Sunday, May 27, 2012

True Confessions

(alternate title: Barbs, Bollocks, and Barefoot Running)

First a narcissist'sAuthor's note: I am 4 weeks away from finishing my master's and beginning the great teaching job search; look for more frequent posting after June ends (You know you're excited).

So, as a nerd, I spend an inordinate amount of time a bit of time on interweb forums and reading blogs. Mostly about running, but occasionally other stuff works its way in. On the running blog/boards, barefoot running is a hot-button topic every time it is mentioned and the shod vs. unshod slapfighting rears its ugly head.

The barbs
On both sides, well meaning folks get VERY high and mighty about their particular perspective and spend the argument belittling the opposition instead of making the case for their own preference (or, seriously, just letting it go. Run your own race and let the other guy/gal be...Of course that is an internet impossibility, but i digress). Since I have experience on both sides of the coin I can see it both ways and will now share my definitive perspective (which is entirely subject to change...)
The bollocks
From those barbs comes the arguments. Shod runner says 'if we were meant to run barefoot we'd have more padding, tougher skin, etc.' OR 'if barefoot is better, why aren't any elite runners winning races in bare feet?' This is bollocks because running bare does spur your body to give more padding to your feet (it's a pretty cool process to experience, really) and the soles and structures of your feet get stronger with use. 

The barefooters are no better. Citing incomplete and inconclusive research as if it were Newtonian physics they assert EVERY. SINGLE. Runner would be better off without shoes (I know you all don't do this, and many of my barefoot brethren/sisters are totally reasonable. BUT, the dogmatics tend to dominate these discussions and drown out the voices of the reasonable middle ground dwellers). Dogmatic Barefoot Purists (DRP) will blame every injury of a shod runner on the shoes, the *shudder* orthotics, or the evil heel strike that 'foot coffins' FORCE the shod runner into. Last is my personal favorite: 'shoes will NOT allow anyone (ANYONE) to run naturally.  This one kills me as I had to do more manipulation and compensation barefoot than I ever have in shoes (this is just for me. don't take it as gospel). In shoes I just let my foot hang at the end of my leg and land as I bring it forward for the next stride. I can't say it gets more natural than that. FOR ME, running in shoes allows me to run naturally, relaxed and tension free. 

***of course, these are the extreme examples. I'm not talking about you, reader:)***

The Bare feet
I tried barefoot running. For nearly a year. There were many benefits: I improved my running form immensely, became much more in tune with my body's signals about general well being, and enjoyed running for the first time in a long time.

Then I got hurt. In a 100%, only woulda happened barefoot sort of way. I had to wear cushioned shoes during the first phase of recovery (after I got the boot of death off, that is...) and couldn't run at all for two months. When I came back, I tried barefoot and minimal shoes, but ALWAYS had pain. Since mileage was low I decided to try the shoes. Surprisingly, I ran mostly pain and issue free while (mostly) maintaining my barefoot form. As I got stronger I kept trying to re-introduce barefoot and minimal running in some small way. It was awful every time. 

I am done with it.

The Unholy Trinity
From left: Long Slow Day, Speedy, and Dirt Devil

I have returned to full-on shod running, and am super happy I did. I'm getting more miles, I don't hurt any more than I did while barefoot (knee twinges once in a while, sore shins or calves if I overdo it), and I love, no, NEED my runs. My whole goal when I began this running experiment a year ago was to run healthy and enjoy running, rather than seeing it as a 'fitness chore;' I have achieved that goal, and continue to pursue higher degrees of that joy. My new quest is to get fast(er), you know...relatively speaking. I have two big races on the horizon for the back half of the year. One of them is a trail half-marathon, the other a 220 mile team relay through central Oregon (I'll rack up well over a half marathon's mileage in that weekend. And lots of hills!). I'm so stoked, but this will be my last post about barefoot running. It's great for some, not for others. It could be for you, and it could not be for you. I'm not you so I don't know. I'll gladly discuss it and answer questions based on my experiences, but that'll be it. 

Apparently not posting in a while created some pent up issues I had to get out...sorry for the super long post.


  1. This is a totally unrelated topic, but the barefoot/shod debate reminds me SO MUCH of the breastfeeding/bottle feeding debate. So many OPINIONATED people who are positive they are right. Ugh. I'm glad you reached a decision that makes sense for you.

  2. Ugh...Indeed. It's when people get so convinced their way is the right way for everyone, and feel that those who don't follow are deceived or stupid that i sort of stop listening. Finding my own way has always been sort of my way, so this is just another step down that path. Thanks for reading and for leaving a comment! it's nice to know somebody's still clicking!