Barefoot Running

Deep down I love running. I always have. Not that I’ve ever been any good at it, but that’s not the point, it’s not about how quick you are compared to others, it’s about how you challenge yourself. Running hasn’t always been to kind to me; like most runners, I’ve had my fair share of injuries. Maybe because of these injuries, or because I took a job at a company that provided a free, on-site gym, I had found I was running less and less. In my 20s I ran a bit of cross-country, a few half-marathons, and two soul-crushingly painful marathons. In the past few years I haven’t run more than 20 miles a week for the fear of knee problems.

In January 2010 I read ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall ( and it made me reassess everything I thought I knew about running. More importantly, it gave me hope that, if I could slightly change my running style, I might be able to run further and faster than before, with less chance of injury. To me that’s like saying, ‘here’s how to eat chocolate and ice cream without gaining any calories’.

Born to Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.
Isolated by the most savage terrain in North America, the reclusive Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s deadly Copper Canyons are custodians of a lost art. For centuries they have practiced techniques that allow them to run hundreds of miles without rest and chase down anything from a deer to an Olympic marathoner while enjoying every mile of it. Their superhuman talent is matched by uncanny health and serenity, leaving the Tarahumara immune to the diseases and strife that plague modern existence. With the help of Caballo Blanco, a mysterious loner who lives among the tribe, the author was able not only to uncover the secrets of the Tarahumara but also to find his own inner ultra-athlete, as he trained for the challenge of a lifetime: a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the tribe against an odd band of Americans, including a star ultramarathoner, a beautiful young surfer, and a barefoot wonder.
The secret shared in ‘Born to Run’ is that humans are designed to run long distances, and our feet are perfectly engineered to do so without the need for running shoes. The expensive trainers – or, if you’re American, ‘sneakers’ – that cushion our soles and compensate for flat feet or pronation actually increase the risk of injury! Therefore running is a skill that can be improved by running barefoot!

Try running barefoot for yourself. You can’t land heel first because it hurts. But, the thing is, it’s supposed to hurt if you land heel first, because our bodies weren’t designed to land that way. We’re designed to land on the balls of our feet, as this minimises the risk injury. Running shoes, however, allow us to land on our heels, thus increasing our chance of injury.

I love this presentation which neatly summarises the arguements for and against barefoot running:

A word to the wise, delve into the archive of this blog ( and you can learn from the stupid mistakes I made. I tried to do too much too soon and paid the price. After a couple of months I'd broken my sesamoid bone and a metatarsal. I'm not saying don't try running barefoot, rather if you do make sure you start very very slowly. Unless you are some kind of freak, it takes months of walking barefoot before you should even consider trying to run barefoot.

You can learn to learn how to run barefoot, but without cutting your feet, with a more responsive shoe stripped of the cushioning found in regular running shoes. That’s where the Vibram FiveFingers (VFFs in Barefoot geek-speak) come in. They’re very like the painfully unfashionable plimsolls worn during infant school PE lessons, but with the addition of a pocket for each toe… oh, and they cost nearly 100 quid (or around $90 in the US) – and that’s if you can manage to find a stockist in your area. Not just that, but these are becoming so popular that many stockists might not have what you want in your size.
Vibram FiveFingers as you can see, are little more than a 3mm piece of rubber, sculpted to the soles of your foot and each toe, with a soft upper and sometimes a strap for extra security. So far Vibram have developed 5 types of FiveFingers, in a range of colours, they are:
  • Classic – the most minimal of the range.
  • Sprint – same as the classic but with a strap.
  • KSO – stands for Keep Stuff Out, the upper covers the top of your foot and has a strap for additional security.
  • Flow – similar to the KSO but they are made from neoprene designed for warmth in colder weather.
  • KSO Trek – a more rugged version of the KSO with a slightly thicker sole.
  • MOC – like the classic but made from kangaroo leather and primarily designed for indoor use.
  • Bikila  – the first of their shoes that are specifically designed for running (named after the legendary Ethiopian 2 time Olympic Marathon winner, who won in 1964 barefoot, Abebe Bikila).
These shoes were originally designed as deck shoes for yachtsmen, but the story goes they were found online by Barefoot Ted (see Links for his website) who tried running barefoot and loved it, but he wanted something to mimic barefoot running, but provide a little bit of protection.
Stolen from Vibram website
The benefits of running barefoot have long been supported by scientific research, coaches, and athletes who've offered ample evidence that training without shoes allows you to run faster and further with fewer injuries.
Motion studies demonstrate that when running barefoot, one naturally lands on the forefoot, directly below your center of gravity. This results in optimum balance, increased stability, less impact, and greater propulsion. According to Dr. Ivo Waerlop of the Vibram® Biomechanics Advisory Board, "Running in Vibram® FiveFingers® improves agility, strength, and equilibrium, plus it delivers sensory feedback that allows runners to make immediate corrections in their form. This greatly improves running efficiency."