Below is an article by Richard A. Lovett that appeared in National Geographic News on January 27, 2010. It talks about the benefits of running barefoot, especially fewer injuries and smoother motions. Both as a result of less stress on the feet and a different balance for the whole body.

In Christopher McDougall’s book, Born To Run, there is a whole section about barefoot running and also about the companies who sell running shoes. Out to make money, these companies sell shoes that are actually BAD for your feet! As the shoes support the foot’s bones and muscles and ligaments, the same foot does not develop as well and actually becomes flabby, which results in more injuries than those of barefoot runners! It’s a huge fraud on the public. “In fact,” McDougall writes, “there’s no evidence that running shoes are any help at all in injury prevention…a 20 billion dollar industry seems to be based on nothing but empty promises and wishful thinking…”

Naturally I can’t comment on the legitimacy of this view. But I love the idea that it’s so radical. Of course I have thought for years that it is important to have proper support or your feet, protect them from the pavement, rocks, glass, twists and sprains. Here is a knowledgeable and experienced runner and author challenging everything I have taken for granted my whole life. And that is the main point of this post…that we get into thought patterns that are often inaccurate or even harmful.

Now here is Lovett’s article:

Going barefoot isn’t just for strolling on the beach: Running barefoot reduces stresses on your feet and may prevent injuries known to afflict traditionally shod runners, a new study says.

In his bestselling book Born to Run, Christopher McDougall revealed that the best long-distance runners on the planet may be Mexico’s Tarahumara Indians, who race barefoot or in thin sandals through the remote Copper Canyons of Chihuahua state.

The new study used high-speed video and a bathroom scale-like device called a force plate to digitally dissect the moment-by-moment stresses on the feet of 63 runners as they ran barefoot.

The research revealed that running barefoot changes the way a person’s feet hit the ground.

Runners in shoes tend to land on their heels, so sports shoe makers have spent years designing footwear with gels, foams, or air pockets in the heels to reduce the shock of impact.

But barefoot runners more often land on the forefoot, near the base of the toes. This causes a smaller part of the foot to come to a sudden stop when the foot first lands, allowing the natural spring-like motion of the foot and leg to absorb any further shock.

“This form of landing causes almost no collision force,” lead author Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, said in an email.

Not that the benefits of barefoot running should be a surprise, he added: “Humans were able to run for millions of years without shoes or in just sandals.

The work, published online today by the journal Nature, is “really interesting and useful,” according to coach, exercise physiologist, and author Jack Daniels.

“There is no doubt impact is a major source of injury,” Daniels said via email, and reducing injuries is a key goal of all runners and coaches.

Daniels himself has done much of his own running barefoot.

“I eventually got to where I could go barefooted for five miles [eight kilometers] on a concrete sidewalk,” he said, though he admits he prefers grass and well-cushioned tracks.

Even the latter, he added, takes practice.

“One main problem is the abrasion factor,” he said. “You have to toughen up the skin on the bottom of your feet.”

Luckily the choice won’t be between shoes or no shoes for long. Shoe companies have been scrambling to design “minimalist” footwear that still protects the feet from rocks, thorns, and broken glass while allowing people to run more naturally.

“If you start with a thick shoe and slowly whittle down, at what point does the person start to run like they’re barefoot?” pondered Sean Murphy, manager of advanced products engineering and sports research for shoe maker New Balance.

“We’ve completed those studies and come up with some pretty solid lines of thinking on how you make the foot work as naturally as possible and at the same time protect [it] from the elements,” Murphy said.

“I’m pretty confident you’re going to see more and more products in that vein.”

In case you don’t read my earlier (Part 1) story about the Tarahumara, here is one of the paragraphs that apply to this discussion:

One reason the Tarahumara squeeze so much mileage out of their feet is because they don’t baby them. Nicholas Romanov, PhD, a running technique specialist who has coached British Olympians, explains that cushioned shoes throw off your centre of balance, allowing sloppiness to creep into your posture. They also cause you to rely on air-injected foam to absorb shock, not the natural compression of your joints—meaning, your legs become more rigid and less responsive. Strip down to bare feet and you’ll instantly notice two sensations: First, you recentre yourself over the balls of your feet. Second, your body regains its innate gyroscopic ability—whenever you step on a pebble and flinch, your legs instinctively twist and bend, and then shift back to perfect balance again.