Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Most Common Questions I'm Asked About Barefoot Running

First concept to understand is to think of how hard a horse with horseshoes clops down on the pavement.

Then think about how graceful, silent and low impact a mountain lion or cougar would walk or run across the same terrain or pavement. Huge difference in shock or force put into the feet and the ground.

Like the horse and the big thick hooves and even more so if you add horse shoes, humans wearing shoes are muting a lot of "feedback" from their God designed soles on how much force one is putting into landing on the foot.

Those who chronically wear shoes become practically unaware as to what and how they are stepping on almost 100% of the time. Shoes mute out most if not all awareness of what part of the foot we land on, how effectively we distribute body weight on the foot for agility and safety, the amount of down force during foot landing, the stability of the landing and loading of the foot and ankle and even how to walk or run compared to how God designed bi-pedal the movement to happen.

An example of this is the fact that the injury rate has sky rocketed for both people who walk (everyone) and those who run with fancy running shoes.

Bunions, Gout and Arthritis don't exist in shoeless tribes all over the planet and the foot, ankle, shin, knee, hip and back injuries which are normal and common in shoe based running don't exist for those that have never relied on shoes or have "ran away from them" and allowed their feet to reteach them how the legs and feet were designed to land, load and lift off in a natural walking and running gait.

The first thing that happens when one takes off their shoes is they become conscious and intentional as to where the step and how we step.

In nature, notice the mountain lion does not walk or run staring at where each of his 4 feet will step next.

He or she can do that because God designed them and us to be able to read the terrain before we get to it out our peripheral vision and automatically tell the legs and feet how how navigate with precision and agility.

Another symptom of chronic overuse of shoes is our feet become over reactive to stimulus such as walking on common surfaces in our environment like dirt, rocky trails, sidewalks, streets and such.

This over-reactive tendency is no different than if you chose to wear a blind fold everyday for decades to avoid seeing sunlight (which makes about as much sense as wearing shoes to me now a days!) and then taking the blind fold off one sunny day thinking you could now go out into the sun and be functional.

Not a realistic scenario, but can be done over time as you force the "atrophy" out of the eyes by gradually exposing them to low light and limited time exposures or are willing to put on shades once your eyes have absorbed as much as they can for the day out and "allow" them to return to doing what God designed them to do.

The feet atrophy a lot from being in shoes chronically and require time and lots of miles of use on a variety of surfaces to restore their natural health. The rewards for choosing to take that journey go far beyond just having healthy feet!

The skin on the feet does not become hard and calloused nor become all cut up and gnarly as is commonly thought. Instead the soles becomes slightly thicker than it's anemic shoe-self allowed or encouraged. They tan and the soles become more durable and elastic, kind of like "Kevlar" in a police officers bullet proof vest.(Elastic, stretchy and pretty puncture resistant!)

When I do step on shards of glass, thorns and such the leg of that foot naturally without conscious thought in a micro second, reduces the amount of force I was about to load on that spot and the foot flexes and shifts its load to other parts of the sole.

The skin stretches and usually the object either does not even stick to the sole or it slightly sticks in the surface of the skin but does not pierce through to any nerves or blood supply.

The natural reflex is to use the the next step to brush that sole gently against the pavement or ground to brush whatever it was off and continue on without needing to stop or further analyze what it was. Of course also that alerts my eyes to be more on the look out for more hazards in the coming area to be even more intentional on stepping around any other things that could do the same thing. No pain, no wounds, just agilely dealing with it.

Regarding heat or cold:

The sole become acclimated to temps up to just about melting asphalt and as cold as slightly below freezing if you go out running as those temps move into your region.

You learn to increase your tempo or steps per minute across the ground or pavement in such conditions to give the soles time to cool or get warm while not in contact with the extreme temp surface.

For surfaces like melting sticky tar or long stretches of sub freezing pavement or path, snow or slush those are times to dawn some form of shoe or foot covering (Moccasins or Vibram Five Fingers to protect the soles until you have passed the danger and can take them off again.

When I know I am likely to traverse such liabilities on my runs I bring along my Vibrams in the outer pockets of my Camel Bak Lobo Hydration pack for quick easy access and storage when not needed.

Shoes have their place...Just not every place!

One final insight that I have not mentioned that is very different for Chronic Shoe wearers vs Barefoot Runners is what is called "The Gait" or "Bio-Mechanics of How Walking or Running Occurs"

If a child is not allowed to go long enough barefoot during the stage of learning to stand, walk and run they develop and unnatural tendency to land on their heels instead of the ball of or "mid foot" as all Native Tribes of the planet and all children start out doing naturally.

There is no padding, fatty tissue or jointed bones that form levers like the knee to absorb shock on the boney knob that forms the heel.

So instead of teaching correct walking and running biomechanics (mans stupid way as usual) to fix the problem of bruised heels was to add padding and lifted heels to try to absorb the shock and shift the weight mechanically back to the front of the foot instead of just instructing the person to do so!

Because making, distributing and selling shoes became profitable shoes become a needed accessory to prevent bruising of the heel!

Shoes teach the occupant of the body "backwards use" of the muscles of the feet, ankles, legs and hips also!

No different than taking the body of your car and turning it around on the chassis and having the wheels that steer now at the back end of the car and removing the shock absorbers and put hard rubber tires like your tricycle as a kid had on it! Oh and while we are at it let's stuff your feet into long narrow drinking glasses and take away all the padding on your seats.

Now imagine going at a walking pace drive in this car. Probably tolerable but not that much fun. Now try driving it at freeway speeds or even God forbid Racing it!

Imagine how that would change your feeling of being agile, in control and amount of shock you would experience. You would be endlessly looking for ways to get make the ride softer and more control able! Doesn't that sound like modern shoes and modern running shoes?

Ever notice that shoes are never shaped like feet especially the front of the foot? Show me a baby's foot that is shaped like a triangle! Or even a "U"!

The "Carnage" begins at Toddler Age when we begin to stuff Gods perfect creations into "Foot Coffins" resulting in the deformation of the toes, either the collapse of the arches or the over rigidity of them (depending on how a person unconsciously adapts to the lost of stability and flex ability that rigid shoe "stole" from them.)

That pattern of weakening spreads up the ankles, to the knees, on into the hips and eventually the back and even the neck to create a whole chain of problems that keeps Chiropractors, Knee, Hip and Spinal Surgeons happy and rich and population forever becoming more hunched over, unconsciously voting to just settle for moving from chair to chair as they wait for death to come take them away from their now lifelong misery of not liking what was Natural Movement. This is so saddening to me.

I was headed down the above path until I met a Barefoot Runner over the Internet 3 yrs ago suggested I "Lose the Shoes". I prayed over that direction and God clearly helped me see that "He made my feet perfect and appropriate for the journey I was to travel over this lifetime and that I had been by default blinded to his glory in this area of his work. I was to take the path of Restoration and Redemption and use my experience to bring glory to him as the ultimate source for all guidance and insight for the "Class Room of Life and Beyond"

I am happy to report that thanks to God I am completely restored!

My knees are completely regenerated despite the opinions of an MD who did an "Arthroscopic Examination" of them a time ago telling me I should be planning on having my right knee replaced with a metal and plastic one!

I run sometimes from sun up to sun down and beyond and distances far beyond the traditional 26.2 mile marathon with no injuries, no pain and at age 52.

I feel and function better than I did at 22! I would have never believed I could run especially without shoes the kind of distances I thought were challenging on a bicycle back at age 22! Now not only do I find those distances not challenging but I find them relaxing and just plain JOYFUL!

So my suggestion to everyone is learn as much as you can about the myths perpetrated about the need for shoes through my blog at and put your faith in what God created more than what man created.

If you do decide to explore this path keep me informed. I've coached a lot of people back to rediscovering "Their Soles"

And by all means...Lose the Shoes and go Barefoot. The Truth truly does set you free!

Erskien Lenier

1 comment:

Marny said...

Thanks for posting this! I am only up to about 1 mile barefoot, but today I tried some pretty technical trails and even some long stretches of packed snow. It was great! I can't wait til I'm completely rid of shoes!