Things to Consider When Barefoot Running

Maybe it’s the sound of the waves or the feel of the sand beneath your feet.  Perhaps the rich colors from beige to blue, green, red, yellow, and pink or the smell of the ocean breeze.  Whatever it is about the beach, people love to run on the sand.

A recent vacation found me running barefoot on the beach.  After a crisp-paced warm up mile on the packed sand splashing as the waves rolled in, my feet began to ache.  Knowing what I know, I quickly altered my running style, which helped until the way back.  By the time I turned and headed back people were enjoying the surf so I was forced onto the soft sand.  Another mile and my legs and feet were cooked.  I reached a level of fatigue I rarely achieve at home.

What is it about running barefoot?

In the media, people seem to be all for it or completely opposed.  There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.  At Desert Foot Surgeons, it is my job to educate you so that you can make the choice that best fits your needs.  Maybe you want to run barefoot and maybe not.  Let’s talk about it and see what you decide.

First of all, what are the benefits of running barefoot?  I will warn you that this is all theory!  No scientific evidence exists to date supporting these theories.  Running barefoot is said to increase the muscle strength of small (intrinsic) muscles in your foot.  By doing so it is thought that your foot will become more stable with the added strength thus help prevent injury and possibly even deformities such as bunions, hammertoes, and plantar fasciitis.  A study has shown that collegiate female track athletes who trained barefoot suffered fewer injuries.  Similar high level athletes have shown the same results such as volleyball players.

Here’s the catch with running barefoot…

There is a level of genetics involved in becoming a collegiate level athlete.  Of course there are your 5’6” guys who can dunk a basketball and a 5’9” football player who runs a 4 second 40, but for the rest of us we are not fortunate enough to have the same gifts as these people.  I’m not saying hard work and excellent coaching can’t make someone a collegiate athlete, I’m trying to keep the topic real.  A collegiate level track athlete has been coached for years and puts in significant miles with this coach.  These athletes know how to alter there stride length, change posture, modify their arm swing, go from heel strike to toe strike for different reasons.  Even in the famous book, “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougal, he was coached before he could accumulate any distance running barefoot.  So that leaves one question:  do you have a coach?

I’m not going to tell you that running barefoot is good or bad for you, that’s not my job.  My job at Desert Foot Surgeons is to examine your feet sitting, standing, walking, and even running.  With that information I can help you achieve your goals, but it might take some work.  If you want to run barefoot we are going to have to work on some things. Stretching programs, strengthening, balance and running in shoes with or without orthoses might be the first few steps before you ever step out there barefoot.  You might need help from a coach or trainer.  I can get you to the right people.  I don’t want you to be injured and the number of stress fractures in my practice has tripled this past year solely due to barefoot running.  To review injuries while training review my previous blog about marathon training.