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Barefoot running: theory versus practice

August 10th, 2009

With the publication of Chris McDougall’s Born to Run this spring, there’s been a flurry of interest in barefoot running (or minimalist running, which involves donning ultralight shoes like the Vibram FiveFingers, whose function is to keep your soles clear of broken glass and doggie doo rather than support your ankles). I had an interesting chat with McDougall for an feature I wrote in the July-August issue of Canadian Running (an excerpt is available here, but the full article isn’t available online at this point). I mention this because a reader just forwarded me a good overview of the topic from Wired, which offers its usual research-backed take on the topic [thanks for the tip, Adam].

To me, the jury is still out on this one. I like the theory behind minimalist running, and am willing to believe that, for those who take the time to build up slowly and do it right, it may be a route to injury-free running. But in practice, I’m not convinced that it’s widely applicable in our concrete-covered world, especially for people who have grown up wearing shoes. The extreme patience and diligence needed for a successful transition to barefoot running are precisely the qualities that most of us fail to demonstrate when running in regular shoes — which is why we get injured in the first place. So I think minimalism will remain a minority option for a small group of very methodical people who have tried and failed to run injury-free in regular shoes, but are truly committed to finding a way to run.

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