Fitness

Why I'll never be a barefoot runner

Our fitness expert James Fell explains why, as much as he loves the idea, barefoot running just isn't for him.

A competitor runs along the beach during the 2012 Bondi Barefoot Race at Bondi Beach on May 27, 2012 in Sydney, Australia. Over 500 runners make their way around a 4km or 10km course on the soft sand of Bondi Beach.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

A competitor runs along the beach during the 2012 Bondi Barefoot Race at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia. Over 500 runners make their way around a course on the soft sand of Bondi Beach. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Barefoot running continues to make news, and the latest research is another reason why I’ll never do it. A study of 36 experienced runners showed that transitioning to “barefoot” or minimalist shoes too quickly can cause damage to the bones of the feet.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not fundamentally against the practice of running barefoot. In fact, there’s something about it I find appealing. Perhaps it’s the fact that every four or five months I drop $150 on new runners. Also, every year it’s another $80 or so on new running socks.

But it’s not really the money. I do believe that fitness is something worth investing in, and I never complain about any cash I need to drop on keeping healthy and having fun exercising. I think the appeal is that I just like the idea of it. There’s interesting research showing that barefoot running causes you to strike more on the ball of your foot than the heel, which results in your leg muscles absorbing the impact of the ground instead of your skeleton.

The issue I see is that barefoot or minimalist shoes give no more protection to the bones than running barefoot, and if you make the transition from sneakers to minimalist shoes or completely barefoot too fast, the bones in your feet will not be happy.

For me, I think I could probably do the transition. I could even go barefoot given enough time, but I have wimpy feet. Walking on a sidewalk makes me look like I’m on hot coals — but given enough time I think I could manage it. In fact, I like the idea of having crocodile feet that can handle running outside with nothing on them. The problem is, I live in Canada. I’ll never be a barefoot runner.

Both the research and my own foot knowledge demands that the transition to barefoot be slow if I ever try it. The snow here in Calgary is mostly gone by April. By the time I start, and have those crocodile feet fully-formed, fall will be here and it’ll be snowing again! And everything is undone over the winter.

I run outside year round and I’m not switching to a treadmill to keep running barefoot during the winter. If I end up moving to some sunny local that has warm weather all year, I could see transitioning to barefoot. But that probably won’t happen. I love this country too much to leave it — running through snow, sleet, rain and all!  

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