In the February 2010 issue of Runner's World "Barefoot Ken Bob" Saxton shares his enjoyment of barefoot running with readers across the nation. The idea behind barefoot running is that our feet were made to run and shoes only impede this natural motion. In the article, Saxton talks about the stimulation of the ground on his feet, faster race times and lower injury rates among runners who do not wear shoes. Saxton, who is the founder of runningbarefoot.org, claims that he could not break 40 minutes in 10k races until after he started run them barefoot and also says he knows hundreds of runners who would not be running today if they had not discovered barefoot running because of injuries they experienced in running shoes (Burfoot, 2010). While all this is just opinion and anecdotal evidence, many benefits of barefoot running have been researched including a decreased risk of injury and improved running performance.
The first problem with running shoes is an increase in the amount of running related injuries. Running is a demanding activity and has high rates of injuries. Many of these injuries are thought to be a result of impact forces and overpronation, however, despite the large amounts of money that go into designing running shoes, these injury rates remain high (Hart & Smith, 2008). According to research by Warburton (2001) based on studies comparing barefoot running and shod running and on information from countries where barefoot running is more common, barefoot running is associated with less acute ankle injuries and less chronic lower leg injuries.
Another big concern with running is performance times. In this case, the concern is that the extra weight of the shoe will increase running times. It does not seem like a little shoe could really have the much impact but there is research that backs this up. Warburton's (2001) research found that running barefoot decreased the energy cost by approximately 4%. This may not mean much for the average recreational runner, but at a higher level this could decide who wins and loses a race.
Clearly there is a lot of evidence to support barefoot running, but that does not mean you should just start doing all your runs without shoes. When starting barefoot running, it is important to start slowly and allow your body to adapt to the new conditions. Warburton (2001) recommends 30 minutes a day of barefoot activity to allow the soles to become stronger and to allow the muscles of the foot to adapt to this new way of moving.
I am not entirely convinced that barefoot running is a good idea, however I certainly will not being trying it while we still have all this ice and snow on the ground.
Burfoot. (2020). Barefoot running. Runner's world.
Hart, P. & Smith, D. (2008). Preventing running injuries through barefoot activity. Journal of physical eduation: 79.
Warburton, M. (2001). Barefoot running. Sportscience: 5.