Running Barefoot In Philadelphia
Since my move back into Philadelphia I have seen more backlash for my tendency to run barefoot. I will be honest glass has been stuck in my foot, which I took out and ran another 4 miles that one day. That was my first time I lived in the city and ran barefoot. Over 100s of miles traveled and one injury I still try to run barefoot when I can. This is due to the knee pain I would experience almost every time I would run in traditional shoes. I mix it up currently with very thin shoe without a heel but as the shoe wears out I find my myself at a point where I wish to put off the purchase and start going full barefoot again.
What About Injury?
Injury does happen with research on the matter showing people with a similar number of injuries whether they are barefoot or in shoes. The difference is people who go barefoot have a higher number of injuries to their foot where as those in shoes have a higher number to their knees and hips. The worst injury I have seen from barefoot running was recently when my dog Izzy got a quarter inch piece of glass stuck in her foot. Unlike myself she does not know to look to avoid glass. Most people however will not advocate for all dogs to wear shoes to protect their feet. This is another reason I plan to take off my running shoes for the fall, to better protect my dog from injury.
Unfortunately for the available research many of the studies on barefoot running are not truly barefoot. Minimalist does not equal barefoot as one of the primary things seen in barefoot runners is their change in foot strike to a mid or forefoot strike. Minimalist shoes do not change your foot strike in the same way barefoot does with over 2 times as many people still running with rearfoot strike (Larson, 2014). This means that you put the same stresses on your body but with a more abrupt force to the system. The cushion in shoes does have a benefit. Like the crumple zone in a car the cushion on a shoe provides a small area to decrease how rapid the total force from running occurs. The benefit may have an unfortunate side effect.
Our bodies do a good job responding to force. This is why we do not regularly fall or drop things. However shoes change how our bodies respond to force and may be linked to injury (Lieberman, 2010). This change in how we respond to force goes away when barefoot. We can also be trained to work around this effect but it requires a conscious effort for most people. Research suggests that people can achieve this benefit when they increase their stride frequency and land softer (Heiderscheit, 2011).
So why choose to run barefoot?
My decision to run barefoot is due to my response to training. The pain I experience from my runs now occur in my calf and one of my achilles tendons. This is different from my previous knee pain that would be more consistent and something I thought would just be a part of my day to day life. Pain with running or a history of injury may mean you could benefit from a trial of barefoot running or adjust your stride pace and focus on a softer landing. For me barefoot does the later two without specific focus.
Should You Make The Change?
Barefoot running is not for everyone and the research remains limited. The hype of 5 years ago seems to have died down and people have either stuck with it or gone back to shoes. I am happy at my current balance. One thing that should not limit people is their fear of injury. Glass large enough to injury someone is visible and our pets actually take the brunt of it. For those people who walk or run with your pets you already have a good understanding of what harm can come to your feet. Your feet will not become gross and will not become hard or callused. One of the biggest benefits for me has been an improvement in foot health since changing the shoes. I wear zero drop <10mm thick soles and go barefoot when I can.
Do you have a fear of being barefoot in the city?