Friday, January 29, 2010

Day 27: Run Barefoot

Tony: I don't want to buy new running shoes. They cost way too much!

Megan: Yeah, and they're full of toxic materials and synthetic plastics. Have you considered running barefoot? There is a whole movement out there of people doing it.

Megan and I have been running each Wednesday night with a small group of other runners around Elon. During a recent run, one of the other runners talked about how many shoes he was going through in preparation for a marathon he is training for. I think the rule of thumb is to replace shoes after 300-400 miles, but I've been running in the same pair of Asics for almost two years now and am loathe to go out and spend more money on shoes. Shoes are meant to last. In fact, I still have a pair from high school that I use for trail running.

While waiting for people to show up for this past Wednesday's run, I was reading that a recent research article in Nature suggests running barefoot is better than running with shoes. Apparently, when running barefoot, one tends to land on the front of the foot rather than the heel. From my own experience running in shoes, I was quick to believe that. So, I decided to try it the barefoot experience out for myself.

The three mile run was very different without shoes, needless to say. There were so many different textures. I was also much more aware of what was on the ground in front of me. Being that kind of person who likes to compare and contrast, here is my ranking of the running surfaces on the Elon University campus.

1. The best surface, hands-down, was the new brick sidewalks. These were cool, smooth, and provided a little bit of give. The new patio in front of the Belk Pavilion is a great example of this. These were a welcome relief after having run on the other surfaces.

2. There were a few spots of grass that I jumped to in order to avoid oncoming traffic. The few patches of these that were away from trees were nice as the grass was cool and brushed away tiny pebbles that were stuck to my feet. Still, I could not run on the wet grass too long before my feet got very cold.

3. The uneroded paved surfaces were also very nice. Any road or parking lot that had not eroded into pebbles was much better than even the best cement sidewalk. I found very little broken glass or pebbles on most of the asphalt on-campus.

4. The cement sidewalks were nice, but tended to feel a bit more like sandpaper than asphalt.

5. Eroded paved surfaces were not too bad themselves but tended to be covered with tiny pebbles. Ouch!

6. Old brick sidewalks felt like very coarse sandpaper. I steered clear of these as much as possible.

7. Grass near trees looked so inviting, but it was filled with twigs, "gumballs," and all sorts of things that tore my feet up with just a few strides. Running at night, it was hard to tell if grass was filled with these things so I tended to stay away from it when possible.

During the run, my feet felt a little tender but not bad. After getting home, it started to feel like I had pebbles in my shoes...except I wasn't wearing any shoes! After brushing off the dirt, I realized I had some seriously nasty blisters on my right "ring" toe and my left "index" toe.

I'll probably try this again to see if I can toughen up my feet and go without shoes. Not tomorrow though.

Pocket: 4, Planet: 5, Win-Win: 18 (My Feet: -2)


  1. Tony - If you're going to do it...try Vibram Five Fingers - yes, they cost money but they'll save your feet.
    If the goal is not to save money but to run in a more knee / hip / joint friendly way, try Newton Running Shoes. They are awesome!!!!

  2. I did like how running barefoot didn't bother my left knee at all. I also used parts of my calf muscle that I didn't even know were there! Unfortunately, short of walking around barefoot all the time, I'm not sure how I would slowly build up calluses on my feet to protect them. While I was hoping to save money here, perhaps it is time to cash in an REI gift certificate on the "Five Fingers." The black ones don't like nearly as ugly as the picture I saw in a Wired article that described them as "[u]gly as a bucket of vomit."