by all means do it!  Your contribution can be much smaller but still have an amazing impact.  This is what I need all of you to do:

1. Be a good ambassador. In a race, on a training run, or anywhere in public, have fun and be polite.  Smile.  If someone asks you a question, take a second and give them an answer.  There will be A LOT of questions.  Many of those questions will be repeated again and again.  Just remember- each person asking a question is exactly where you were at some point in the past.  What we do is inherently fun… put that on display.

2. Be a good role model for your peer groups. If you have friends that run and they show interest, teach them the basics.  Good form really comes down to a few simple elements.  Good Form Running explains it in a short, sweet package, as does this vid from Merrell.  This is one of the ideas I talked about in yesterday’s post.  It is best to keep it very simple so the people you teach can become teachers themselves.

3. Help new BFR/MRs understand what minimalist shoes are, how to properly select them, and how to avoid the poor-quality knock-offs. We discuss shoes ad nauseum on the forums and probably take this for granted.  Just remember- the new wave doesn’t have the luxury of the community dialogue.

4. Support your local running stores that support the minimalist movement. They are the single best conduits for disseminating running form education.  Some have already started teaching about good running form.  If not, be proactive and email the owner.  Help convince them of the value of teaching people how to run correctly.  If they do not carry your favorite minimalist shoes, add that to the email, too.

In the very near future, that chasm is going to be crossed.  When this happens, we will see a flood of new friends entering our community.  Each one of us has the power to make a lasting impact on their life as a physically-active individual.  There’s a pretty good probability everyone reading this right now has experienced the positive impact of BFR/MR on their life.  We can share that experience if we are ready.

Who’s with me?

 

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26 Comments

  1. Brant
    May 21, 2011

    Let us all press on in the work of mother nature!

  2. Dindo Magallanes
    May 21, 2011

    Press Forwaaard!

  3. Dindo Magallanes
    May 21, 2011

    Press Forward Sir!

  4. Paul Barker
    May 21, 2011

    On may 29 I will be running my first bf marathon, weather permiting.

    I was becoming entrenched and actualy thinking of ways to avoid answering all the questions. One option was to be rude.

    Thanks for pointing out the importance of being a good ambassador.

    Keep up the good work.

    Pb

  5. octavio
    May 20, 2011

    all is ok

    perfecto desde España

  6. Hans Pétursson
    May 20, 2011

    They had a piece about barefoot running on the evning news in Sweden, 14 may.

    http://svtplay.se/v/2426351/barfotalopning

  7. Kirk Milan
    May 20, 2011

    I’m in!

  8. Mark Cucuzzella
    May 19, 2011

    Jason,

    Thanks for the post and the kudos you give to the early innovative companies and stores that have completely embraced BFR/MR. Look forward to the Tour Stop at Freedoms Run Oct 1. http://www.freedomsrun.org
    We are a barefoot friendly town here in West
    Virgina and will continue our goal of becoming the first town to cure running injuries….through education and better footwear.
    Mark Cucuzzella MD

  9. Janice Nicholls
    May 19, 2011

    Great advice to all of us and I’m definitely with you. I find it hard to imagine though how barefoot running will tip soon in Canada. Maybe it’s the climate. I recently ran a 10km race that had approximately 12,000 people in it. I did not see another barefoot runner! I saw one person in Vibrams (other than my daughter). Not that I saw ALL the people, but I was on the lookout for a fellow barefooter. I did see a sports store selling Vibrams and that got me excited. Until recently, I’d not seen any in stock & have ordered all my minimalist shoes online (Vibrams — 2 pair, Evo Barefoots — 1 pair, Merrell Pace Glove — one pair).

    • Paul Wallis
      May 20, 2011

      Janice, I am interested in the development in Canada as well as I am a Canadian runner too, and I had some past affilation with the running room. Check out my ealier post for a link with my experiences. Which 10k race was it that you ran in Canada?

  10. Rorie
    May 19, 2011

    Education is a huge part of moving forward with BFR/MR. I actually think too much emphasis is being put on how different BFR/MR is to ‘actual’ running.

    For fear of alienating your bread and butter runners, and scaring off new runners, I think we need to move away from our current approach that BFR/MR is something new; a mystical running form that requires months of dedication, practice (and plenty of sports massage on the calves!)

    Running is running. Look at the top 10% in races and the one thing most runners have in common is forefoot landing (natural tendency when running at speed due to the Windlass mechanism). In that same 10% you will see quite a shift in gait style, from the smooth flowing to the shockingly ugly! Nevertheless they’re still fast. I think we need to be more mindful of each individuals gait, and try to avoid prescribing the usual posture / lean / 180 cadence which will not suit everyone.

    The BFR/MR movement has started the ball rolling in making people question the [shoe] industry. Hopefully in a few years time there won’t be the battle between standard/minimalist shoes, just footwear that does not hinder the natural movement of the foot – then we would all be happy runners.

    We have a lot of work to do!

  11. Tim and Jill Murphy
    May 19, 2011

    Hi Jason,
     
    Here at Good for the Soles, we are careful to spend lots of time with customers who come in with even the slightest bit of interest.  We know if there’s a spark, there’s a good chance their logic is trying to tell them how much sense natural running makes…but they’ve had words like “motion-control” and “cushioning” drilled into their brains for too long to make a decision.  
    Out of those “uninformed” customers (which, incidentally, also includes window shoppers who come in just to see what we’re all about), about 85% leave feeling one or more of the following:
    1.)  Excited – they can’t wait to run again after years of injuries keeping them sidelined.
    2.)  Encouraged – they thought their age/weight/lack of experience excluded them from the “runner” category.
    3.)  Informed – they realize how much sense it makes that running with a MFS/FFS in a flat (or close to it) shoe is so much better for your body (and your mind)than a RFS with an elevated shoe.
    A major piece of our business plan, like that of other centers in our network, such as Dr. Cucuzzella’s Two River’s Treads, is to offer training to our consumers.  For our first two months of business (May and June), we’re offering free ChiRunning and ChiWalking training.  Not having to shell out the extra cash, people are more likely to “give it a shot” and all participants have been overwhelmingly thankful, as they probably never would have tried it otherwise.  As a result, the word is spreading like wildfire in the area as participants are singing the praises of running without pain and fatigue!
    We anticipated that we’d be faced with a good deal of naysayers and skeptics, but are pleased to report that, here in Western Massachusetts, natural running is primarily being well-received.
    Thanks for the post – as always, well said.  :)
    - Tim and Jill Murphy
    Good for the Soles
    A Center for Natural Running
    Northampton, MA
    http://www.goodforthesoles.com
     

  12. HeatherW
    May 19, 2011

    I’m curious as to which group you think will be the most vulnerable amongst the early majority, Jason.

    I think most experienced runners are fascinated with shoes, and actually will read any literature included in the packaging. Also, many experienced runners are naturally hesitant to major changes in training, for fear of injury. I’m optimistic that a simple insert in the shoebox would be taken seriously by a fair amount of the “majority”.

    A lot of new runners are starting with Couch to 5K, which seems as easy to do in minimalist shoes as it is to do in bulky trainers. I think brand new runners will be fine and will never know the difference.

    Recently, a local ultrarunner told me that several of his ultrarunning friends had fractured their metatarsals running in Vibram Five Fingers. He indicated to me that they “knew” they should start slowly, but didn’t think the warnings applied to tough ultra dudes.

    Any thoughs?

  13. dnaistheway
    May 19, 2011

    Jason, I applaud your post. I have been running minimally for a very long time ~26 years, but only recently self-proclaimed myself as a minimalist runner. There has been an exponential growth in the last year in minimalist awareness. Many runners have run minimally for a long time; currently mainstream running community/media, running forums and other running platforms are taking notice because major shoe companies are investing large amounts of money to push a minimal product. So be it. However, I do concur that we as minimalist’s have a responsibility to share what we know or have learned as minimal runners to the novice, or shod runner looking to make a transition to minimal running.

  14. Sing it, Jason. | wegokigo: the kigo footwear blog
    May 19, 2011

    [...] encourage you to read the article HERE and leave your own response if you feel so inclined. What do you think? Is this just a fad, a trend [...]

  15. kigogal
    May 19, 2011

    Jason,
    This post rocks. You had me laughing out loud with the snarky middle section (you know what I’m talking about).

    If anyone is going to push BFR/MR through to the other side, it’s going to be guys like you, Patton Gleason, Mark Cucuzzella, Thomas Hollowell and the other tribe linchpins.

    Rest assured that the minimalist companies that REALLY care are listening to you and the community, and are focused solely on creating the right tools for the job.

    Recent numbers say that the Natural Running footwear market is poised for 265% growth in 2011. What the what?! That’s unprecedented – a serious chasm jump. There’s something driving this growth, and certainly it is the presence of the larger, more historically relevant brand names jumping in, but it’s also EDUCATION.

    The rise of things like Chi and POSE classes, Natural Running and Walking Centers, run specialty stores that have just one or two knowledgeable minimalist enthusiasts…and voices like yours hollering through social media, blogs and books – THAT’s what’s going to make this growth last.

    We’re working to do our part by designing, listening, participating, talking and writing, and when we stand back and witness what’s happening we have such hope…for the health and fitness of a population that needs it more than ever, and for improved performance and JOY in running and walking.

    Way to go with the post, Jerry Maguire. It’s a manifesto to be proud of.

    kigo is with you!

  16. Rob
    May 19, 2011

    VFFs, Huraches, Merrells, etc… are only the current iteration of “minimalist running” shoes. There have always been folks running in nothing racing flats since the beginning of the first running boon. I see this just as a perpetuation and growth of what’s already been going on. It’s just now that we’re seeing more and more adopters and more and more shoe companies jumping on board with more wares for sale. There have been a lot of us who’ve run everything from track to 100 mile ultras in racing flats long before the latest “Born To Run” craze…

  17. Paul Wallis
    May 19, 2011

    I agree with you Jason, only I don’t think it will take a few months, but a few years (hopefully I’m wrong). In my community there’s very few runners running in minimalist shoes (I’ve only seen 2), and very few even know about the movement in general. This may be because the Running Room is a huge focal point to runners in my community and they are anti-BFR/MR. Although I think they will eventually come around. I posted my experiences on BRS

    http://barefootrunners.org/forum-topic/running-room-update

  18. Patton Gleason
    May 19, 2011

    I can hardly tell you how much I dig this line “It allows us to take responsibility for our own development as physical beings instead of relying on some foreign product that makes over-hyped claims of improved performance.” I think this is the crux of. I believe this movement is more so about empowerment, than products.

    There is incredible power and satisfaction in being completely accountable to the running experience. In this paradigm the responsibility really shifts towards developing good form and natural running mechanics.

    Another very good post Jason. Keep up the good work.

  19. Ash
    May 19, 2011

    That’s a sobering point you make about the next wave not seeking out information the way we do. I definitely take that for granted. And, now that you stated it so plainly, I’ll make a greater effort to be forthcoming on the appeal of BFR/MR. ‘Course, my wife will still just say I’m being a shoe snob. ;-}

  20. Kent
    May 19, 2011

    Totally agree, I try my best to give as much information from inquiring minds as possible.

    I ran my first barefoot race (Half Marathon) less than a week ago through the streets of Sydney, Australia.

    You can walk into quite a few shoe shops and buy a pair of Vff’s which I saw plenty throughout the race.

    Lot’s of people have heard about the benefits of BFR/MR but are still scared to take the plunge. This was said to me constantly during the race 20+ times people coming up and having a chat while running.

    Still plenty of people with their jaw on the ground when I run past them BF pointing and in total shock having never heard of such a thing.

    Will keep a smile on my dial and keep answering questions and generally be a happy barefoot runner :)

  21. Dave Robbo
    May 19, 2011

    Way to go getting us fired up once again to lead the Natural Running movement and take it to the masses.

    I am especially drawn to point #1. I have been telling anyone that will listen that like it or not, when we run in public we are all living, breathing, sweating advertisements for an innate human activity.
    Sell it well and others will catch on for sure, or at least have their curiousity roused.
    All the smiles, positive exchanges and time spent answering questions are part of this ‘sales pitch’.

    I agree that the most effective approach to eliciting change relies on 2 key points: -Keep it simple
    -Keep it fun

    Strap yourselves in as we prepare to enter the chasm…

  22. OreMan
    May 19, 2011

    You are right in every aspect you mentioned. I also believe we are going to experience a great shift of paradigms about the running basics in a very near future. In Latvia where I live, nobody knew anything about BFR/MR, or the correct running form a year ago (or maybe some distinct individuals I know nothing about), not even in our local runners’ club. Now, I am a barefoot runner (although still in the transitioning phase), and I know some other runners that are starting to think: `Hey, maybe there really IS something in it he are trying to tell us..`.

    And some folks have ordered Vibram FiveFingers or Merrell minimalist shoes somewhere in internet (because we do not have anything like this in Latvia yet). I tend to think I have to do something with their decisions.. ;)

    So, yes, I am with you for sure! I have my own blog (in Latvian) in which I know write about barefoot and minimalist running (mostly). If one year ago I could understand completely the people not heard anything about this and resisting this, then now I just don’t understand them anymore. I think: `What a hell.. If you hear so much about benefits of barefoot running, and see someone (me) running barefoot without having any injuries, and at the same time you see other people suffering from various injuries, then how can you not get it??` Well, that’s something beyond my understanding.. :)

    So – keep up the good work you are doing here! I can only learn the tolerance and patience from you!

    • Jason
      May 19, 2011

      OreMan- thanks for taking the initiative and blogging about your experiences. I think Europe is poised for a BFR/MR explosion much like we’ve experienced here in the U.S.

      People like you will have the opportunity to be leaders of that movement. Get ready, it’s going to be a wild ride! :-)

  23. shel
    May 19, 2011

    let’s do this!