For many years, there has been debate if running barefoot is truly a good practice for runners. Some world-class runners, like Abebe Bikila, Bruce Tulloh, and Zola Budd, have won on marathons, earning gold medals, while running without shoes on.
Numerous studies and researches were also conducted to prove that barefoot running is the best way to go. One of the studies was led by Dr. Griffith Pugh and Bruce Tulloh in 1961. Their scientific research revealed that barefoot running gives a 100m advantage in a 10,000m race and that barefoot runners can accelerate more quickly than runners with shoes. Christopher McDougall, the author of Born to Run—the book that has inspired runners to try barefoot running, claims that our ancestors have survived running and hunting for years without shoes.
Contrary to this, common sense dictates that wearing shoes will protect our feet from harmful objects we may come across with while running such as broken glass, nails, or anything that may wound our feet. Dr. Matthew Silvis, M.D., a sports physician at Penn State, has reportedly observed that the number of injuries have significantly increased in runners opting to try barefoot or minimalist running.
While Dr. Griffith Pugh and Bruce Tulloh’s discovered that barefoot running increases speed, some experts on running argue that wearing shoes, especially heavier ones, will improve leg strength. Alf Shrubb from England, who holds multiple world records, used heavy shoes for training in the 1900s.
With many runners claiming that barefoot running is better than shod running while several others believe otherwise, it’s fairly difficult to know which one to follow. However, for runners who intend to transition from running with shoes on to running barefoot, podiatrists advise to take one step at a time and do so gradually to avoid injuries.
Overuse injuries are common in runners new to barefoot running that, even Daniel Lieberman, Ph.D., the evolutionary biologist from Harvard who helped propagate barefoot running, advised that: “Running is a complex skill that you can’t learn how to do just by taking off your shoes.”
Although switching from shod running to barefoot running isn’t easy, there are still ways to minimize the risks of getting injured and even make the transition much easier.
You may start by walking barefoot to get to experience how it feels. Barefoot-Running Legend Ted McDonald advised runners transitioning to barefoot running not to focus on speed yet and wait for their feet and bodies to ‘tune in’ to barefoot running. He even admitted that the transition to barefoot may take years.
It is also better to start barefoot running on flat grounds instead of going uphill. Running uphill barefoot puts more strain on your feet, legs and muscles—which may lead to injuries.
Also, make sure that you land midfoot or forefoot in every stride, a research from Harvard University discovered that runners who use heels in landing experience more injuries than those runners who use their forefoot or midfoot to land.
In short, the option to run or not to run barefoot will still depend on the runner. If you feel that you can do it and you’re comfortable running without shoes, then why not?
Barefoot or shod, with or without shoes, it is inevitable to experience injuries while running. Still, with proper precaution, these injuries can be avoided. Learning proper running techniques and applying can be a lot of help in injury prevention.