Written By Barefoot Dawsy
It took me nearly 2 years of running in minimal shoes before I finally let my bare feet touch the ground!
Like many people, I was just really nervous about doing it.
It wasn’t the fear of stepping on something nasty that worried me, it was a much more deep-seeded hesitance that I couldn’t really get over. Looking back, I realise that it was the product of decades of social cues that told me that people just don’t run without shoes!
With the benefit of hindsight, I know that taking my shoes off was the best decision I could have made to improve my running, but that didn’t matter back then. I thought that I’d run slower, get stepped on in races, not be able to train in winter…the list goes on. The worst bit was the fear that I would become some sort of social outcast for making this change.
The truth was that all of these perceived problems were manageable, and once I started working on them, they ended up being far from insurmountable.
The hardest bit was taking the first few steps.
I’m absolutely certain that my experience was not unique. I’m sure that most people reading this are minimalist runners, and that many of you, despite wanting to try it out, find yourselves unable to take the next step and shed the shoes.
To help you get through the toughest bit, and get you out of your shoes (if only for a little while), I’ve put together a list of ways that you can help yourself get used to the idea of running completely barefoot (in public! Gasp!)
1. Start out indoors
As luck would have it, most of us are blessed with a perfect place to start out barefoot – our homes. Even the smallest apartment has a wealth of sensations that your feet are going to love exploring.
When was the last (first?) time you noticed how your carpet feels underfoot? Or how differently you move over hardwood versus rugs?
Taking your shoes off at home should be your first goal when you decide to go barefoot. Try to keep your shoes and socks off as much as you can while at home. This will get you used to the feeling of going barefoot, and give you just that little extra edge to help you make your move.
To supplement your home-walking, it’s a good idea to start including some stretching and strengthening exercises. Simple things like picking up toys, marbles, pebbles, etc with your toes will help you build up your feet muscles and make your transition to full barefoot that much easier.
2. Go to the beach
One of the best ways to ease into barefooting in public is to go where barefooting is expected. The beach, or a public park are great places to start. Not only will your bare feet not look out of place, but you get to enjoy the great outdoors!
A weekly excursion to practice a bit of jogging or walking on different surfaces will go a long way towards preparing your soles and your mind for barefoot running.
3. Set goals
One of the best carrots to make you want to do something is to set yourself tangible goals. This doesn’t even have to be a racing goal or a distance goal. It can be something as simple as walking to the end of the road, or going shopping barefoot.
The more little goals you accomplish, the more confident you will become. As you become more confident, your goals will grow, until you find yourself doing things that you never thought possible.
4. Drive barefoot
The world being what it is, many of us find ourselves spending a lot of time in our cars. You can use this time to strengthen your feet by driving barefoot. This is one of those borderline barefoot activities that will give many people pause.
It’s natural to be apprehensive when you try driving barefoot for the first time. I recommend taking a pair of shoes with you that you can put on if you find it’s too much. Start with a short drive, someplace familiar, maybe to the shops and back. As you gain confidence, increase the distance.
It will get to the point that you prefer driving barefoot. It feels good, and is a great way to get your feet out!
If you’re worried about the legality of driving barefoot, then it’s definitely worth checking your local laws. From what I’ve heard and read, though, most places allow barefoot driving. Besides, it’s safer than driving in flip-flops or sandals, since there’s nothing to get caught on the pedals.
5. Go where people aren’t
One last thing that you can do, when starting out, is to run in seclusion. Sometimes it’s best just to be left to your own devices and allowed to do your thing. A great way to do this, especially in summer, is to head out early, before the neighbours wake up.
It’s amazing how empty the streets are at sunrise, and you can take advantage of this fact to start learning how to run barefoot. Just make sure you have adequate light so that you can see the path in front of you. If you need to, take a flashlight or headlamp along.
Another option is to physically remove yourself from people altogether and go someplace secluded. This can be a trail or field, park, or even a parking lot. The key here is to go someplace you feel comfortable being on your own.
Overcoming the fear and anxiety that most people feel when they first learn to run and walk barefoot is challenging, but it can be very empowering. Once you’ve conquered it, it will change your perspective on how you view yourself and how you feel about how other people view you.
The psychological benefits of barefooting are as many and as important as the physical benefits, and only add to the long list of reasons why taking off your shoes is worth trying!