Coach Mike Mead

October 2009

Running Naked – Foot loose and Injury Free

Now that I have your attention, this column is not a view on clothing-optional running. Rather, it is time to set your feet free with a little barefoot running.

Not so long ago in human history, man (and I’m sure woman) pretty much ran shoeless. Then along came the advent of shoes to protect one’s feet from rough terrain. Naturally, running shoes were developed to protect runner’s feet while the rapidly-growing addition of pavement invaded the landscape.

In the past 30 years, running shoes have evolved into high-tech footwear that protects the foot so well that our little tootsies are safe and sound. But the downside to these high-tech shoes is that our feet are so over-protected that they’re not as tough as they use to be.

Our high-tech running shoes are basically hurting our feet. With all the support, our feet have gotten soft.

In his book, “Brain Training for Runners,” Matt Fitzgerald explains how shoes cause injuries. Basically, running in shoes results in runners overstriding which can lead to injuries. Make runners go barefooted and they do not overstride. The main difference finds those running in shoes land heel-first whereas running barefooted eliminates heel-first contact with the ground.

Fitzgerald speculates that running in shoes make us run unnatural, resulting in overstriding and leading to overuse injuries. It makes sense to me. More specifically, most running shoes these days have about an inch of cushioning to protect our feet from the pounding. But our feet are really insulated from contact with the ground creating more unstable conditions for our tootsies.

If you have ever experienced plantar fasciitis – it’s that condition where one has pain along the bottom of the foot, particularly the first thing each morning – it’s no fun to deal with. This painful injury can lay up a runner for weeks. The basic cause is the foot is so well supported by our running shoes that the plantar is weakened over time and begins giving us painful trouble.

After reading Fitzgerald’s book this summer, I have concluded that runners need to get back to fundamentals and that includes some barefoot running. A few years back, Nike came out with the Free 5.0 – a minimalist shoe that is like running barefooted. But if you don’t have the cash for these, simply get out a couple of times a week and do some running free of footwear.

This fall, I instructed my college cross country runners to get out twice a week and get in a little barefoot running. I recommend starting out with maybe five minutes of easy running on grass. Of course, you want to be cautious for sharp objects like broken glass!

You should immediately discover how different your feet contact the ground. If you are making heel contact, it could be uncomfortable forcing you to plant your feet more naturally. Your feet may feel a little uncomfortable the first few times you do this, so this is why you want to start out with just s few minutes. Gradually work up to 15 to 20 minutes of barefoot running per workout and no more than twice a week. Over the course of six to eight weeks, you should experience an improved change in your running stride.

If you have been battling running injuries, I recommend adding some barefoot running to your training routine to make you more fleet-footed. So bare all and set your feet free!