The Benefits of Running Barefoot
The year was 1960 in Rome, Italy, and Abebe Bikila, a complete unknown, had just crossed the Olympic Marathon finish line. That day he became the first black African to ever win a gold medal in the Olympics, breaking the marathon record by a full eight minutes! What was most astonishing about this man? He ran the entire race barefoot, over roads and slick cobblestones in the searing heat. After the race, he was swarmed with questions. What was his background? What was his training plan? And of course, why did he run barefoot? The answers to these questions were quite unexpected. He was an Ethiopian farmer’s son. As a boy, he would help herd the sheep by daily going out to the fields and running with the sheep, barefoot, of course. In fact, even his going to the Olympics was a fluke. Right before, the plane took off, he was told he was coming as a last-minute replacement. When he arrived in Rome, he tried on all the shoes available, but none fit comfortably. So he decided to run as he trained – barefoot, which ended up enabling him to win gold in the Olympics (Wallace 1-2 ). Although it has long been a controversial issue, there are many benefits to running barefoot.
It has only been recently that the big debate has arisen in the health care community on whether or not running barefoot is better than exercising in running shoes. It wasn’t until the mid 1970s that many people even began wearing running shoes. Before, people ran either barefoot or in very minimal shoes, such as sandals or flats (Nearman 5). “If you think barefoot running is a fad, then it is a two million year old fad,” says Dr. Daniel Liberman, PhD (Nearman 5). Many people believe that the soles of the feet are too weak, soft, or vulnerable for the hard ground, but in fact, the skin on the soles is both thicker and stronger, and even more water resistant than anywhere else on the body (Saremi 3). The human feet are designed to be in contact with the natural earth (Johnston 24). “Natural” being the key word here. The feet were built for natural surfaces: the grass, the sand, the dirt. Not necessarily for man-made surfaces such as roads, asphalt, and cement. Just like many changes in life, transitioning from using running shoes to running barefoot takes time. The transition should be taken slowly by gradually settling into the new style. It is not an easy change, but it can be an extremely beneficial one.
Almost every benefit from running barefoot relates back to the forefoot strike, which means to strike the ground with the front of the foot when running. Our bodies were naturally made to forefoot strike, and when running barefoot the feet tend to automatically perform this function. Seventy-five percent of runners strike the ground with their heel, called a heel strike (Nearman 5). Heel striking causes much higher collision forces with the ground. Running shoes pack extra padding into the heel which leads to imbalance and an...