Gotta Run: Whatever happened to barefoot running?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 11, 2021

Over my 44 years of running, I have had some decent success and am still at it, chasing a good run each day. I have met thousands of runners of all qualities. Just this week, I thought of one of them, the only one I have ever known to prefer barefoot running. To be more exact, most of the barefoot runners seldom ran barefoot on the roads or any kind of hard surface unless they wore a covering on their toes and feet. One of the most popular of these was the Vibram Five Finger series, where each toe had its own little sleeve and the foot was otherwise wrapped in a protective rubberized covering similar in appearance to a footie.

I like experimenting with different things, a diet change or different arm carriage or a new shoe. Maybe even a different supplement a few times. But I never seriously wanted to try barefoot running. I tried it on sand at the beach where many do, and only once on a sidewalk. Gave that sidewalk effort up in just a few minutes.

Back to the one runner I knew who was hooked on barefoot running, or at least wearing the Vibram product. About 10 years ago, nearly every current running shoe producer came out with a minimalist product, an almost shoe. Just a covering to protect your feet from anything sharp or uncomfortable. My running friend and client was an ER doctor working in this area but from Louisiana. She didn’t run very far, usually 1-3 miles a day, but eventually ran for more than a year without missing. But with any kind of poor conditions outside, or when not scheduled to run with me, she ran inside on a treadmill. Treadmills are cushioned.

We talked about a hundred different topics, and occasionally came around to why she thought that her version of footwear was the best. We agreed on most things, except politics or whether some celebrity was good looking. But there was a stone wall there about the shoes. She used medical terminology above my grade. At the time, I had more than 80,000 miles and she had less than 1,000. 

It seemed that the running barefoot craze had been inspired by a journalist named Christopher McDougall and his 2009 book, “Born to Run.” McDougall had overcome a long list of running problems while living with the Tarahumara Indians from Mexico, a tribe known for running barefoot and with a sort of sandal made out of flat and hard rubber from old tires. The Tarahumara played running games that went on all day and covered many miles. I read the book and loved it.

Michael Clark from Active.com defined minimalist shoes as those having stiff soles and lacking high cushioned heels and arch support. From 10-12 years ago, running magazines and stores had big sections advertising these incredible “almost shoes” and how they would make us all better runners. YouTube videos said the same. They pushed forefoot striking, meaning that the runner would strike the pavement first under the toes instead of the heel or midfoot as most do.

I remember a few people wearing them and another client who preferred running barefoot even on farm roads with small rocks. But for millions of dollars of advertising, the fad never caught on, and now most stores don’t carry them. Amazon still does.

So, what happened to the craze? For one thing, in 2014, Vibram settled a lawsuit over false health claims by agreeing to set aside $3.75 million to pay refunds of up to $94 to anyone who had purchased their product since March 2009.

Today, nearly all the shoe producers, including the ones I wear, are increasing the cushioning and strategically placing it. Some models, like the Hoka and Clifton, market themselves as running on clouds. Many runners swear by them. I like to feel the road and not use the softest cushioning on the market.

In my opinion, find what works for you and get a running shoe store to help you do it. But either way, keep running or get started soon. Resolution time isn’t far ahead!

The next race in the area is the Bradshaw Financial Resolution Run 5K, set for Jan. 1 at The Forum. Look for it and other upcoming events at www.salisburyrowanrunners.org.

Comments