Barefoot running has received quite a bit of buzz lately as people jump on the ‘less is more’ bandwagon and embrace the idea that natural is best. The book “Born to Run,” by Christopher McDougall, has helped fuel the fire; its account of the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico, who run incomprehensible distances with nothing but a piece of rubber strapped to their feet, has become something of a barefoot-running bible and is gathering more and more followers.
Research has surfaced indicating that humans evolved running barefoot over extreme distances, and it seems that injury rates have not declined at all since the conception of the first running shoe (courtesy of Bill Bowerman, Nike founder, in 1970) – in fact, certain injuries have become more commonplace. Proponents of barefoot running claim that all of the fancy technology and ‘advancements’ in high-dollar running shoes do nothing but act as crutches for feet, weaking ligaments and generally hindering evolution.
Running shoe companies naturally have a different take on the issue, as do some doctors and podiatrists, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t listening. Nike introduced the Nike Free, and other companies are beginning to go the minimalist route. Vibram Five Fingers, originally intended for kayakers and boaters, have taken off in the running world, giving wearers the feeling of being barefoot with just enough sole to protect against the concrete and gravel of the modern world.
Although anyone who tries to go ‘shoeless’ should do so very, very gradually (a lifetime of shoe-wearing does not properly prepare you to jump right in), one thing is certain: those who go barefoot rarely go back!