Barefoot running has once again captured our imagination. In the early 60’s it was made popular by Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia. At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome Bikila was a last minute substitute in the marathon. So when he couldn’t find a pair of shoes that fit him correctly he decided to run barefoot, the way he trained back home. Bikila won in a record time of 2:15:16.2, becoming the first black African to win an Olympic gold medal. In the Tokyo Olympic Games Bikila did race in shoes and bettered his time setting a new world’s record of 2:12:11, to win another Olympic Gold Medal.
In the early 1980’s Zola Budd, of South Africa also made barefoot running popular. I remember the barefoot Zola running the 3,000 meters and American World Champion Mary Decker taking a face plant then Zola’s left foot contacted Decker’s thigh. Zola now lives in South Carolina and still runs but now in shoes.
So the question remains should you lace up or not? This is not an easy question to answer. First you have to ask what are the benefits of bare foot running? Running barefoot can improve a runner’s technique. If you are running in a corrective shoe you can make a lot of mistakes and pound the pavement. Overtime this can cause injuries. I am sure that you have run with someone who sounds like they are stomping grapes rather than running. Think of this as pumping the brakes on a car. This wears out the brakes and also slows you down. Listen to the sound a fast and fluent runner makes….swoosh! So running short periods of time barefoot or in a light weight shoe on soft surfaces can help improve a runner’s technique but only if they are paying attention to technique. Both Bikila and Budd grew up in African and as children never wore shoes. They were young at the time and didn’t have injuries. They also trained on soft surfaces. So if you are thinking of running with a light weight shoe or going barefoot you have to work up to it. Don’t just kick off the shoes and go out for a run or you might be hitch hiking it back! Barefoot running on hard surfaces is not recommended at all.
If you have injuries, bunions the size of door knobs or flat feet , as I do, barefoot running is out of the question. The only exception might be running barefoot on a beach because the sand is like a custom orthodic with each step. Unfortunately, I don’t get to the beach very often. So what I do is lace up a pair of light weight trainers, with my orthodic in them, and imagine that I’m running barefoot. This allows me to think about my running technique – making a mid heel strike and smooth transition to the forefoot. I have personally found this to be very helpful. Sometimes, however, I like to run without thinking about anything. Ipod on, mind off and go. For those runs I wear my more corrective shoe.
Like everything in life there is no one answer that works for everyone. So if you don’t have any foot issues ,and have a low body weight go ahead and bare your sole. Remember to focus on form and keep the distance short and on a soft surface. I would suggest trying it after a track workout and run on the grass field across the track. For the rest of us, I would suggest going down a category in stability and using that shoe for focused workouts. Due some sole searching and find a lighter shoes and mix it up. Imagine that you are barefoot – just have the shoe on for protection.
Our bodies are great at letting us know if we are doing too much mileage or are getting injuried. Unfortunately, our minds and more often our egos lead us a stray. Then we breakdown! After each run listen to your body and make your honest ego free assestment. Happy trails.