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Barefoot Running on the Rise

Runners are getting back to basics with the minimalist running shoe or no shoe at all.

Recently, I’ve noticed an increase in the amount of people participating in the barefoot running movement. Everywhere I turn, whether at a grocery store or on the trails, running enthusiasts are sure to be seen sporting funky looking shoes that look like rubberized socks.

Some wear a specific type of barefoot running shoe such as the Vibram Five Fingers, while others make their own home-made version named huarachas and a few dedicated minimalists don’t even need shoes at all because they run completely barefoot—ouch!

First, let’s discuss the barefoot running shoe. It seems something of an oxymoron to call a shoe that, but that’s beside the point. This type of shoe, specifically the Vibram Five Fingers, was created to simulate barefoot running while providing your feet the much needed protection against, glass, twigs and rocks that you are more than likely to encounter on roads and trails. This shoe is incredibly functional, but incredibly ugly too. Most likely, the shoe will win the award of the all-time ugliest running shoe.

According to Vibrams website “Our revolutionary design makes feet healthier by allowing them to move more naturally and freely. The typical human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution with 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments. Like the rest of the body, to keep our feet healthy, they need to be stimulated and exercised.”

So, how do we exercise our feet? By running barefoot and strengthening all the joints and muscles of the foot. But, with the rise of barefoot running, there has also been an increase in running related stress fractures. If you are going to try the Vibrams, hit the track and start off with two-laps in this shoe. Each week add another lap in the Vibrams. Running on the track is easier on the joints, muscles and tendons, allowing your feet to adapt slowly which will decrease your chance of injury.

Vibrams can be found at Running Revolution in Santa Cruz.

The next type of shoe worth mentioning is the home-made Huarache sandal, also know as the “invisible shoe”. These are worn by the Tarahumara Indians of Northern Mexico, known for their amazing long-distance running ability. These minimalist sandals give you the freedom of barefoot running while protecting your feet.

If you’d like to make a pair of these sandals, search the internet for Tarahumara sandals and you will find an ample supply of articles and youtube videos demonstrating a step-by-step guide on how to make a pair. These sandals are made with supplies such as old bicycle tires and shoe laces—items you most likely have around the house. After all, this is Santa Cruz and recycling is always your best bet.

Finally, for those of you that enjoy the sensation of dirt in your toes, and the ground underneath your feet, try complete barefoot running. But, proceed with caution. As with the Vibrams, start with two-laps around the track and slowly increase the amount of time you run barefoot. In the beginning your feet will be soft, tender and sensitive to all the textures such as sandy trails, warm pavement, pebbles and grass. I’d recommend starting off on a rubberized track like the one at or running on a grassy field.

After your feet adjust to the rubberized track or grass, it’s time to move over to in Santa Cruz and run on the decomposed granite track. After a few weeks of track running, venture out to the roads and alternate 2-3 minutes of barefoot road running with running in regular shoes. This will be a pain in the beginning because you will have to carry another pair of shoes with you, but trust me, it’s worth it. I’ve seen too many people become injured because they were too stubborn to start off slowly.

Last year, during the Big Sur Half Marathon, I spoke with a world-class runner and Olympic Athlete from Kenya, who frequently ran barefoot during track-workouts, but never ran in Vibrams. He said that when wearing Vibrams, your toes are slightly separated by the material of the shoe, causing stress to the foot which almost always ends in injury. As a child, he ran barefoot in the mountains, but emphasized it takes several years of running barefoot for you body to adjust to the added stress.

The art of barefoot running should be approached carefully as it takes years to build up muscle and tendon strength in the foot. Give your body ample time to adapt to this new running style and your feet will thank you.

I have been an avid runner for most of my life. I remember, as an 11-year old kid, I would run to school, because walking was just too slow. I have been wearing traditional running shoes for all my running years, and have not had one single injury. You won’t find me wearing Vibrams, home-made running sandals and certainly not running barefoot. My philosophy—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Dominic Smith April 25, 2011 at 12:01 AM
At first I was a bit cynical because of how it looks. It's somewhat odd and weird. In fact, I've read a couple of articles about it but still I was not convinced about wearing this type of shoes. Then on Christmas eve, my brother gave me a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. He said this shoes is very popular in the USA. From the moment I tried them on, it really felt great. I was stunned and amazed. It really does mimic barefoot feeling. Barefoot running shoes is really great. In fact, I even customized my own just to look like kind of a signature shoes. Check out some of my uploaded photos here - http://bit.ly/aQtX3p
Aracelly Clouse April 25, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Hi Dominic, Thanks for the post. I will check out your shoes! Aracelly

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