Finally it happened to me. I wondered to myself when it would happen, already.
Two weekends ago I went rollerblading in Central Park and that's when I saw it: Someone running barefoot in Central Park. Of course, I was being cool, and like many others I didn't stare. It was the same situation as when I go Nordic Walking in the park. Although, in both situations, my thoughts are something like: " Only in New York, Only in New York."
Well, not true. Many individuals run barefoot. Among them are well-known international athletes who have successfully competed shoeless such as Zola Budd-Pieterse from South Africa. Surprisingly, you can put Austrians who have grown up in the mountains in that category as well. As children we ran in the forest, in the field and to the neighbor's property without shoes. Running long-distance events in bare feet is evidently not a barrier to performance at the highest level.
Benefits of barefoot running
Barefoot running is beneficial because in some research, running shoes appear to increase the risk of ankle sprains. (This may occur either by decreasing your awareness of foot position or by increasing the twisting torque on the ankle during a stumble.)
Running in shoes also appears to increase the risk of plantar fasciitis and other chronic injuries of the lower limbs by modifying the transfer of shock to the muscles and supporting structures.
Running barefoot reduces oxygen consumption by a few percent. Your competitive running performance should therefore improve by a similar amount, but there has been no published research comparing this effect.
If you want to try running barefoot, the philosophy is: Take it slow. You need to transition slowly (not all at once) from running in shoes to running shoeless. Ligaments, muscle and bone strength around the foot and ankle need to be gradually conditioned.
This can be simply done by standing on one foot without shoes and socks on an unstable platform (like a Bosu or even a folded towel). Or try walking barefoot on the toes. Start with only 5-10 minutes of barefoot walking on the ball of the foot and slowly increase the time. Eventually, aim for a jog, and then a run.
Three to four weeks of barefoot training will give the plantar skin enough time to become resistant and tough, allowing for longer periods of barefoot running without such minor injuries as blistering.
Clients of mine have applied my strategies to allow them sprint barefoot, but only if it was at the right time in their conditioning program.