Trying to explain that walking around the town barefoot is socially unacceptable is lost on Paddy, my boisterous 3 year old. He is happily unaware of the judgement of other people and leaves me to worry about that. We are culturally conditioned to cover our feet, but maybe If we had freedom from social pressure that forces us to wear shoes, many more of us would choose to be barefoot. Most three year olds don’t want to wear shoes and they could be on to something because our bodies and brains benefit when the soles of our feet come into direct contact with the ground.
It has been found to cause fascinating physiological changes and improve well-being in people. Grounding or earthing refers to direct skin contact with the surface of the Earth, such as with bare feet or hands. It has intriguing effects on human functioning and health, including beneficial effects on various cardiovascular risk factors, inflammation, immune responses, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. (Chevalier et al., 2013; Oschman et al., 2015). So three year olds really do know best, But does spending more time barefoot have he potential to make you a better runner?
Running in its truest most raw sense is barefoot. Now I am not willing to brave the streets strewn with broken glass and rusty nails and heaped with endless piles of toxic dog poop in my bare feet. But I am willing to embrace minimalistic running shoes as part of a greater effort, and run barefoot on the scorched curragh plains. A minimalist running shoe provides insignificant interference with the natural movement of the foot, has a low heel to toe drop, is very lightweight and has no motion control or stabilising devices (Esculier et al., 2015). I have dabbled in barefoot running in the past but never fully committed because I like the reassurance for my average investment of 90-100 euro per pair of traditional running shoes. I am less likely to get injured, be more comfortable because I buy “well made”, expensive, branded runners that suit my running speed (slow), my weight? They are better??? Aren’t they? In fact low to medium-cost running shoes have been found to be as comfortable as more expensive models (Clinghan et al., 2008). But at least by spending more money on my runners I am protecting myself against injury???? ……. No seemingly not!(Lieberman et al., 2010; Goss & Gross, 2012)
Like many I credit Christopher McDougalls book “Born to run” for sparking my interest in barefoot running. Macdougall recounts his personal experiences with historical and factual information on running, ultrarunning, human anatomy, and the Tarahuma tribe of Mexico’s Copper Canyons in a story that reads like fiction. The individuals McDougall describes in his book are such unique and entertaining characters that their real life popularity soared after Born to Run was published. It has led to an explosion in the popularity of barefoot running. But bare feet and minimalistic running shoes were not invented in 2004, and have been the footwear of choice for many top and other runners long before the current fashion and Macdougals book. The problem is for every study showing that minimalist shoes change your stride, reduce your impact forces, or lower your injury risk, there’s another showing the opposite. But just as in life considering and effecting change in running is by the nature of adaptation going to be slow, but just as in life, maybe in running – less is more and it’s time to reconnect.
Chevalier G, Sinatra ST, Oschman JL & Delany RM. (2013). Earthing (grounding) the human body reduces blood viscosity-a major factor in cardiovascular disease. J Altern Complement Med 19, 102-110.
Clinghan R, Arnold GP, Drew TS, Cochrane LA & Abboud RJ. (2008). Do you get value for money when you buy an expensive pair of running shoes? Br J Sports Med 42, 189-193.
Esculier JF, Dubois B, Dionne CE, Leblond J & Roy JS. (2015). A consensus definition and rating scale for minimalist shoes. J Foot Ankle Res 8, 42.
Goss DL & Gross MT. (2012). Relationships among self-reported shoe type, footstrike pattern, and injury incidence. US Army Med Dep J, 25-30.
Lieberman DE, Venkadesan M, Werbel WA, Daoud AI, D’Andrea S, Davis IS, Mang’eni RO & Pitsiladis Y. (2010). Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature 463, 531-535.
Oschman JL, Chevalier G & Brown R. (2015). The effects of grounding (earthing) on inflammation, the immune response, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. J Inflamm Res 8, 83-96.