Amelia Nielson-Stowell: Reasons to Run: Going barefoot has helped my running

Published: Sunday, Feb. 13 2011 9:00 a.m. MST

One of my favorite books of 2010 was "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall. I would recommend it to any runner — part adventure tale and part research journal, McDougall begins the book with one simple question: "Why does my foot hurt?" He makes a compelling case for running barefoot.

Foot and knee injuries that plague eight out of 10 runners every year were not around before the '70s — before the modern athletic shoe was invented, McDougall writes. The thin-soled, canvas shoes that runners used to wear have lower incidents of injuries. These runners relied on foot strength instead of extreme cushioning. McDougall follows ultra-human running subjects (including the Tarahumara “Running People” Indian tribe in Mexico’s Cooper Canyons) who prove running shoes aren’t necessary and possibly destructive to our feet.

What really struck me was an interview with Dr. Gerard Hartmann, an Irish physical therapist who works on runners like Paula Radcliffe. He said: "Pronoation has become this very bad word, but it's just the natural movement of the foot. The foot is supposed to pronate." For years I’ve been told by running shoe experts that I overpronate, leading to expensive shoes, cushioning orthotics and thick socks — padding, padding and more padding. Frankly, it's never helped.

Intrigued, I decided to try out barefoot running. I began this summer, running barefoot on the grass at Sugarhouse Park. It felt just as McDougall described — effortless and free. But the amount of dogs and group of homeless men made me a bit on-edge —what could I step in?

So I tried on a few pairs of "barefoot" shoes. I loved the Nike Frees. And since I’m not completely sold on the barefoot trend, (experts in the running field are torn on the subject, saying running barefoot should just be practiced every once in a while), I’ve been alternating between running with the Frees and my regular running shoes. So far, so good. I can tell a difference in my form when I run with the barefoot shoes, I can feel my muscles getting a stronger workout. My feet feel lighter in my barefoot shoes, more relaxed.

Running barefoot may not be for everyone, but I’ve found a mix that works for me. And that’s the most important part.

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