I’ve been barefoot running since I was in high school. I’ve always done barefoot striders as part of my cool downs from speed workouts, and I’ve noticed that my own health generally is in direct proportion to how much of that sort of thing that I’ve been doing.
About 2 or 3 years ago I started building up a lot more barefoot running than what I had been doing. I started running without shoes altogether on occasion and my normal training shoes went from built up trainers to racing flats for every day use. Then “Born to Run” came out and that just turned barefoot running right into a fad, so you see a lot more people doing it and it’s become more socially acceptable, I guess. I’ve definitely ramped up the amount of barefoot running that I’ve been doing since the book came out and have tried doing a little racing that way.
I think that barefoot running is something that can benefit most people whether they’re runners or not, but you have to take it into consideration how strong your feet are, and how long it’s going to take you to get into a level of fitness that you’re actually capable of running barefoot.
A lot of people run way too far, way too fast, way too often. They try doing way too much, way too soon, and they wind up getting injured. I’m guilty of this as well. What you really need to do is a very minimal amount of running barefoot. Try and go barefoot as often as you can outside of your running to build up some strength. If it takes even a year just to be able to get up to running 3 miles at a time comfortably, that’s fine. Take as much time as you need, and don’t risk getting hurt.
When it comes to minimal footwear, or “natural” footwear as the running shoe industry would prefer to call it, then minimal racing flats and training shoes are definitely good to work towards. If you have a choice between two pairs of shoes that are equally comfortable, you’d probably be better off going with the more minimal pair.
However, you have to be careful if you’re going to try to use something like the Five Fingers or huarache running sandals. If you don’t have the strength to really support running barefoot, then you’re going to think you can run a lot further and run a lot faster than you really should be going, and that’s really where I think most of the injuries have been coming from.
Running in these five finger shoes will take away some of the sensations you get from running on the ground without actually giving back the sort of feedback that you need from barefooting, and also without the cushioning that you get from your regular running shoes.
So, to sum all that up, don’t rush into barefoot running and make sure that you progress intelligently in your training if you want the benefits of regular barefoot running without the injuries that come from not being strong enough to sustain it.