Barefoot running, also called "natural running", is the act of running without footwear. Throughout human history, running barefoot was the natural way to run, and cultures such as the Tarahumara people in Mexico still practice it today. Barefoot running became popular in the latter half of the 20th century, as notable Olympic runners such as Abebe Bikila, Bruce Tulloh, and Zola Budd participated barefoot. Scientific research into the practice of running barefoot has not reached a clear consensus regarding its risks or its benefits. While shoes provide necessary foot protection from cuts, bruises, and the weather, proponents of barefoot running argue that it offers benefits and is healthier for the feet by reducing the risk of chronic injuries (notably repetitive stress injuries) due to the impact of heel striking in padded running shoes.
To provide the benefits of both running barefoot and shod, different varieties of barefoot-inspired footwear are available, including thin-soled and flexible shoes such as traditional moccasins and huaraches, and modern footwear like Vibram FiveFingers and Vivobarefoot. Running almost barefoot in thin-soled shoes may be termed minimalist running.
Throughout most of human history, running was performed while barefoot or in thin-soled shoes such as moccasins. This practice continues today in Kenya and among the Tarahumara people of northern Mexico. Historians believe that the runners of Ancient Greece ran barefoot. According to legend, Pheidippides, the first marathoner, ran from Athens to Sparta in less than 36 hours. After the Battle of Marathon, it is said he ran straight from the battlefield to Athens to inform the Athenians of the Greek victory over Persia.
Modern barefoot running first rose to prominence in 1960, when Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia won the Olympic marathon in Rome barefoot after discovering that Adidas, the Olympic shoe supplier, had run out of shoes in his size. He was in pain because he had received shoes that were too small, so he decided to simply run barefoot; Bikila had trained running barefoot prior to the Olympics. He would go on to defend his Olympic title four years later in Tokyo while wearing shoes and setting a new world record.
During the 1980s, a South African runner, Zola Budd, became known for her barefoot running style as well as training and racing barefoot. She won the 1985 and 1986 IAAF World Cross Country Championships and competed in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Kenyan runner Tegla Loroupe began running barefoot 10 km (6.2 mi) to and from school every day at the age of seven. She performed well in contests at school, and in 1988, won a prestigious cross country barefoot race. She went on to compete, both barefoot and shod, in several international competitions, marathons, and half-marathons. She won the Goodwill Games over 10,000 metres, barefoot, and was the first African woman to win the New York City Marathon in 1994, winning again in 1998.
In the early 21st century, barefoot running has gained a small yet significant following on the fringe of the larger running community. Organizers of the 2010 New York City Marathon saw an increase in the number of barefoot runners participating in the event. The practice saw a surge in popularity after the 2009 publication of Christopher McDougall's book, Born to Run, promoting the practice. In the United States, the Barefoot Runners Society was founded in November 2009 as a national club for unshod runners. By November 2010, the organization claimed 1,345 members, nearly double the 680 members it had when it was founded.
One barefoot runner, Rick Roeber, has been running barefoot since 2003, and has run more than 50 marathons, 2 ultra-marathons of 40 miles, and over 17,000 miles (27,359 km) all barefoot. Other prominent barefoot runners include Ken Bob Saxton, known as the "godfather of barefoot running", and Todd Byers, a barefoot marathon runner from Seattle who has run over 100 marathons barefoot. On December 8, 2006, Nico Surings of Eindhoven, Netherlands, became the fastest person to run 100 meters (328 feet) on ice while barefoot, completing the task in 17.35 seconds. And on December 12, 2010, the Barefoot Runners of India Foundation (BRIF) organised a 21 km (13 mi) barefoot half-marathon at Kharghar near the Indian city of Mumbai. The run had 306 participants.
In 2011, the United States Air Force began development of a program to support barefoot or minimalist running in its ranks. One of the leaders of the program was Lieutenant Colonel Mark Cucuzzella, who won the 2011 United States Air Force Marathon in a time of 2:38:48 while wearing minimalist running shoes.
On April 1, 2012, runner Rae Heim embarked on a 3,000-plus mile barefoot run from Boston, Massachusetts to Manhattan Beach, California. She is raising money for a Tennessee-based organization, Soles4Souls, who will deliver one pair of shoes to needy children for each dollar raised by Heim. And on June 23, 2012, Robert Knowles, of Brisbane, Australia, set two Guinness World Records for both the Fastest 100 km Barefoot and the Longest Distance Run Barefoot in 24 Hours, as part of the Sri Chinmoy Sydney 24 Hour Race. He logged 166.444 km (103 miles), or 416 laps on the Blacktown International Sportspark track, barefoot.
Health and medical implications 
Since the latter half of the 20th century, there has been much scientific and medical interest in the benefits and harm involved in barefoot running. The 1970s, in particular, saw a resurgent interest in jogging in western countries and modern running shoes were developed and marketed. Since then, running shoes have often been blamed for the increased incidence of running injuries and many runners have switched to barefoot running for relief from chronic injuries. However, the American Podiatric Medical Association cautions would-be barefoot runners, stating that there is still not enough research on the immediate and long-term benefits of the practice, and that individuals should consult a podiatrist with a strong background in sports medicine to make an informed decision on all aspects of their running and training programs. Additionally, individuals with diabetes or other conditions which affect sensation within the feet are at greater risk of injury and are advised not to run barefoot.
The structure of the human foot and lower leg is very efficient at absorbing the shock of landing and turning the energy of the fall into forward motion, through the springing action of the foot's natural arch. Scientists studying runners' foot motions have observed striking differences between habitually shod runners and barefoot runners. The foot of habitually shod runners typically lands with an initial heel strike, while the foot of a barefoot runner lands with a more springy step on the middle, or on the ball of the foot. In addition, the strike is shorter in duration and the step rate is higher. When looking at the muscle activity (electromyography), studies have shown a higher pre-activation of the plantar flexor muscles when running barefoot. Indeed, since muscles' role is to prepare the locomotor system for the contact with the ground, muscle activity before the strike depends on the expected impact. Forefoot strike, shorter step duration, higher rate and higher muscle pre-activation are techniques to reduce stress of repetitive high chocks. This avoids a very painful and heavy impact, equivalent to two to three times the body weight. "People who don't wear shoes when they run have an astonishingly different strike", said Daniel E. Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University and co-author of a paper appearing in the journal Nature. "By landing on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision, much less than most shod runners generate when they heel-strike."
However, when comparing different populations of habitually barefoot runners, not all of them favor the forefoot strike. A 2012 study by Hatala et al. focusing on 38 runners of the Daasanach tribe in Kenya found that a majority of runners favored a heel strike instead of a forefoot strike. Presently, Hatala and Lieberman are comparing their data, but Lieberman did note that his study, which focused on the Kalenjin people, also found some barefoot runners favoring a heel strike as well. He also said that the Daasanach people were primarily, "tall, lanky goat-herders who don't run nearly as much as the Kalenjin, who own many of the world's distance running records."
The longitudinal (medial) arch of the foot also may undergo physiological changes upon habitually training barefoot. The longitudinal arch has been observed to decrease in length by an average of 4.7 mm, suggesting activation of foot musculature when barefoot that is usually inactive when shod. These muscles allow the foot to dampen impact and may remove stress from the plantar fascia. In addition to muscle changes, barefoot running also reduces energy use – oxygen consumption was found to be approximately 4% higher in shod versus barefoot runners. Better running economy observed when running barefoot compared to running with shoes can be explained by a better use of the muscle elasticity. In fact, reduction of contact time and higher pre-stretch level can enhance the stretch shortening cycle behavior of the plantar flexor muscles and thus possibly allow a better storage and restitution of elastic energy compared to shod running.
Running in shoes also appears to increase the risk of ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis, as well as other chronic injuries of the lower limb. However, running shoes also provide several advantages, including protection of the runner from puncture wounds, bruising, thermal injuries from extreme weather conditions, and overuse injuries. Transitioning to a barefoot running style also takes time to develop, due to the use of different muscles involved. Doctors in the United States have reported an increase in such injuries as pulled calf muscles, Achilles tendinitis, and metatarsal stress fractures, which they attribute to barefoot runners attempting to transition too fast.
The running shoe itself has also been examined as a possible cause of many injuries associated with shod running. One 1991 study found that wearers of expensive running shoes that are promoted as having special features, such as added cushioning or pronation correction, were injured significantly more frequently than runners wearing inexpensive shoes. It has also been found that running in conventional running shoes increases stress on the knee joints up to 38%, although it is still unclear if this leads to a higher rate of heel injuries or not. One study suggests that there is no evidence that cushioning or pronation control in shoes reduces injury rates or reduces performance. It was also found that the belief that one's shoes have increased cushioning had no effect on increasing or decreasing ground reaction forces during walking. Modern running shoes can also increase joint torque at the hip, knee, and ankle, and the authors of the study even suggest that running in high heels might be better than modern running shoes. Improperly fitting shoes may also result in injuries such as a subungual hematoma – a collection of blood underneath the toenail. This may also be known as "runner's toe" or "tennis toe".
Barefoot-inspired footwear 
One alternative to going barefoot is to wear thin shoes with minimal padding, such as moccasins or thin sandals, which result in similar gait to going barefoot, but protect the skin and keep dirt and water off. The Tarahumara wear thin-soled sandals known as huaraches. These sandals have a single long lace with a thin sole made from either recycled tires, commercially available replacement outsole rubber, or leather. The practice of wearing light or no shoes while running may be termed "minimalist running".
Before the modern running shoe was invented, plimsolls, or thin-soled canvas shoes, were worn by children in the United Kingdom for physical education classes as well as soldiers for PT training. Inexpensive "dime store" plimsolls have very thin footbeds (3mm elastomer/rubber outsole, 1mm card, 2mm eva foam) and no heel lift or stiffening.
Some modern shoe manufacturers have recently designed footwear to mimic the barefoot running experience, maintaining optimum flexibility and natural walking while also providing some degree of protection. The purpose of these "minimalist shoes" is to allow one's feet and legs to feel more subtly the impacts and forces involved in running, allowing finer adjustments in running style. The Vibram FiveFingers has separate slots for each toe and no cushioning. Conversely, the Nike Free line of footwear features a segmented sole which provides greater flexibility while still having an amount of cushioning. This line is based on a scale from 1–10, where 1 is barefoot and 10 is a typical athletic shoe sole. The Free line of shoes is designed to be a 5, which is halfway between barefoot and full cushioning. Saucony introduced the Kinvara line of shoes which feature a dropped sole. This technology halves the thickness of the sole and removes much of the heel cushioning to encourage more of a midfoot strike for the foot. Extending their line of minimalist shoes, Saucony released Hattori in April 2011 which was their first zero-drop shoe. Though not the only company to produce socks incorporating Kevlar in the yarn, the Swiss Barefoot Company's Protection Socks are marketed for barefoot use. Following the trend, by 2011, minimalist running shoes have been made available by most of the major shoe manufacturers.
The United States Army recently banned the use of Vibram FiveFinger toe shoes for image reasons. However, many other barefoot-inspired shoes that do not feature individual toes can still be used in its place. The United States Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and United States Coast Guard, however, have approved minimalist shoes, including Vibram FiveFingers, to be used during physical training.
Sales of minimalist running shoes have grown into a $1.7 billion industry. Sales of minimalist running shoes grew from $450,000 in 2006 to $59 million in 2012, and grew 303% from November 2010 through November 2012, compared to a 19% increase in the overall sales of running shoes during the same time period. In the summer of 2012, both Vibram and Adidas were sued in the United States regarding allegations of deceptive claims of increased training efficiency, foot strength, and decreased risk of injury resulting from use of their minimalist running shoes.[dated info] These lawsuits follow on the heels of recent settlements by Skechers and Reebok with the Federal Trade Commission over claims that their barefoot shoes work your body in ways no shoes ever had before.
See also 
- McDougall, Christopher (April 19, 2009). "What Ruins Running". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 14 October 2010. Retrieved 14 November 2010.
- Krentz, Peter (2010). The Battle of Marathon.. USA: Achorn International, Inc. pp. 112–113. ISBN 978-0-300-12085-1.
- Turpin, Zachary. "Winning the Boston Marathon, With or Without Shoes". Book of Odds. Retrieved July 18, 2012.
- Redding, Cliff (July 1998). "In Africa, Sports is the Thing". The Crisis: 62–63. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
- Kerton, Nigel (October 29, 2010). "Marlborough track star's marathon bid at 75". thisiswiltshire.co.uk. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
- Robillard, Jason (2010). The Barefoot Running Book: A practical guide to the art and science of barefoot and minimalist shoe running.. Allendale, Michigan: Barefoot Running University. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-615-37688-2.
- Turok, Karina; Orford, Margie. (2006). Life and Soul: Portraits of Women Who Move South Africa.. South Africa: Juta and Company, Ltd. p. 64. ISBN 1770130438.
- "About Tegla Loroupe". Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation. Archived from the original on 5 November 2010. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
- Thomas, Katie (November 2, 2010). "Running Shorts. Singlet. Shoes?". New York Times. Archived from the original on 6 November 2010. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
- McDougall, Christopher (2009 (2011)). Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.. New York City: Vintage Books. pp. 168, 172. ISBN 978-0-307-27918-7.
- "Barefoot Running". New York Times. October 4, 2009. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
- Fetterman, Debbie (January 28, 2010). "Runner still paves way with shoeless approach". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved November 19, 2010.
- Wood, Terry (November 24, 2011). "Going barefoot feels natural to Seattle Marathon participant". The Seattle Times. Retrieved November 30, 2011.
- "Fastest run 100 metres barefoot on ice". Guinness World Records. Retrieved July 1, 2010.
- Gopalkrishnan, Krithika (November 16, 2010). "World's 1st barefoot half-marathon in Mumbai". Daily News & Analysis. Retrieved November 16, 2010.
- Larter, David (October 4, 2011). "Almost-barefoot running gains a toehold". Air Force Times. Retrieved November 30, 2011.
- Danner, Todd (November 14, 2012). "A sole mission: Carroll girl runs barefoot across United States to raise money for shoes". Bulletin Review. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
- "Barefoot Record". Westside News. October 10, 2012. Retrieved December 31, 2012.
- Lieberman, Daniel E.; Venkadesan, Madhusudhan; Werbel, William A.; Daoud, Adam I.; D'andrea, Susan; Davis, Irene S.; Mang'eni, Robert Ojiambo; Pitsiladis, Yannis (2010). "Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners". Nature 463 (7280): 531–5. Bibcode:2010Natur.463..531L. doi:10.1038/nature08723. PMID 20111000.
- "APMA Position Statement on Barefoot Running". American Podiatric Medical Association. Retrieved November 4, 2010.
- "Foot Care". American Diabetes Association. Archived from the original on 16 June 2010. Retrieved June 26, 2010.
- "The best running shoe may be nature's own: study". Reuters. January 27, 2010. Retrieved July 17, 2012.
- Divert C., Mornieux G., Freychat P., Baur H., Mayer F., Belli A., "Mechanical comparison of Barefoot and Shod Running." International Journal of Sports Medicine 26.7. 2005; 593–598
- Hersher, Rebecca (January 27, 2010). "Study finds barefoot runners have less foot stress than shod ones (w/ Video)". PhysOrg. Retrieved July 17, 2012.
- Hatala, K.G.; Dingwall, H.L.; Wunderlich, R.E.; Richmond, B.G. (January 9, 2013). "Variation in Foot Strike Patterns during Running among Habitually Barefoot Populations.". PLOS ONE. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052548. Retrieved January 28, 2013.
- Bernstein, Lenny (January 21, 2013). "‘Minimalist’ running style may be undermined by new findings from Kenya.". Washington Post. Retrieved January 28, 2013.
- Robbins, S; Hanna A (1987). "Running-related injury prevention through barefoot adaptations". Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 19 (2): 148–156. PMID 2883551.
- Michael, Warburton (December 2001). "Barefoot Running". Sportscience 5 (3).
- Chang, Alicia (May 22, 2012). "Barefoot Running Injuries: Doctors See Health Problems Ranging From Stress Fractures To Pulled Calf Muscles". Huffington Post. Retrieved July 18, 2012.
- Kerrigan, D. Casey; Franz, Jason R.; Keenan, Geoffrey S.; Dicharry, Jay; Della Croce, Ugo; Wilder, Robert P. (2009). "The Effect of Running Shoes on Lower Extremity Joint Torques". PM&R 1 (12): 1058–63. doi:10.1016/j.pmrj.2009.09.011. PMID 20006314.
- Doheny, Kathleen. "Running Shoes: Hazardous to Your Joints?". WebMD. Retrieved July 17, 2012.
- Hendrick, Bill. "Barefoot Running Laced With Health Benefits". WebMD. Retrieved July 17, 2012.
- Richards, C E; Magin, P J; Callister, R (2009). "Is your prescription of distance running shoes evidence-based?". British Journal of Sports Medicine 43 (3): 159–62. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2008.046680. PMID 18424485.
- McCaw, Steven T.; Heil, Mark E.; Hamill, Joseph (2000). "The effect of comments about shoe construction on impact forces during walking". Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 32 (7): 1258–64. doi:10.1097/00005768-200007000-00012.
- Hsu, Jeremy (January 27, 2010). "Long-Awaited Barefoot Running Study Finds Sneakers Are Harmful". Popular Science. Retrieved July 17, 2012.
- Mailler, E.; Adams, B., E; Adams, B (August 2004). "The wear and tear of 26.2: dermatological injuries reported on marathon day". British Journal of Sports Medicine 38 (4): 498–501. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2004.011874. PMC 1724877. PMID 15273194.
- Lovett, Richard A. (April 2010). "Much Ado About Minimalism". Running Times. Retrieved July 17, 2012.
- Winters, Dan (November 2010). "Is Less More?". Runner's World. Retrieved July 23, 2012.
- "Vibram FiveFingers Named A "Best Invention of 2007" By Time Magazine". trailspace.com. 12 November 2007. Retrieved June 26, 2010.
- Gauthier, Al. "Review – Vibram FiveFingers KSO Trek". Living Barefoot. Archived from the original on 19 June 2010. Retrieved June 26, 2010.
- Cortese, Amy (August 29, 2009). "Wiggling Their Toes at the Shoe Giants". New York Times. Retrieved July 1, 2010.
- "Nike Free 5.0 Running Shoes Review". Running Shoes Guru. April 24, 2009. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
- "Saucony Progrid Kinvara Running Shoe Review: Runner's World". Runner's World. February 15, 2008. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
- Jhung, Lisa (May 2011). (link no longer active) "Saucony Minimalism". Runner's World. Retrieved August 17, 2011.
- Mark Prigg (2012-10-19). "The 'bulletproof' kevlar reinforced socks that could last forever | Mail Online". Dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-03-02.
- "Could you take anyone wearing these seriously? Bizarre socks created to replace shoes that fit just like a glove | Mail Online". Dailymail.co.uk. 2012-07-29. Retrieved 2013-03-02.
- "Furry sock shoes designed for walking, running and sports". Gizmag.com. Retrieved 2013-03-02.
- Quinn, Elizabeth (March 4, 2011). "Barefoot Running Shoes". About.com. Retrieved July 17, 2012.
- Ukman, Jason (June 30, 2011). "Army bans use of 'toe shoes,' citing image concerns". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
- "Vibram FiveFingers: 7 Alternatives for Military". Military Gear News. August 19, 2011.
- "Unclassified Communication". United States Navy. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
- Bacon, Lance M. (August 29, 2011). "'Toe shoes' get the boot, Army-wide". Army Times. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
- Mirshak, Meg (July 19, 2012). "Minimalist-style shoes mimic running barefoot". Augusta Chronicle. Retrieved July 22, 2012.
- "Vibram 'Barefoot' Sneaker Maker Sued Over Claims". ABC News. July 13, 2012. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
- Dye, Jessica (June 18, 2012). "Adidas sued over 'barefoot' running shoe claims". Reuters. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
- Rovell, Darren (June 19, 2012). "Minimalist Running Shoes Are The Next Target In Court". CNBC. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
Further reading 
- Mukharji, Ashish (2011). Run Barefoot Run Healthy: Less Pain More Gain for Runners Over 30.. Heterodox Press. p. 192. ISBN 0983035407.
- Richards, Craig; Hollowell, Thomas (2011). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Barefoot Running. Penguin Group USA. p. 352. ISBN 1-61564-062-2.
- Sandler, Michael; Lee, Jessica (2010). Barefoot Running: How to Run Light and Free by Getting in Touch with the Earth. RunBare Company. p. 298. ISBN 0-9843822-0-8.
|Find more about barefoot running at Wikipedia's sister projects|
|Definitions and translations from Wiktionary|
|Media from Commons|
|Learning resources from Wikiversity|
|News stories from Wikinews|
|Quotations from Wikiquote|
|Source texts from Wikisource|
|Textbooks from Wikibooks|
|Travel information from Wikivoyage|
- Biomechanics of Foot Strikes & Applications to Running Barefoot or in Minimal Footwear
- Are we born to run?, a video presentation by Christopher McDougall.
- Impact characteristics in shod and barefoot running