Should we run barefoot?

There's been some heated debates here about whether to train in racing flats or go for more protection from a heavier shoe. Abebe Bikila famously won the Rome Olympic marathon in 2:15 barefoot, but then he went to to wear shoes in the 1964 Tokyo Marathon and won in 2:12.

Some of the issues are debated in this US Runners World article.

What do people think?


  • And the Sports Science article referred to in the RW article is
  • Sorry got the link wrong. It's here
  • There is someone on the interweb that has a site about his barefoot running.

    I'm happy sticking to shoes though, and avoiding glass and things sticking in.
  • shoes do mess up your natural proprioception but in practical terms, like cougie says, we can't mange without them, since we are not running through hills in African mountains
  • Me too, but then I've got softie feet. Presumably Bikila wasn't bothered by such things if he always ran barefoot.
  • But the Rome marathon was on roads (not the African mountains), including a cobbled section.
  • Even if we accept that we need to wear shoes, then there is still the argument as to whether we just need enough sole to protect from glass etc, rather than all that cushioning and motion control stuff.
  • mumble mumble... POSE... mumble... minimalist footwear.. mumble...

  • Dave
    I see POSE as a separate issue, altho' I know that POSE advocates like the minimalist shoes approach. Let's not turn this into another POSE thread...
  • It should be easy enough to do ourselves then - wear your racing flats on your long runs and see how your feet feel after.

    It may take some time to get used to it though.

    For me - I've never bothered with racing shoes - I do everything in my NB 854's so I can't test it !

    One of my pals grew up in Africa, and she went barefoot all the time, and eventually got immune to the thorns and everything they had out there. Sounds tough to me !
  • grass - no trouble barefoot
    pavement - surprisingly no trouble barefoot (but have never done that much)
    track - big problems for me - I think if I could toughen up enough for the track, then local streets would be fine.

    I train in flats. Recently got a nasty glass cut from a 'puncture'. I think it would've been less severe in barefeet - would probably not've stuck in, and would've been only one painful step instead of a hundred (I completed the rep I was doing).

    The cold is a problem in the UK - I won't go barefoot in the winter. Did some damage a couple of years ago.
  • running bear - of course!
  • SticklessStickless ✭✭✭
    As a kid used to spend much of the summers barefoot. Much of it with a wide variety of sticking plaster in lieu of socks.

    Oh boy did it feel heavy and clunky and did my feet ache trying to get used to shoes in time for school in September.

    (Great heavy had to be tied things)

    Landing on heels barefoot quickly leads to ouch. Try running on any gravel path barefoot - you use forefoot quite naturally!

  • you use the forefoot if you ar running fast as it is more efficient, but if going at a steady pace your heel should land first

    (but i don't want to get into the POSE thing either)
  • Rb - i assume you have heard the song "running bear"? I have got it stuck in my head for thew whole day now :-)
  • SticklessStickless ✭✭✭
    Dunno, if you're running barefoot though. Does anyone here running barefoot heelstrike?

    I well remember picking my way along the paths toes first at whatever speed..
  • I'd like to be able to do it, but the most I have managed is running on thick grass with socks on.

    Running bear - no pun intended actually!

    Thanks a lot mate! I'd forgotten about that song - it's now stuck in my head ;-)
  • Have gone as high as 140mpw (over a month) with no trouble - all miles in racing flats.
    Never got over 45mpw without problems in "normal" shoes...

    Got up to 7.5M barefoot in the autumn, but the weather stopped me going any further. Hoping to make 15M barefoot a weekly session this year.

    Built up (support/cushioning) footwear is a short term solution causing long term problems. That we put our kids in such things is a huge long term problem...
  • Haven't done any actual barefoot yet, bit concerned about getting cuts etc. I do run in h-streets though and also wear vivo barefoot shoes all the time, so basically I am always walking barefoot. took sometime getting used to it, and still get the odd pain in my calves. I used to be under the impression that I needed loads of cushioning and padding as I suffer from arthritus. but since swapping to minimilast footwear it has altered the way I walk and run forcing me to land softer and therefore no jarring through the knee, hips and back. by the way been in contact with terra plana who make the vivo barefoot shoes, and there are plans to make a running version.
  • Stickless, trying running barefoot and heel-striking - it's impossible!

    Your heel is the narrowest part of the foot, thus if pressure = force exerted / area; then assuming a constant exerted force, then with a smaller area you are putting more force through your legs.

    Have jogged up and down the lounge barefoot, but wouldn't dream of doing it outdoors, would get covered in dog sh*t, small stones, fag packets etc.

    Have just ordered my first pair of racing flats, will give them a go, but wouldn't dream of doing 140 in them.
  • Whoops, not "putting more force through your legs, but "putting more pressure ..."
  • Pantman I agree about putting children in built up shoes, my daughter has just started walking and clarks shoes have a heel on them! though we have her barefoot constantly indoors, I'm trying to find flat soled no padding shoes for toddlers, but it's not easy.
  • I used to run barefoot for 50 minutes on the beach every day. Was fine - no probs at all, and I wear orthotics normally.
  • I did a bit of barefoot running last summer, and the feet toughened up pretty quickly.
    Not really a sensible option for running on cold London pavements at night though.

    Oh - and Bryan - CMON ROVERS!

  • I guess the question here is this: If the only concern is abrasion, temperature and the like, why not just run in thin soled surf shoes? I can at slow speeds, but cannot at faster speeds. Why? Because my body cannot efficiently absorb the extra shock created at faster speeds. These things take time...

    However I have just started running in Nike Jarowe Waffles which are lighter than my usual NB150s (which are lighter than any other races left now they have been discontinued) as another step forward.

    My son (just 8) does all his running in Nike "Aqua socks" - road, off-road, whatever. But then he can handle the shock. The other day he did a minute on the treadmill at 10mph (6mm pace) barefoot. All you could hear (apart from the motor) was a gentle and soft "pad", "pad"...

    Moor man - we got some mini surf shoes by Speedo called "Splash socks" which come in baby sizes for our almost 2yr old. Cost £5 - protects the feet from abrasion - nought else. Most of our kids wear surf shoes outside - Clarks Doodles have become more minimalist in this years range and are OK too. NO shoes allowed inside.

  • Morten Gamst Pedersen, tra-la-la-la-la!

    (That one's for TMAP!)
  • Pantman
    Do you think having low arches and unevenly bowed legs (like I do) makes a difference? I know that Noakes suggests that running shoes have made it possible for people with poor running mechanics to train at higher mileages and not get injured.

    But what I'd REALLY like to know is why Bikila switched to shoes and managed a faster marathon. Presumably he tried both?

    PS Hope your running is going OK. Your blog seems eerily quiet!
  • rb I used to have flat feet/fallen arches until I swapped from heel striking to forefoot and minimal cushioning, now got springy highish arches.
  • RB - your leg description matches mine. I used to suffer injuries on 10 mpw (shin splints and others). Since going to forefoot, arches risen slightly perhaps (but feet still flattish and hypermobile).

    Now I do 70mpw (100 miles last week), all in flats.

    I would guess Bikila wore shoes for cash(?) Or maybe he found them more comfortable. I don't see that it changes the fact he won a very tough Olympic marathon barefoot.
  • AardvarkAardvark ✭✭✭
    Moor man - just out of interest, which part of the foot does your daughter walk on? I ask because I saw the recent film version of 'Vanity Fair' on monday, which includes a scene of a baby taking its first steps. There's a close-up of his feet, and he's clearly walking on the forefoot. 'Ah', thought I, 'one in the eye for those who say that heel-striking comes naturally'.

    RB - if you're thinking of 'The Lore of Running', Noakes in that book seems to assume a heelstrike whenever he discusses footwear or gait. In that sense, his comment is probably true. What he doesn't do is offer a comparison between heelstrikers in technical shoes and forefoot runners in flats, which is what we really need in a discussion like this.
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