The idea of running barefoot seems like some new age, hippie movement to get people to be free in their bare skin. Or some eco-friendly push to persuade people to forgo sneakers so they don't end up in landfills. Although the freedom and environmental arguments for barefoot running are valid, Christopher McDougall, author of the best-selling book Born to Run, believes running without sneakers could be the answer to preventing shin splints, knee pain, and other running injuries.
After suffering many an injury himself, he set out with the question, "Why does my foot hurt?" In his journey to answer that question, he discovered the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico's Copper Canyons. They run hundreds of miles at a time with only thin, homemade sandals on their feet, and don't suffer any of the injuries that the rest of us runners do. After running with them, he realized the secret was ditching his sneaks, and since then, he's been injury-free. McDougall believes today's high-tech sneakers "warp our natural stride, encourage bad form, and lead to injuries."
Running without the protection of a rugged sole or the soft cushioning makes you change your running form immediately. It reminds you to land gently on the ball of your foot, not strike on your heels. Your posture naturally becomes upright with your head, shoulders, hips, and knees stacked in one line, and your stride becomes shorter. When running with sneakers, you can land with more force and take longer strides, and not pay as much attention to your form, which results in getting hurt.
It may sound painful, but running barefoot on hard, man-made surfaces such as asphalt is "like cream," Chris says, and feels better on your naked feet than grass because it's smooth and predictable. When it comes to rocks, sticks, and pieces of glass he says, "I've got this special equipment I like to use. They're called eyeballs. I see a rock, I just step next to it."
Many runners are ditching their shoes and reaping the benefits. If you're interested, it's recommended to start off with short distances at first to acclimate your shoe-less feet to running free. Tell me, have you or would you ever give barefoot running a try to prevent common running injuries?