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Biciclista2010-05-01 07:31:33 +0000 #1
The Roving Runner Goes Barefoot

By Brian Fidelman

The Roving Runner, Brian Fidelman, left, with the author Christopher McDougall, taking a break from a barefoot run in Central Park in Manhattan.

The Roving Runner

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Some runners are tossing aside their cushioned, springy, supportive running shoes in favor of running barefoot. Others are opting for minimalist shoes that amount to thin-soled gloves for the feet. Barefoot running has been around awhile, but the best-selling book “Born to Run,” by Christopher McDougall, is largely credited with prompting a new barefoot boom.

“Born to Run” paints a rich profile of the Tarahumara Indians, an indigenous people in Mexico known for their ability to run long distances in thin sandals without getting injured. The book not only explores the history and culture of the Tarahumara but also examines the physiology and evolution of running, culminating in a spectacular 50-mile race through the country’s vast Copper Canyon.

But it is Mr. McDougall’s conclusions about running shoes that have helped generate renewed interest in barefoot running and a backlash against traditional running shoes. In “Born to Run,” he makes the case that modern running shoes warp our natural stride, encourage bad form and lead to injuries.

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Curious, and admittedly dubious, I decided to invite Mr. McDougall for a Roving Run to see what all the fuss is about.

A few days before we met for our run in New York’s Central Park, a colleague asked me if I really planned to take off my shoes and run barefoot. I said maybe, for a minute or so, perhaps on the soft grass at the park’s Sheep Meadow.

Sitting in Columbus Circle, the tall, bald and amiable Mr. McDougall, or Christopher as he prefers to be called, had a different idea: lose the shoes and hit the pavement.

“The hard, man-made surfaces are like cream,” he reassured me. “It’s nature you’ve got to watch out for, because nature’s got horse chestnuts and acorns and rocks and things.”

I agreed to give it a try. But what about broken glass and other sharp objects?

“I’ve got this special equipment I like to use,” he said. “They’re called eyeballs. I see a rock, I just step next to it. There’s a lot less out there than you think.”

We started slowly, running back and forth on some side paths off Central Park’s main loop.

My running form changed immediately. I was landing gently on the middle and balls of my feet rather than striking with my heel. I was more upright than before. My stride was shorter. I didn’t make any changes consciously; they just seemed to happen on their own.

“My bad habits are so close to the surface that it’s really helpful for me to be in bare feet because it keeps me honest,” Christopher said. “When I wear shoes I get really sloppy, my form is all over the place. When I’m in my bare feet, I’m instantly reminded how to get upright and how to have a quick, light landing.”

Now it was time for a real run. Christopher wore a small backpack that held his Vibram Five Fingers, the thin rubber shoes with toe pockets that he had worn for his run from Penn Station to the park. I held on to my running shoes, one in each hand, figuring I would put them on after running barefoot for a few minutes. We set out on the main loop, curving eastward at the bottom of the park.

The comments started right away. A man off on the side of the road yelled out, in the thickest New York accent you can imagine, “Wheah ya shoes? Ya fuggatcha shoes!”

Christopher seemed to take note of every runner’s form, clearly wishing everyone else were barefoot right along with us.

After a mile or so we peeled off the loop and caught the men’s pro race at the Fifth Avenue Mile. As the leaders blazed by us, Christopher admired their form. “Look at how lightly they land,” he said, “even at that speed.”

We returned to the loop and ran north. I kept my shoes off for the moment because my feet still weren’t hurting.

I asked my running partner if he kept in touch with the characters he described in his book. He certainly does, he told me. El Caballo, the mysterious American who lives in the Copper Canyon, walked into a Denver book signing just as Christopher was talking about him. He saw Jenn Shelton, the pigtailed party girl with endless endurance, at the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. He went trail running with Billy Bonehead in Hawaii not long ago.

And when we talked about the barefoot running boom his book has spawned, he seemed embarrassed, saying he is unjustifiably reaping the rewards of the sweat of longtime barefoot runners before him.

We continued north, past the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, and then past the North Meadow ball fields.

Other runners stared at us and our bare feet, as if to say, “Are you guys nuts?” Christopher engaged many of them, even offering a few runners $20 if they would go barefoot with us. “It’s the way we’re supposed to run!” he yelled out to one.

We passed huge piles of wood collected near the side of the road, wreckage from the storm that ripped through the park in mid-August. Christopher had run in the park the day after the storm and said he was stunned by how extensive the damage was. He had been in town that day to appear on “The Daily Show.” As it happens, it was that interview that prompted my interest in his book, which my sister recently gave me as a gift for my birthday. (Here’s the segment.)

As we rounded the Great Hill and ran down the west side of the park, it dawned on me that I had been lost in our conversation for some time, and that after nearly six miles I was still running barefoot. But we were getting closer to completing a loop and I wasn’t in any pain, so there was no way I was putting my shoes back on now.

Web sites on barefoot running recommend starting slowly to acclimate your feet, and they are right. Although I wasn’t feeling any pain during the run, my feet were indeed hurting a bit the next day on the top and outside. But it felt more like the soreness of underused muscles rather than an injury. As for the soles of my feet, they were fine. No blisters, no puncture wounds, no disturbed skin.

My facial muscles felt a bit tired, but that was from smiling most of the way. I’m not sure if it was the liberating feeling of running barefoot, or chatting with an author whose book I had just devoured, or if I was just enjoying other runners’ reactions to two guys running barefoot in Central Park, but this was fun, just as running should be.

Near the end of our run, as we passed Tavern on the Green, a runner sidled up alongside us. “You guys enjoying your barefoot run?” he asked.

Sure are, we responded.

“Well listen, there’s this book you have to check out,” he said. “It’s called ‘Born to Run.’”


KnottedYet2010-05-01 07:46:14 +0000 #2
“I’ve got this special equipment I like to use,” he said. “They’re called eyeballs."

I love it!
sarahspins2010-05-01 07:54:39 +0000 #3
Agreed, that is like the best quote ever
tribogota2010-05-01 08:40:18 +0000 #4
Loved the book, love the blog, have been running 2 days a week barefoot!
OakLeaf2010-05-01 08:25:27 +0000 #5
And more from the LAT: www.latimes.com/feat...,5107405,full.column .

The more time I spend with my first metatarsals padded, the more excited I am about it, and the better my whole body feels... and the angrier I get with every professional who's put me in arch supports, starting with the orthopod my parents took me to when I was 7 years old (I don't even remember why, but I sure remember the ugly and shaming orthopedic shoes). And I'm not much more impressed with running and Yoga instructors who've blithely recommended I go barefoot without checking my feet for this apparently very common pathology. It seems all I've needed all my life was two freakin' pieces of neoprene.

I'm still experimenting with shape, thickness and placement, but I can't wait to get it sorted and get 'em inside a pair of VFFs!

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