Today I ran barefoot and I liked it.

Inspired by this book and this post and my seemingly never-ending knee complaints, I decided to give barefoot running a try this morning.  I have to tell you, it was thoroughly freeing — freeing from the knee pain I’ve been experiencing as well as just plain freeing in general.  I mean, what could be more natural than running barefoot?

I’ve actually been running in my KEEN sandals for the past few weeks.  I ditched my running shoes along about chapter 3 of Born to Run and have been diligently practicing the running technique described in the book, but even with the sandals, which are more conducive to our natural running form, it’s challenging to teach an old dog new tricks.

My current knee complaints began when I purchased fancy running shoes from a fancy running store so it didn’t take much convincing for me to shed the shoes, but running barefoot on pavement seemed unrealistic.

According to the story I was reading, the famed Tarahumara runners wear sandals, so I figured my KEENs might just do the trick.  They still provide a lot of support, but they don’t jack the heel up the way running shoes do.

Long story short, since running in KEENs, my knee troubles have subsided somewhat, but they are still there, nagging me, reminding me that I haven’t quite mastered the proper technique.  I keep thinking that if I ran barefoot, my knee problems might resolve.

So when I was out for a run on Saturday, I took off my KEENs for about a half mile, just to try it out.  Immediately I found a comfortable stride and my knee pain was nonexistent.  I didn’t have to think about it; it was just natural.

It wasn’t as painful as I expected, running barefoot on the concrete, but I felt ridiculous so I stopped and put my shoes back on for the rest of my run.  As soon as the shoes were back on, I found that I had to concentrate to find the right stride so that my knee didn’t hurt.  I felt the tension return as I focused on my technique the whole rest of the way to keep myself in check.

It really sucks the joy out of running when you’re so focused on your form that you can’t even enjoy the view.  I knew then that I was going to have to break down and get some of those Vibram FiveFingers I’ve been hearing about.  (And why are they called FiveFingers?  Why not FiveToes???)

They make a lot of sense.  We’ve long known that it’s better for babies to learn to walk in bare feet, and I am much happier when I can go barefoot.  As my neighbors can attest, I often hang out outside barefoot.  It stands to reason that we would be better off going barefoot much of the time, but of course that’s hardly practical in this culture.  The Vibram FiveFingers were created for just this reason.  They protect your foot from the elements, but they simulate barefoot running (or walking).

After the 1/2 mile I ran barefoot on Saturday, I decided to swallow my pride and get myself a pair of FiveFingers.  To be completely honest, the only thing that’s prevented me from getting a pair is vanity.  They just look so… ridiculous.  But then, I suppose they look no more ridiculous than me out running in my bare feet this morning!

I never got around to placing an order on Saturday, and on Sunday morning I logged into my Google Reader to find Steph’s post at the top of the page.  That sealed the deal.  There’s something about knowing someone else who is wearing these crazy looking alien shoes that makes me feel not quite so silly.  Of course, ask me again the first time I wear them outside.

I went onto the site and used their Store Locator to find the closest place to buy a pair, and I just so happen to be planning to be in that area on Wednesday.  I was tempte to drag the girls down there yesterday, but I decided to save the gas and wait.  Thus, the decision to run barefoot this morning.

I got quite the curious reaction from another runner who came up behind me and scared the living daylights out of me when she spoke and said, “Where are your shoes!?”

With my iPod on, I hadn’t heard her approaching, and I must have jumped six inches off the ground.  She was, of course, decked out in sensible running shoes and wanted to know what I was doing.  I told her I was just trying it out for the first time, to which she asked if it hurts.

And the answer is no.  It really does not.  Of course, I do walk around outside barefoot so the bottoms of my feet are probably tougher than some.  But if you are running properly, you land so lightly you really don’t have to worry too much about the rough surface.

I read somewhere that it’s best to take it slowly at first because our feet are so used to being encased in shoes that we have to build up the strength in those joints and muscles while they learn to work they way they should, so I only went 2 miles instead of my regular 3.  And it’s a good thing, because while the bottom of my left foot is perfectly fine, the bottom of my right foot has two blisters and feels tender to walk on now.

The left leg is the one with the knee trouble, and I think I focus so much on that one when I’m running that I neglect the right leg.  In fact, I realized this today when I was running barefoot; I could feel myself coming down too hard on that right foot, and I tried to fix my form but I didn’t have a lot of luck with it.  I hope that wearing the FiveFingers will help correct my form while protecting my skin from further blistering.

I have a VERY good feeling about this.  Hopefully this barefoot running thing (with the FiveFingers, that is, I’ll not run bare-barefoot again) will put an end to the injury that has been holding me back from running farther and faster.

Even if you aren’t into running, I highly recommend adding Born to Run to your summer reading list.  It’s the true story of Chris McDougall, a journalist with the running bug who set out to discover the secrets of the world’s greatest distance runners.  If you like a good adventure story, you’ll love this one.

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46 Responses

  1. I can just imagine you running barefoot and that woman coming up behind you! She must have thought you were crazy. 🙂 I love your willingness to always try something better for you, Jo-Lynne! Keep us posted and I hope your blisters heal!

  2. HOLY WOW. This is the THIRD POST I’ve read in TWENTY-FOUR HOURS about barefoot running (not to mention all of the others I have read in the past few weeks). It’s like the running universe is trying to tell me something. As I shared on Stephanie’s post, I so want to try this but I have very bad flat feet. I’m scared! But Steph said she is flat-footed, too. I never have knee pain, but I do have other aches and pains that I thought were just part of the sport. Hmmmmmmmmmm. Seriously, seriously thinking . . .

  3. I’m a barefoot woman so I love hearing that it’s okay to be barefoot LOL The only other shoe I wear is flip-flops (and tennies in the winter if I absolutely HAVE to)

  4. Jo-Lynne, I love this!! Isn’t it SO strange how we all are on the same page with this at the exact moment in time???? Not a coincidence. Now, we’ll HAVE to plan to get together for a run in our shoes! I can’t wait to see what you end up getting. And you have me wanting to try completely barefoot, too. Oh, and I had been doing Couch to 5K in my Merrell sandals (they felt great) and everyone made fun of me for running in sandals. Harumph!!!


  5. Okay, not a runner–don’t intend to join the club anytime soon–but I got a kick out of this post. I love the idea that the whole running world could be turned on its head and the manufacturers quickly lobbying together to convince you that you must wear expensive running shoes (and replace them regularly!). And I have to comment that I’ve never been a fashionista, but even I, as a no nonsense, not concerned about what the world thinks person, would really have to psych myself out for the five fingers. I half expect this to be some SNL skit they are just that silly! But conceptually, it seems sound—oh please, oh please post a pic of you in these. and not just in the house, but in all your running glory! 🙂

    1. But that is EXACTLY the irony of the whole situation. And you know what? Nike knew the truth all along. You HAVE to read the book.

  6. Wow. I have to totally check this out. My knees hurt, but I really think it has more to do with my weight than my form. I am barefoot as much as possible and only wear shoes when I have to. I love this concept!

  7. I just wanted to point out that when you are running no one will see how ‘strange’ those shoes you are considering getting look…your feet will be moving..it’ll just look like you have ‘regular’ shoes on. 😉 It’ll probably look less strange then running completely barefoot. I’m excited to try it out sometime soon whenever I get back into running (just had a baby 3 weeks ago so I’m taking it slow…haven’t run much in about 8 years) because I always used to get really bad shin splints 🙁

  8. I have a pair of Five Fingers, but I haven’t been “brave” enough to run in them. I wear them constantly otherwise, though. I’ve yet to read Born to Run, but I’m planning on it this summer. Great job on the running and I’m glad that you’ve found the natural way is working for you.

    1. I’m so curious why you aren’t “brave” enough to run in them??? That’s the only thing I can imagine wearing them for, lol.

  9. The shoes do look AWFUL, but if anyone can pull it off it’s you and Steph. You should write a Fashion Friday post about what outfit to wear with them!

  10. A girlfriend mentioned these to me a couple of weeks ago when I told her how my feet & shins hurt when I’m walking (for exercise). I’m kind of fascinated by this idea & will have to check them out.

  11. I love to go barefoot. I always have. I heard about those “shoes” a while back from another blogger, and I really want a pair. It seems like they are good for so many things and I know they would be GREAT in the boat. I can’t wait to hear your review of them.

  12. My husband has been a runner since high school and decided to try barefoot running a few months ago. We didn’t have the money to invest in a pair of Vibrams (he had just gone to a fancy running store, had his run evaluated and purchased a $180 pair of “the perfect” running shoes…ha). Anyway, I did some research and found that walmart water shoes were found to be a decent choice for barefoot running. He picked up a pair of $6 shoes and swears he’ll never go back to those fancy running shoes…so to end my novel…Good job, keep it up barefoot runner!

    1. Hey, good to know. I just saw a comment on a barefoot running article in Runner’s World that someone used those.

  13. Interesting… I’m in the market for new running shoes but haven’t bought any yet because I’ve been having pain in my right Achilles that I have yet to “deal” with (you know like go to the chiropractor or dr.). Anyway, I’m curious to see what you think after using them for a while. Can you also do aerobics and use them on the elliptical machine? I would I assume so… Let me know, I’m VERY interested!!

  14. I commented on Steph’s post too. My BIL is a big barefoot running advocate. He has serious knee pain after we ran a half-marathon together last year, so he decided to give barefoot running a try. He loves it and has had great success. His form was totally corrected and a regular run for him is 8 miles. He also read the book.

    I’ll be honest though–there is a part of me resisting even attempting it just because he is so into it. He is one of those people that finds a new passion and then must convince everyone around him of the superiority of his methods. I should just get over myself, but I don’t have any pain issues anyway. In fact, getting new running shoes a few years ago actually alleviated some problems I was having.

    Also, I’m terribly vain and I have pretty feet and I want to keep them that way. 🙂

    But I’m glad this is working for you and can allow you to get back into running.

    1. I’m thinking, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Plenty of ultrarunners and marathoners wear sneakers and are fine, so if you have a pair that work for you, you’re probably good to go!

      (And I know what you mean about that kinda person. Drives me nuts and I’m often too proud to jump up on their bandwagon too, lol.)

  15. It is funny that you are commenting about that book since I blogged about it a couple of weeks ago! I have not purchased those “shoes” but I have been thinking about buying them.

  16. Ack no, nope, no way, not happening with this gal. I need shoes. I have to sleep in socks or the sheets drive me up the wall. It takes everything I have to wear sandals in the summer.
    You’d be hard pressed to find me in my kitchen without shoes on, much less exercising. I love yoga, I hate that we can’t keep our socks on.
    Is there anything wrong with my feet? No, I just am extremely ticklish and it drives me bat spit crazy to go without.
    More power to those of you who can, but you won’t be taking my shoes.
    I’m happy to say though that the joint pain from strep complications has disappeared and I’m going to start jogging again any day now. With my shoes. My fellow gym goers might get a little skeeved out even if I were that brave.

    1. Yeah, I have heard of people getting kicked out of gyms for running barefoot on the treadmills, lol. But with the FiveFingers, you should be safe. They’ll probably lookatcha funny, though. 😉

  17. I really want to try barefoot running. I am glad I read this. I will definitely be trying it out over the next few weeks. I have not been able to find information regarding barefoot running with the foot issues I have. I wear orthotics while running and wear a stabilizing shoe because my ligaments are very loose. Because of the flexibility, I don’t have the natural spring in my feet that most people do. Anyways, thanks for the reminder!

  18. My boyfriend really wants to run barefoot. I’ve been worried for him… but I’m going to send him this post now as a showing of my support 🙂 Maybe I’ll try it myself someday too… maybe 🙂

  19. My Mom owns a pair and really likes them. She has some toe problems and the five finger shoes have relived some of those issues. In the city though, I would not run without something on my feet. I’ve seen the people that walk by LOL

    1. That’s interesting that he uses it as a training tool but not as an exclusive method. I think since I’m running such short distances (and b/c I’m using the FiveFingers and not planning to be bare-barefoot on a regular basis) that I will be okay but I will remember to take it slow. I do feel the strain on my ankles and feet, as it is so different than having the protection of shoes. I will keep at the 2 mile mark for a while, I think.

    1. Well, I saw a video and the guy said that he runs right through broken glass and gravel, that he is running so lightly that it hardly matters. And you work up to it. The bottom of your foot becomes like soft leather, they say. And I noticed that the road I run on is quite smooth. Plus, you do look out for possible dangers when you’re running barefoot! 🙂

      But. I did go out today and get the FiveFingers and I will not be running barefoot anymore. I will feel safer this way. (And I have a NASTY blister from running too hard on my right foot.)

  20. Those shoes look so cool and just plain weird all at the same time. Sigh. I miss running. I used to run a lot before the kids. It was nothing to run Sunday mornings for an hour or so. But, I’ve had some knee issues, and a hip issue. Maybe the bare foot running is the way to go. I’ll definitely check out Born to Run.

  21. A couple of things… Andy is pining after those shoes. I showed him Steph’s post and he knew all about them, told me he had been waiting for the day he can get some (you know, when our van repair is paid off). SO FUNNY looking. However, some of the women’s styles aren’t so bad, KWIM?

    And I’m not sure if NP mentioned this in her main book, but in her Mother & Babies book she talks about running around barefoot… we probably get some iron intake from the soles of our feet that way. She has her son run around outside barefoot regularly. Which made me feel better about my kids w/out shoes – although that’s more of just sheer laziness on my part. Ha.

    OH – the kids in Montgomery, AL, are famous for being barefoot until about 2nd grade. Seriously. Even the handbooks at many schools say “shoes not required until 2nd grade.” It’s really something to see all the kids in frilly clothes at churches on Sunday with absolutely no shoes.

    1. Very interesting. My dad was raised in W. Virginia and my mom was always up on the latest research and let me run around barefoot. Everyone made fun of her, blaming it on my W. Virginia bloodlines, but I think it was probably for the best. Funny about Montgomery, AL. Seems crazy!

  22. I don’t run outside but strictly on my treadmill (no one needs to see my fat fly!). I’m thinkin’ I might try the barefoot way and see how I do. I have issues with knee pain too.

  23. My hubby just read a book about barefoot running and has been talking a lot about this. He was considering an investment in those shoes though- I don’t think he is half as brave as you 🙂 Way to go, lady!! 🙂

  24. I saw a picture of these on a blog I recently read and wondered what the heck they were (!), but for the life of me I can’t seem to remember the blog to go back and refer to it. Anyway, I’ve put a hold on the book at the library. I’ve dealt with some plantar fasciitis in the past and because of that I make such an effort to get comfy/cushiony shoes and rarely go barefoot. Interestingly, Dr. Mercola said that most people who run barefoot don’t have a problem with the plantar fasciitis. I also had to really cut back on my running because of some left knee pain, but this really makes me wonder about starting up again slowly.

    Hmmm, I can at least begin to go barefoot more! Would have loved to have seen the lady’s face who saw you running barefoot!!

  25. I would encourage you to continue running totally barefoot. As a barefoot runner, I can tell you that it really is better — even than with Vibrams. You have much greater feedback from the ground and work your feet even better. It may be somewhat embarrassing for you, but remember that you’re not doing it to look good in other people’s eyes. Just give it some thought. Most of all, have fun and be safe!


  26. Good for you for trying some new things including new perspectives!
    I have been running barefoot for over a year and I highly recommend ditching shoes all together. It makes the discovery of a good running form go much quicker and then transition to shoes if you must a few months down the road.
    Good for you chicka!

  27. Look at you! Not only are you a runner, you are a barefoot runner! Next, you’ll be running 5Ks…So proud of you.

    I just got a pair of those FiveFingers shoes too, by the way…so I guess we can all be crazies together! 😉

    1. I think now I actually will be able to do a 5K. There is one at BlogHer. I think it would be cool for that to be my first.

  28. My son, who is in Special Ops in the Navy wears these & says they are very comfortable. We (his family) have laughed about them & been so curious, but he says that lots of the guys wear them to run in (& they run a LOT!) Not sure I’m ready for them, but I do want to read the book you recommended. Who knows????

  29. Jo, Jennifer Donovan forwarded me this post b/c I started running in January. I actually had Born to Run on my TBR list, but I haven’t gotten to it b/c I have been really struggling with reflux lately. Imagine my pleasure when I found this post AND some posts about GERD on your blog! I have already read enough to know that I don’t want to be on Prilosec (I have been on it for 3 weeks), but I am waiting for an upper GI scope before I know what direction I need to take. I am very suspicious that yeast is at least part of the problem, so I have drastically cut back on my carb/sugar intake over the last few weeks. I am sure that I am late to the game, but the whole food lifestyle is not one that I am used to, and the last few weeks have been very challenging. I am looking forward to perusing all your posts to read what you have already learned! Also, I want to know how you enjoy your VFFs. I am considering getting some–after my stress fracture (that I got from doing too much too fast) heals.

    Lauren (from 5MinutesforBooks.com)

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