Running Barefoot

By Ganteng Boy

Never mind the years of smoking cigarettes, or the fact that I could care less about cardio routines. I was just not into running.

My girlfriend at the time was training for her first marathon – the full 26.2 miles, non-stop, in one single sitting. Needless to say, the girlfriend and I had a falling out; but the nagging thought of my health deteriorating remained.

I made a commitment to myself: to run one full marathon each year until I turned 30. I was 23 at the time. One particular Harvard study caught my attention. The study examined the benefits of running barefoot. Details of the study here.

Here are the PROs for barefoot running:

+ fixes running form: ‘Heel Strike’ to ‘Mid-Forefoot Strike’

+ costs less energy

+ strengthens the muscles in your foot

Why is it bad to run on your heels?

*Disclaimer* I am not a health professional, and will never claim to be one. (From this article and a variety of other sources online) When you run on your heels, your foot and the lower leg will come to a dead stop upon impact. Imagine that your foot is a metal rod. When you run on your heel, that metal rod is dropped, straight down, and it comes to a loud sudden stop. This type of impact is repeated over and over again. According the the Harvard study, this kind of collision leads to a rapid, high impact force at about 1.5 to as much as 3 times your body weight. Can you see now how this adds up, over the course of a marathon?

Here are the CONs for barefoot running:

+ the outside environment may be less forgiving (glass, ice, sharp objects, acorns, rocks, poisonous snakes, etc)

+ the risk of developing Achilles tendonitis when switching from heel striking to forefoot or midfoot stricking

I started running barefoot in January of 2010. On this particular January, I vividly remembered how icy it was outside. I ran about one quarter of a mile, before retreating back into the safety and warmth of my house. End result: bloodied and blistered foot. For some reason, my left foot was more blistered than my right.

Pro Tip: slow and steady wins the race

The next day, I was capable of running my first mile. Out of breath and tired, a few of my blisters on my left foot poped. I finally did it!

My foot is bloodied and now I am at a turning point: to give up the foolish idea of running barefoot or to press on.

Pro Tip: don’t give up.

I pressed on. Nine months later, I ramped up my long runs from what started as 5-miles into 18-miles -all of which I ran barefoot. Your body will have a natural way to fix your running form:

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Typical Long Run Route

At this point, both of my feet have developed a thick callus. For the most part, my feet were impervious to acorns and small rocks, but definitely not glass or nails. I also started to notice that my feet has a breaking point at mile 20.

Pro Tip: delayed gratification is more rewarding that instant stimulation

Was it worth it? Although I have never ran a full marathon completely barefoot, running my first two full marathons with Five Finger Shoes was an experience of a lifetime! My form improved. I am certain that my running form would be exponentially worse off than if I started out running with shoes.

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Austin Marathon, February 2012, @ the finishline

In the picture above, I am guilty of running on my heels. That was only at the last 100m of the race – I promise. 

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