How Barefoot Running Works

Is it crazy to jog around barefoot? Some runners don't think so.
Is it crazy to jog around barefoot? Some runners don't think so.

The next time you're running a local 5K or half marathon, don't be surprised if you glance over at the guy next to you and notice something strange. Though his shorts and T-shirt seem perfectly ordinary, his gait is different. His strides are shorter; he's almost mincing along, striking the ground lightly on the balls of his feet. As you study him, it suddenly hits you: He isn't wearing any shoes. He's part of a small but growing number of runners experimenting with barefoot running.

Skeptics warn that while people in earlier times may have been better adapted for barefoot running, most modern folks would be foolish to hit the streets without sneakers. Sports podiatrist-biomechanist Kevin Kirby says, "In today's society, we … have a lot more asphalt, concrete, glass and nails. I worry that barefoot running is going to produce injuries, such as puncture wounds, infections and even lacerations of vital structures at the bottom of the foot" [source: Burfoot].

On the other side of the debate, however, proponents herald barefoot running as the natural way to run. Author Christopher McDougall says, "Only in our lifetime has running become associated with fear and injury. Do you think Geronimo worried about plantar fasciitis before setting off to run 50 miles across the stone-hard Mojave Desert?" [souce: McDougall]. McDougall's book, "Born To Run," is credited with sparking a swell of interest in barefoot running. In it, he details feats of the Tarahumara Indians, who experience little or no injury running long distances barefoot (or wearing nothing more than homemade tire-tread sandals).

In fact, the modern running shoe has a comparatively short history. For thousands of years, humans either ran barefoot or donned crude sandals. In the next section, we'll explore the theory that humans are specifically evolved for endurance running, most of which we achieved by running and jogging barefoot.