With the publication of “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, interest in barefoot running has spiked significantly. In his book, McDougall tells of the Mexican Tarahumara Indians, who are quite possible the greatest distance runners in the world even though they don’t use the modern day technology that we call running shoes. They either run barefoot or use sandals made from tire rubber. The Tarahumara Indians seem to have very little joint problems or knee problems, which is highly unusual due to how far they run (to hunt, they chase animals such as deer, turkey, or rabbits until the animals literally drop because of exhaustion). Because they lack the typical problems associated with running, McDougall argues that we too would benefit from getting rid of our supportive shoes and going either barefoot or wearing FiveFingers (shoes that resemble a glove for your foot and protect against glass or other sharp objects that may be in your path).
People who have tried barefoot running generally enjoy the new freedom that their feet experience, and they like being able to feel what they are running on. Many of them claim that barefoot running also helps prevent injuries, although there is no scientific evidence to support these claims. Also, there is currently no evidence that running shoes harm you in any way. However, it is known that running barefoot will strengthen your foot muscles as well as change your running mechanics/style. If you run with supportive shoes, you generally land heel first, yet with bare feet or FiveFingers, you will tend to land anywhere from the middle of the foot to the front of the foot. So far, researchers seem to agree that this will reduce the impact and force your body receives with each step you take when compared to a heel first running style. If true, this will reduce the impact that your knees receive whenever you run.
Furthermore, in lab tests runners have shown typical improvements of around 3, and up to 5, percent in running speed when running barefoot compared to running in shoes that weigh 12 ounces each. This is believed to be due to the simple weight difference.
Now before you go out and go crazy running barefoot, just know that it is not for everyone. You should introduce barefoot running into your routine slowly, for it can be a bit painful or uncomfortable at first, and you may not want to consider it if you have serious foot problems, although there are claims of barefoot running helping to ease arch pain due to low arches, high arches, and plantar fasciitis. This is believed to be because the foot itself is strengthened over time with this running approach, but again none of this has been scientifically proven yet. Also, depending on where you live, barefoot running may not be feasible if the terrain is too rough. Even with FiveFingers, which have a plastic covering on the bottom, stepping on sharp object will still hurt; however, over time your feet will become tougher and more accustomed to this.
If any of this sounds remotely interesting to you, and you are already a runner, I suggest giving barefoot running a shot to see if you like it. In the worst case scenario you can simply put your shoes back on and continue on with your normal running routine.