Running (Almost) Barefoot

When WGBH, NOVA's parent PBS company moved locations, our new home (in Brighton, MA) just happened to be next to the offices of the New Balance shoe company.  And they just happen to have a store in the building adjacent to ours.  So whenever I pass the store, it often brings running to mind.

Which leads me to my current post - Not too long ago I bought a pair of running shoes.  They are quite snazzy - with powder blue trim and futuristic looking mesh over the toes.  But they don't come close to some other running shoes I recently came across - the Vibram FiveFingers.  A cross between a gorilla's foot and a waterproof slipper, the shoes are meant to mimic the act of running barefoot.  Check out a demo video from Wired:

Sounds a little strange, but there is some science to back up the idea that running without shoes could actually prevent more injuries than it sounds like it would cause.
Barely more than a rubber sole and thin material that wraps around each individual toe, the shoes fit like a glove would - on your foot.  They are called Five'Fingers' because of a 'lost in translation' moment.  Vibram is an Italian company and the Italians' have the same word for fingers as toes.  When the name was translated as Five Fingers, American marketers thought it sounded cool and it stuck.

So why run barefoot (or as close as possible to barefoot)?  It turns out those snazzy running shoes I bought prevent my feet from truly feeling the ground and that makes my foot hit that ground in an unnatural way.  The heel in running shoes is very built up to cushion us from the impact of running.  Since our heels are so well-protected, we tend to hit the ground heel first.  But a shoe can only absorb so much impact and your leg absorbs the rest, which can lead to injury. 

When you run barefoot, your natural tendency is to hit the ground towards the middle of your foot - around the arch area.  Your arch acts like a spring by flattening out as you hit the ground to absorb the impact and then rebounding as you push back off the ground. 

Basically by running barefoot, you're running the way nature intended.  And if you wear Vibram FiveFingers on your runs, if nothing else, you'll certainly turn some heads as you fly by in these crazy looking shoes.

User Comments:

I LOVE FiveFingers! I wear them regularly for running... i wanted to start going barefoot but didn't want cut and dirty feet! These are perfect! So comfy and they completely cured my heel pain!

I got a pair in the Spring, after reading about the benefits of working out barefoot. I wear my pair to the gym, I can feel the benefits of wearing them when doing exercises such as squats and lunges. They are great for walking around town in, too.

Aren't they just amazing to wear and run in?! I think they, along with an understanding of how to run properly, are the reason I am able to run just five weeks after back surgery. As you mention, barefoot (or with very minimal shoes like the VFFs) enable my feet and leg muscles to take just about all of the shock out of landing on the ground, so my back remains protected.

There are a number of lesser-known minimal shoes out there that you and your readers might enjoy learning about, like the Vivo Barefoot line from Terra Plana. I have started a list on my blog, Running Quest ( I think many of these shoes would work for office-wear as well, helping you strengthen your foot muscles even while not running.

Thanks for sharing and best of luck in your running!

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