If who I see running loops in parks, and number of threads on running message boards, are any indication, barefoot running seems to have finally moved from all consuming fad to persistent running subgenre. Good. I’m happy to have barefoot running at the fringes where I can celebrate the eccentrics who do it well without having to suffer through a conversation about it every time someone finds out I run.
I’ve said all along that while barefoot running may work for some, and barefoot drills might be worth doing for many, by and large barefoot running isn’t a good idea, especially for the average middle of the pack fat guy like myself. Sure it is probably true that the human foot evolved to carry us vast distances with little cushioning, but the average Western runner of today bears little resemblance to the hunter gatherer of the Serengeti 10, 000 years ago. We’re taller, we’re fatter, and we have had virtually no experience walking or running barefoot for generations.
Sure there are those who have run very well barefoot. Abede Bikila won the 1960 Olympic marathon barefoot. Frank D, a Prospect Park legend, runs fast and long in nothing but modified huarache sandals. But most of us are not Frank. For most people, switching to a super minimalist shoe or running barefoot is going to lead to injury. From my anecdotal experience, it seems that most people have now learned this lesson. I don’t see many barefoot runners these days and those I see tend to be small and pretty fast. Rarely these days do I see a two hundred pound guy grinding out twelve minute miles while he turns his metatarsals to powder. This is as it should be. Running is a sport which celebrates individuality and eccentricity, and I love it when I see people doing crazy things like running in a circle for 24 hours, keeping up a run streak, or running barefoot in an urban park in December. What I don’t like is seeing people blinding following the latest running trend, whether that be chi-running, pose method, or barefoot running. Born to Run is a great book, but it isn’t a handbook for a lifetime of healthy running. I hope we can now add barefoot running to that long list of running fads. Three cheers for the eccentrics who are keeping it alive, but for the rest of you, put on some shoes.