Barefoot Running: Trend or Trouble?

I took up running exactly one year ago this month, and during the 1,200 or so miles that I’ve logged,

I took up running exactly one year ago this month, and during the 1,200 or so miles that I’ve logged, I’ve seen some amazing things. I’ve run as the sun was setting over the St. Lawrence River. I’ve sprinted past rescue workers saving a fisherman in New York City’s East River. I’ve seen numerous people “relieve” themselves as I’ve trotted by. Most recently I saw a pair of what I can only describe as amphibian feet running towards me. They looked like something out of a science fiction movie — thin rubber encasing both feet with each toe separated, similar to a glove. I stared and wondered “Why on earth that person was wearing gloves on his feet?”

I ran home and did what any person in my situation would do. I Googled ” shoe gloves,” and discovered the vast world of barefoot running. The shoes are called Vibram FiveFingers. Its makers claim they’ll cure your running aches and pains and lead to faster, longer runs. “The typical human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution with 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles, and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments,” the company website says. “Like the rest of the body, to keep our feet healthy, they need to be stimulated and exercised.”

Vibram FiveFingers
Would you dare to bare?

As the weeks went by, I saw more and more shoe gloves run by me. At first it seemed like a silly shoe trend (Reebok Pumps anyone?). But the more I researched the concept of barefoot running, the more intrigued I became. A friend suggested I read Born to Run, a book about a hidden tribe in Mexico touted as the greatest runners in the world. And, get this, they don’t wear shoes! I’m a sucker for the “next best thing” when it comes to exercising. I’ve tried it all: hot yoga, Bar Method, kickboxing, CrossFit, swimming, spinning, Zumba, pilates, Tae Bo, and more. After reading the book I went to my local running store to try Vibram FiveFingers.

The verdict? It feels like you are running without shoes. The sensation was weird and all I kept thinking about was that my body was absorbing the impact of running instead of my shoes. Perhaps it’s the shape of my foot, the way my foot lands, or years of shoe marketing I’ve been exposed to that made be wary. Either way, I decided to hold off purchasing a pair.

Running barefoot isn’t for everyone, especially people with severe pronation or supination. A running store employee or doctor should be able to tell you if you have either. (As with any new exercise, it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting.) That’s not to say I don’t see how these shoes can benefit some runners. I would even consider wearing Vibram FiveFingers for short walks or hikes to see how my body reacts. But for now, I’m sticking with my Brooks.

Barefoot Running Guides:
The Barefoot Running Debate
The Edible Perspective’s Guide to Barefooting
Should You Be Running Barefoot?
You Walk Wrong
The Barefoot Experiment

Have you tried running barefoot? Tell us about your experience.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest