07/06/2013 01:12 pm ET Updated Sep 05, 2013

Running: Barefooted (Part 5)

In the Long Run

Whether or not you will choose to learn Pose Method running, my recommendation for now is that by taking off your shoes and running you will immediately begin to reconnect with the natural function of your body. Injurious and inefficient heel-striking will soon give way to springy forefoot landings, a quicker cadence (foot turnover), and a much greater proprioceptive sense, which over time will allow you to run across a variety of terrain, lightly and comfortably, with or without shoes.

So, barefoot running is best learned during the preseason when fitness is a lesser concern. Unless you are already regularly barefooted, the progression toward appreciable distance takes weeks for some, and months for others. Avoid rushing this! Should you be able to get through two miles on your first time out, prematurely exposing your tender feet to the harsh world, you could be rewarded with deep blood blisters, surface abrasions, and aching and burning sensations that can last for more than a week. That's hardly encouraging. You might erroneously conclude that barefoot is not for you. Frequency, not duration, is your key to successfully adding barefoot to your training. Rx: Run a city block every day for a week. Then run two blocks for two weeks. Run three blocks for three weeks, and so on. Get the feel for barefoot running, step by step and give your bones, muscles, and soles of your feet the months of time required to sufficiently develop and strengthen. Your body will adapt at its own pace.

By the way, Andrew Weil, M.D., in his audio book Breathing: The Master Key To Self-Healing, describes one of his patients who, suffering terribly from stress and anxiety, was prescribed specific breathing exercise to elicit his desired calm and relaxation. Though it took several years of practice before the patient would realize the full internal peace he sought, he did eventually succeed in taking charge of his own state of mind instead of turning himself over to passive, anesthetic treatments. My point is, however long it takes, it's worth your time and effort if you can learn to more comfortably run without restrictive, numbing, and gait-altering shoes.

Choosing Your Path

As you weigh the evidence on both sides of the argument, and perhaps apply Occam's razor -- the simplest solution is probably correct -- you could very well determine for yourself that shoes are an unnecessary necessity. Or not.

I don't really expect that you will throw away your shoes for good and now only run barefooted. Indeed, because of additional traction, protection from ground-surface heat, the occasional bottle-cap, or piece of broken glass, or the unknowns of nighttime running, a light, flat pair of shoes is probably a good idea. (So is looking where you're going.) Nonetheless, the compelling reason for you to include unshod sessions in your training is that barefoot supports and generally strengthens your feet, and therefore your fitness, overall.

Without admitting they got it wrong all along, some shoe companies have hopped aboard the barefoot bandwagon with various iterations of minimalist footwear. Some are vast improvements over ordinary running shoes while others are just more of the typical bells and whistles. Remember, less is more.

For what it's worth, when I run barefooted I prefer to run without shoes. When I do wear shoes for running I'll use the Vibram Five Fingers, Classic. Their new EL-X model looks like a promising model, too. In triathlon, for speed of transition, I'd choose a racing flat that would just quickly slip over bare feet. Besides consuming precious race time, putting feet into socks is doubly confining and restrictive. When I do wear socks I choose Injinji five-toe socks to keep my digits free inside of motorcycle boots and dress shoes. So to sum it up, instead of cultivating fragility and weakness by wearing shoes, my aim in runnin' nekkid is to celebrate what Leonardo Da Vinci called a masterpiece of engineering: that is, the human foot.

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