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Why Barefoot? May 3, 2010

Posted by The Barefoot MD in : Health, Running , add a comment

I’ll admit my shoes are somewhat . . . different.  They are certainly eye catching and always a conversation starter.  It’s no surprise I’ve been asked about them many times.  I try and wear them whenever I need to wear shoes and don’t have to be “dressy”.  I took the opportunity to wear my Vibrams on casual Friday on the radiology service I just completed.  Besides the radiologist telling me they creep him out, one of the patients asked me about my shoes.  Unfortunately I didn’t have a long time to explain all the benefits of wearing these shoes;  so, I’ll touch on that here.

My interest in going barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes stemmed from hearing about the Tarahumara in conjunction with my desire to incorporate a type of exercise I can do anywhere, anytime . . . an exercise I could enjoy.  The Tarahumara are a super athletic tribe of Indians found in the Copper Canyons of Mexico.  They have remarkably good health and are not plagued by the common Western maladies.  They run, and run, and run . . . sometimes hundreds of miles at a time.  Everything I have learned about the Tarahumara came from the book Born to Run.  I loved the book and thought it was well written.  Not so much of an instruction manual as it was an inspiring and educational read.

I ran track in junior high and my sophomore year of high school.  I was mostly interested in sprints.  Long distance running, in my opinion, was for crazy people . . . I never understood the desire.  I’m not reticent to admit I was wrong . . . or maybe I’m just crazy now.  I think another contribution to my distaste of long distance running was the fact that I was doing it the most incorrect and painful way . . . with shoes.  The next time you’re passed by a runner wearing shoes, notice the look on their face.  It’s painful.  The reason Chris McDougall, the author of Born to Run, wrote his book was the combination of his desire to run and trying to figure out why he was plagued with injury.  His investigation ultimately lead him to the Copper Canyons of Mexico and introduced him to their way of running.  Essentially barefoot.  The stride is completely different when you ditch the shoes.  When our feet aren’t shielded from the ground, our nerves do their jobs and let us know what’s right and wrong.  We have an incredibly powerful computer in our heads and when we have shoes on, we eliminate it’s ability to interpret the world beneath and tell us what we’re doing wrong.  The thicker soles on our shoes, the increased impact on our heel strike.  We are subconsciously looking for steady ground. In essence, the answer to the question as to why I wear these shoes or why I run barefoot is simple, it doesn’t hurt.