The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Barefoot Running

'And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.' -Kahlil Gibran

When I first heard about barefoot running, several years ago, I was skeptical - don't we need cushion to protect us from injuries, and why would I want to run barefoot, anyway?

But several months ago, I read a few influential articles (stemming from the popularity of Christopher McDougall's book, Born to Run) and decided to give barefoot running a try. Why not?

Today, I'm happy to say I'm a barefoot runner, and I love it.

I've given away my Asics, and now I run exclusively with my Vibram Fivefinger KSOs or completely barefoot. I'm running as fast or faster than ever, lighter than ever, injury-free, and I feel connected to the ground I run on. My feet have become stronger, and I feel better. Running was always fun, but now it feels like play!

The Whys of Barefoot Running

For decades now, runners (including me) have been sold on the need for good running shoes - if you want to prevent injuries, invest in good shoes. Proper cushioning, and sometimes rigid motion control or stability features, were needed, and if you had injuries, you probably had the wrong shoes.

But recent studies have proven what traditional peoples have known all along - that running barefoot strengthens your feet and is a more natural way to run. Running in cushioned, motion-controlled shoes is like having your neck in a cast for a month - when you take the cast off, your neck muscles will be weak. You also pound your feet much harder with running shoes, causing problems not only with feet but knees and other joints. We're making our feet weak, and pounding them hard - it's no wonder we have all kinds of injuries.

When you first start running barefoot, your feet will be weak, so take it very slowly at first. It takes weeks and months to build up the strength necessary for faster or longer running, but after a while, your feet get stronger than ever before.

There are numerous studies still being done on this, so don't draw any long-term conclusions yet. My thinking is to give it a try, and see how it works.

Even more important than the strength of your feet is your connection to the earth. Simply put, shoes shelter us from the surfaces we run on, but that's not always a good thing. Read The Barefoot Philosophy for more.

However, a big caveat: if you think barefoot running will make you faster, you're probably going to be disappointed. It's not about running faster - although it is possible. From what I can tell, I'm running faster than ever, though I'm also lighter than I've been since I was around 18 or 19. Running barefoot is about connecting with the ground, about feeling, about freedom and lightness, about fun. It's not about speed.

Read Barefoot Ted on this for more - he knows way more about the topic than I do, and is an amazing resource.