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.