Written by Barefoot Dawsy
Taking your shoes off and going for a run is a wonderful feeling that everyone should try out at some point in their life. This is especially true for anyone already used to running in shoes.
Most people tend to take it as read that wearing shoes is going to be a more comfortable experience than running around with your soles hanging out, but here are some great reasons why once you ditch the shoes, you’ll never look back.
1. Heavy feet
Try running barefoot for a week, then returning to wearing shoes, and the first thing you will notice is just how heavy they feel.
When doing any sort of running, the less weight you’re carrying, the eaiser it is to propel yourself along. This is especially true of the parts of your body that are moving the most, ie: your feet.
Wearing shoes is like having a pair of weights strapped to your feet. It takes extra energy to set these weights in motion, which over long distances can make a big difference. By lightening your feet, you’re able to more easily increase your cadence and can step a lot lighter than you can in shoes. This translates into better running efficiency, which ultimately can go a long way towards dropping minutes off your race times.
Have you ever been for a long run, or a wet run, and found yourself cursing the socks on your feet? Cotton, and even synthetic socks can absorb water and increase the temperature of your feet dramatically.
Running in waterlogged socks is no fun, and can greatly increase the weight at your feet (see point 1). Hot feet can be even more damaging as your feet are likely to swell up, putting pressure against your shoes, which may lead to blisters and general discmfort.
When you run in bare feet, you have no such problems. You can easily run through puddles or even large bodies of water with minimal impact on your performance. In fact, you may even find yourself seeking out mud and puddles for the sheer pleasure of running through them!
3. Lost toenails
If you’re not a distance runner, you’re probably thinking “gross!”. If you are though, then you will understand this point. Many long distance runners have at some point or other experienced the dreaded lost toenail. It usually occurs when a blister appears beneath the nail, and eventually pops the whole thing right off. This is generally a painful, and unpleasant experience that has lead some ultramarathoners to take the drastic step to have them surgically removed (I’m looking at you Marshall Ulrich).
Thankfully, this is an experience unique to shod runners. In all the running, discussion, and reading I’ve done about long distance barefooting, I’ve yet to come across a single account of a lost toenail. For anyone who has experienced this sort of injury, not having to face this again is a great incentive for giving barefoot running a try.
4. Bad smells & itchiness
A bare foot is a healthy foot. This doesn’t just apply to the state of the muscles under the surface, or the skin itself. It also applies to the millions of microbes that exist on the human foot.
The inside of a shoe is like bacteria heaven. It’s warm, dark, and damp. It’s really the perfect place for bacteria to breed. Find me a runner that hasn’t experienced athlete’s foot, and I’ll show you a barefoot runner.
One of the really nasty side effects of all this microbial activity is that they can make your feet and shoes riper than a week old diaper. Try running in shoes without socks and the problem is amplified even further. Don’t believe me? Try googling “stinky Vibrams” and you’ll see about as many anecdotes as there are bacteria on your feet.
Running, and living a barefoot lifestyle allow your feet to be exposed to the elements. Light and water and the scouring effect of contact with the road all contribute to cleaning your feet and keeping them relatively bacteria-free. IF you suffer from chronic skin complaints on your feet, then barefooting may just be the cure you’re looking for.
5. Chronic injuries
Most people that try barefoot running for the first time after wearing shoes do it because of the promise of fewer injuries. There are all sorts of reports that say that barefooting can help or even cure plantar fasciits, flat feet, and many other complaints.
I don’t want to give you false hope: barefoot running isn’t a cure-all and does come with its own risks, but it can help with injuries indirectly. Learning to run barefoot is learning to run correctly. When you pay attention to form and listen to your body, you can stop injuries from occuring long before they get serious. Likewise the strenghtening benefits of barefooting are many, and can definitly contribute to recovery and prevention of many common injuries.
A warning: just taking off your shoes and running is not only unlikely to cure all that ails you, but may in fact add a slew of new injuries to the list. To avoid this and maximise the benefits, take your time, listen to your body, and enjoy the experience.