Running Barefoot to Save Your Feet

A lifetime marathon runner learns that running without shoes is the oldest, and best form of running for the human body.

I was driving to work one morning when I heard an interview on a local radio station with marathoner, Christopher McDougall. I am not a runner, at least, I haven't been much of one since I had children. But I stopped immediately the moment Mr. McDougall suggested that running barefoot is the most natural, the gentlest form of running for the human body.

"The human foot has evolved over the centuries to run on flat surfaces," he said. He went on to explain that this is how Native Americans, how many Africans, and South American Indians have been running for centuries - and much farther, and without all the injuries of their squishy-soled American counterparts.

I started to think back to the 1936 Olympics, to those old film clips of Jesse Owens running with shoes so flat it almost appeared as though he had none on. And he was fast. No other way to describe him. He rarely had injuries. Sure, he was a sprinter, but he was also known for his long walks. I bet he was not wearing something soft and comfortable. I can just imagine that he cared only about the joy of the walk.

Prior to the 1970's when football athletes began to run between games with soft-soled, arch supported shoes, there were very few foot and hamstring injuries. Most injuries were related to body-to-body contact, with broken bones being the greatest and most common injury. Now football players are injured in the very same way the marathon runners of today are, making their injuries much more frequent and much more frequent. This seems odd, given the advancement in footwear and protective gear. All the stretching and personal coaches. What is happening? Could it be that when they are not on the field in cleats, they are running in soft shoes that set them up injuries later on?

"Wear racing flats," said McDougall to a fellow runner who had called in suggesting that he found "shoes as soft as butter" to be the reason he had to even quit running for a while. But once he got fed up with his expensive, but worthless running shoes, he began to hit the pavement with naked feet, and he hasn't felt better since.

"Have you ever thought about how children run?" McDougall asked the radio host. She admitted that they ran as if they hadn't a care in the world, as if they were running for the fun of it. McDougall suggested that this is the proper way to run, and like the Latin American Indians whose running patterns he studied for more than a year, the human body will maintain much less strain and injury if it doesn't have to work with akward arch supports and squishy toes. His new book, Born to Run, is loaded with scientific suggestion regarding his theory. I highly recommend it. It inspired me to begin walking in my princess flats this afternoon. And I think McDougall might have something here. The world just looks and feels so much more alive, the closer you can get to it.