No, Tess is not auditioning for the role of Cinderella. Cinderella had the good sense to at least keep one shoe on. And no, she hasn’t forgotten her shoes at home. In her preparation for the New York marathon, Tess recently embarked on a barefoot training regime. That’s correct – She's willingly elected to go running with naked feet.
Barefoot running is a hot topic in the world of runners right now. The debate between barefoot running, zero drop shoes (shoes where the forefoot and the heel are at the same level) and traditional (raised-heel) shoes rages on. So, when my coach asked me if I would be willing to try doing some of my track warm-ups barefoot, I jumped at the chance…and then immediately wondered what I had gotten myself into.
injury prevention or cause
I have battled IT Band issues my entire running career and a large part of the problem stems from the fact that I have weak feet. The theory behind barefoot running is that standard running shoes actually offer our feet unnecessary support and by removing the shoes, we teach our feet to stand (and run) on their own. Devotees of the practice also claim it to be an excellent tool for teaching your body proper running form – landing with a mid-foot strike rather than a heel strike which means lower impact on joints – while opponents claim that the continuous pounding without protection will only set you up for injury.
the mid-foot strike
If you’re doing it correctly, your foot will hit the ground almost directly under your hip, making it easy for you to bring the foot back and have the heel just barely graze the ground. It should also be markedly quieter than when you run with a heel strike. I sometimes feel as though I’m doing my very best Godzilla impression when I start running with my heels down first.
what devotees and opponents are saying
- Pro – strengthens under-used muscles in the feet
- Pro – naturally promotes good form
- Pro – good form means fewer injuries and faster race times
- Con – repeated pavement pounding without support can lead to overstress and injury
- Con – feet exposed to the elements could become injured by objects on the ground
- Con – Not enough research has been performed to prove that it prevents injuries
take it slow
One of the most important things to know is that you have to ease into it (um, isn’t there some line about learning to walk before you run?) I only ran 400 meters and my feet felt like they got a workout. Take it slowly so your body has time to adapt and you don’t wind up sidelining yourself. And, while I may not ever take on my beloved 26.2 mile distance shoeless, I will continue to spend part of my training free of my shoes and spend the time when I'm shod wearing zero drop racing flats. It’s earned me a new nickname from the boys at the track – “Foot Nudist”.
They say, "don’t knock it ’til you try it" but for some people the idea of going shoeless just doesn't add up. Are shoe-wearers being over-sensitive or are 'foot-nudists' a pack of heavily calloused idealists?
- not convinced? How to find a good running shoe.
- the ABCs of running.
- don't go further than bare feet.