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Barefoot and Minimalist Shoe FAQ

1.  Why do you run barefoot?

Initially, I began running barefoot to prevent injuries.  The specific injuries included plantar fasciitis, black toenails, sore back and knees, shin splints, and blisters.  Since 2006, I have been running barefoot because I enjoy it.  The feeling of your feet on the ground is great!  Admittedly, I do enjoy doing something that seems to be counterintuitive based on conventional wisdom. 

2.  How do you begin running barefoot?

Start Slow!  Most advocates recommend starting with a VERY short distance.   See the “How to Start” section of this site for a more complete answer.   The longer you have run with shoes, the weaker your foot musculature and connective tissues will be.  Over the course of a few months, time can be increased.  Personally, I went from 5 minute barefoot sessions on grass to exclusively barefoot runs of 20+ miles over the course of six months.  I would now recommend starting on a hard surface to facilitate learning proper form.   Patience is the key.

For those that prefer a detailed introduction to barefoot form, the POSE® method and ChiRunning® method of running are good for beginners.

3.   Is there any empirical research supporting barefoot running?

Yes!  I'm a big fan of peer-reviewed research!  Many barefoot runners will claim barefoot running helped them become better runners, but anecdotal evidence isn't always enough to convince me.  I'm a skeptic at heart!  The amount of peer-reviewed research supporting barefoot running is growing.  See the “Research” section of this site for a listing of research that supports barefoot running.

4.  Are there any other barefoot runners out there?

Yes!  There's a forum on Runner's World® website dedicated to barefoot running.   It is filled with helpful, supportive people.  Also, there's a Yahoo® group dedicated to barefoot running.  As the numbers grow, it is easier to find more barefoot runners.

5.  Doesn't running barefoot hurt your feet?

If you are patient and allow your feet to adapt slowly, running barefoot actually hurts your feet less than running with shoes.  The key is to adapt your gait to the type of running or racing you do.  In three years, I have two examples of improper adaptation.  I ran a 15K on asphalt at a pace MUCH faster than my training pace.  I ended up with three relatively large blisters from friction.  In a 50-mile trail race, I hadn't practiced trail running for about five weeks.  I hit my fourth toe on my right foot on a root and broke my toe. 

6.  What about glass or dog poop?

Obstacles in your path are easily avoided because you learn to watch the path directly in front of you.  With practice, your brain will create a mental map of the terrain 5 to 25 feet in front of you.  Your brain will automatically guide your foot landings to avoid obstacles.  You develop excellent foot-eye coordination!   If you do happen to step on bad stuff, your feet are usually tough enough to resist punctures.  Also, the soles of your feet become sensitive enough to shift your body weight if you step on something sharp.  The result- less downward force helps prevent puncture wounds.

7.  How can running barefoot reduce injuries?

The simple answer, you allow your feet to operate as they were intended.   Running barefoot strengthens your feet and all associated systems used for running.  Modern shoes limit the movement, thus function, of the feet.  This limitation of movement is then responsible for interfering with other biomechanical aspects of running (ankles, knees, hips, back, etc.) The result is an increase in injury.

8.  How do you keep your feet clean?

Counter-intuitively, going barefoot actually keeps your feet cleaner.  Shoes and socks that make your feet sweat cause odor, not your feet themselves.  The only problem- the soles of your feet do get pretty dirty. 

9.  How far can you run barefoot?

The sky is the limit!  With proper adaptation, a barefoot runner would be able to run as far as a shod runner (maybe further).  Personally, I routinely run 25+ miles barefoot on variety of surfaces ranging from asphalt to dirt trails, to gravel-covered roads.  My longest barefoot run to date is a 50-mile trail ultramarathon.   My longest run in minimalist shoes has been 100 miles (wearing Vibram KSOs®).

10.  What about racing barefoot?

While there aren't a lot of runners that race barefoot, there are no problems with it.  I race exclusively barefoot these days.  I've run 5K's, 15K's, 25K's and 50-milers barefoot, and distances up to 100 miles in minimalist shoes.

11.  What do other runners think of you?

Experienced runners are often either amazed or have A LOT of questions.   Inexperienced runners, spectators at races, or people I encounter on training runs have the same general reactions, but tend to give me more of an inquisitive look.  I have heard the occasional negative comment, mostly from individuals that have spent great sums of money on shoes.  I also get some comments about my feet/ ankles/ knees wearing out in a few years.  It's analogous to the overweight couch potato refusing to exercise because they are afraid of getting injured.  The human body has an amazing ability to adapt to the strains you put on it.  We'll rust from disuse before we wear out from over-use. 

12.  Is it fun?

Yes!  So much so, I am hopelessly addicted!  The only shoes I ever wear when running are Vibram FiveFingers® (KSO model).  I mostly wear them when the temps drop below 40° or if the terrain is too rugged to run at my desired speed.