Monday, January 4, 2010

Barefoot Running Fad

If you get the Sunday paper, then you may have noticed the article on barefoot running yesterday. If not, it's online. It's a nive little intro to the sport. The author, Christopher McDougall, also wrote the book Born To Run.

The February issue of Runner's World magazine has an article in which Barefoot Ken Bob and Dr. Kevin Kirby, a runner and podiatrist, give their perspectives on barefoot running.

Unfortunately, the article is not available online. Both participants agree that barefoot running is a fad. Kirby thinks it's overhyped because the media likes it since it's different but we won't see much change in the number of runners who adopt barefoot running. Ken Bob also thinks it is a fad, but that it's okay because shoe manufacturers have been hyping their product for years now. He thinks barefoot running will catch on but only if it works for people. I agree with that, but the first obstacle is getting them to try it in the first place. Then they have to have the patience to learn it. I can't tell you how many people are incredulous when they learn I run barefoot.

Kirby posted an interesting thought on a forum last October.

We have had quite a few discussions before here on Podiatry Arena on the question of barefoot running. I actually think it is good idea for runners to try running barefoot on occasion to see what it feels like. However, I will seldom recommend barefoot running to my patients for the simple reason that I don't want to be responsible for any injuries, such as puncture wounds, plantar abrasions and contusions and bee stings, caused by the barefoot running. These are not insignificant risks of injury to the average person that normally wears shoes and does not normally walk outside barefoot.

From my own occasional personal experience of running barefoot during my collegiate cross country and track years, doing one mile intervals on a grassy field at about 5:10 mile pace, the biggest change I noted with running barefoot was that I simply was faster, presumably due to the reduced mass on my feet. Barefoot running for me generally amounted to a 5 second reduction in my mile interval time (i.e. instead of a 5:10 mile I would run a 5:05 mile) for an equivalent perceived exertion level. I never ran a race barefoot since my feet were not tough enough to run over other surfaces other than grass without hurting my feet, but barefoot running was definitely faster than running in shoes for me while on that surface.

Therefore, there is no problem with running barefoot, if people want to give it a try, then I don't have a problem with it. However, as far as me actually recommending it as the preferred method of running as a medical professional to my patients, I think it would be unethical for me to do so since the vast majority of my patients would be more likely to become injured as a result or running barefoot.

First, he doesn't want to be held responsible for injuries. Second, you are faster on grass. But grass also allows you to cheat and break the proper running form. That doesn't happen on hard surfaces. And third, he doesn't want to be held responsible for injuries. That's pretty much the tack he followed in the article. Ken Bob's thoughts on barefoot running are on his site.

Just a thought, but I hope we don't end up with an excess of "Barefoot" monikers. I think we have enough already.


EvilElf said...

Good point Barefoot Hank!

It almost makes you think that RW is afraid of losing some ad revenue.

Hank Greer said...

Who? Nobody here by that name.

DrNirenberg said...

Kirby says above that he feels recommending barefoot running would be unethical. This seems to be the direction the American Podiatric Medical Association is heading (APMA) - they recently released a statement about the lack of evidence of the benefits of barefoot running. Sadly, most of the new, high tech, supportive shoes and supports, lack evidence of benefit, and yet, recommending these isn't a problem for the APMA.