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Barefoot Running Jumps the Shark

Posted by on Dec 1, 2012 | 12 Comments

Okay, maybe barefoot running hasn’t jumped the shark… but the mystique has dies considerably.

And this is a good thing.

The running world has learned the lessons from barefoot running, namely:

  1. Running form is important,
  2. Plantar tactile sensations are useful tools,
  3. The transition is not without risk and won’t necessarily produce positive results in everybody that tries it,
  4. Shoes have a time and a place,
  5. Various qualities of shoes affect gait in a variety of ways.

Now that we’ve learned these lessons, barefoot running seems to have taken more or less the same place it did about four years ago- a small fringe group made up of people that genuinely enjoy the feelings of running barefoot.

Most runners have heard of barefoot running. Many runners have tried it and made positive changes as a result. It has influenced shoe design, the methods we use to conduct running research, and the public perception about movement. It has even inspired a move toward simplified living.

My recent trip to Chile was eye-opening for a variety of reasons. Aside from the amazing mountains and cool culture, barefoot running is virtually unheard of in Chile… just as it was here prior to Born to Run. That newness caused me to assess the state of barefoot running here in the United States. In relationship terms, we’ve moved past the frantic honeymoon phase that’s wrought with manic excitement. We’ve settled into a comfortable, loving warmth. We see the flaws of barefoot running, but love it anyway. It’s changed us for the better.

This is evident by the barefoot running chatter from bloggers. Pretty much all of us have moved to more fascinating topics like adventures at the gymsex, or the law. While I’m glad I refused to adopt the “Barefoot Jason” moniker (well, except for Twitter), the branding of BRU is a little problematic. Oh well, live and learn.

So where do we go from here?

There’s still a great deal of research to be conducted. Shoe design needs to continue to evolve. There are still people that have terrible running form. The lessons of barefoot running haven’t been spread to the most stubborn of Luddites, but it will happen. From this point, we could probably drop the “barefoot” from barefoot running and just refer to ourselves as runners.

Thoughts?

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12 Comments

  1. Angie Bee
    December 12, 2012

    Im glad I went with Barefoot Angie Bee. I have been barefoot all my life and its more than just taking off my shoes which has been my blogs tagline since I started it.
    Now I do far more yoga than running and its the norm to do that barefoot :) Its a lifestyle and philosophy for me regardless of the running culture.

    I am kind of over running these days anyways. I still love it but am not able to do it much. So I deal and abide and go with the flow.

  2. John Y.
    December 3, 2012

    I get a wee bit of the “cringe” factor when folks refer to the Vibrams as “Barefoot shoes”…no, they are shoes…they happen to look like a very colorful foot.

    Around here in Lancaster, PA we still have folks strike up a conversation about barefoot/minimally shod/transition running, and I do my best to mention BRU and all of the other sites that cater to our uniquely minimal needs. I agree with Jason but perhaps our view is due to a bit of jaded perception since the barefoot running has been so much a part of our lives. There are still Luddites (Jason’s term!) that have still been living under a rock (or a thickly cushioned heel) and only viewed our barefooted-ness or minimalism as a passing fancy. There have been more folks showing up to races in minimal footwear, but I still have enough fingers and toes to count them all.

    I still consider all of us runners, it’s just that those of us in the barefoot community have kicked off our shoes and run a different path. Sometimes that path happens to require a bit of shoe-ness to navigate properly.

  3. Barefoot TJ
    December 3, 2012

    Funny Jason, but for some reason today, I was thinking about you, wondering if you ever regretted calling the BRU Barefoot Running University and wondered if you would rename it at some point to NRU Natural Running University, or some such.

    So, have we made a dent these past four years? I say hell ya! A helluv one too! It was a lot of work but well worth it. Are we done? Hell no! We still have lots more to go. -TJ

  4. Bare Lee
    December 3, 2012

    Excellent post, as always.

    Still, I think “barefoot running” or “barefoot runner” is still a useful hyponymic distinction to make. It describes a style of running where sensuous, tactile pleasure is a big part of the experience. You just don’t get that running shod, no matter how minimally. For the true barefoot runner, this is more important than performance in pace or distance. Only extreme temps and terrain can persuade us to run shod, and even then only after stubborn dispute. And it’s this contention that gives barefoot practice it’s zen-like quality. This gravel hurts! Still the mind. This snow is cold! Still the mind.

    Some come to BFR as shod runners wanting to learn good form/escape injury, as you point out; some come to BFR as barefooters first, runners second, but some come to BFR as shod runners and become lifestyle barefooters, with a new, enhanced relationship to surface sensation.

    • chris
      December 3, 2012

      Bare Lee,

      Good point. There are those who take pleasure in the act of running barefoot for that act alone. I think this is an important distinction.

      Regarding the barefoot runner label – its out there now. Its not going back in the box.

      Chris

  5. Spencer
    December 3, 2012

    I run barefoot a little. Ran a 12k barefoot last year. But I still wear flexible low to the ground shoes. I use mostly vivobarefoots. The mt110 on heavy mountains trails. Being barefoot helps me learn how my body is moving. Wearing thin low to the ground shoes helps me move better. But to call myself a barefoot runner is a misnomer. I like to run barefoot, and it’s fun. I think it is just another tool in the toolbox. I definitely would say it has made me a much better runner though.

  6. Eric
    December 2, 2012

    Long story short I came across an article just about a month ago about barefoot running. I (like many other) thought those crazy folks. Then I also read about minimalist. Hmmmm I thought. I can’t believe how it has change my running. I feel so free using the idea’s and and techniques behind barefoot running. Thanks Jason for your website and book.
    As far as dropping barefoot, I think It needs to stay for the sake of letting folks know the most natural way to go.

  7. Chadisbarefoot
    December 1, 2012

    But what if you actually run barefoot the vast majority of the time? That’s still quite an unusual thing to do.

    • Barefoot TJ
      December 3, 2012

      Ah, that would make you a “Barefoot” runner, Chad. ;-) -TJ a.k.a., “Barefoot” TJ (Now, to become a runner again…)

  8. Bryan
    December 1, 2012

    Well, the fact is, I’m going to bet most folks are more like me: dipping their toes (pardon the pun) into more minimal shoes and occasionally running barefoot just for the fun of it. We see it for what it is: trying to run better, injury-free, and happy. Of course, part of that “injury-free” part is wearing shoes because people don’t know how to not break glass where a lot of us have to run…

  9. Ben W
    December 1, 2012

    Wow. Full circle. I definitely see that you’ve made this journey, Jason. But is your new perspective really as wide spread as you say? Whether or not, I dig your new running worldview.

  10. mike
    December 1, 2012

    i just call myself a runner who prefers to be barefoot. true barefoot, not those bf shoes. ;) always freaks people out when i tell them. you can see the hamster trying to move so they can register what i just said.