After convalescing from my latest of many running injuries, I curled up with Christopher McDougall’s wonderful Born to Run and contemplated his thesis–that it was actually running shoes, not running itself, that were giving us all these injuries.  It made intuitive sense, and it appealed to the biologist in me–if we had all these injuries when we were hunter-gatherers, running around barefoot for our food, we wouldn’t have survived long on Earth.  The way he described our bare feet–as massively interconnected webs of tendons and muscles and nerves that intimately sense the changing terrain–reminded me of the way we talk about adaptable organizations in our Natural Security project–as semi-autonomous networks of sensors that operate closest to the environment. In fact, I used barefoot running as an example of free security systems provided by evolution in my new book, Learning from the Octopus.  Anyway, I decided to try barefoot running, and since I live in Tucson where nasty cholla buds lay scattered on sharp rocky trails, I conceded to protect my feet a bit with Vibram 5 Fingers, and I fell in love with running again.  My injuries dissolved instantly and haven’t returned in nearly 3 years of running with next to nothing between my feet and the Earth.

I have recently moved on from Vibram 5 Fingers, which either wore out way too fast, or were way too uncomfortable, to New Balance’s <=> minimalist shoe, the Minimus.  I made the switch after trying on nearly every minimalist shoe in the excellent Running Shop Tucson. The Minimus are very comfortable and give you the same feel and same gait as barefoot running (minus the cholla buds).  My only annoyance is how New Balance took the “less is more” motto all the way to the bank – these things are a ridiculous $100+ for a shoe with about half the material as a typical New Balance trainer!  This has been New Balance’s M.O. from the start – charge runners obscene amounts for shoes and the other companies will follow.  I think we need a price-fixing investigation from Dept. of Justice!

Update: I ran my first minimalist marathon in the NB Minimus – Big Sur 2012 – 3:18.45 – not bad for a middle ager, and I felt fantastic the whole time.  The secret? Accept that NO ONE cares about you and your marathon and the whole thing is just an unbelievable privilege–to be able to have the time to run up the California coast with thousands of people cheering for you, giving you water, and especially-at mile 23-fresh strawberries – so what is there to whine about?  It’s pretty easy to feel grateful on the California coast!  Chatted with a truly barefoot runner representing “Clowns Without Borders” at mile 15 or so – he was already running on the white line – hope he finished ok.

Here’s my little homage to barefoot running that appeared in the Tucson Green Times:

Barefoot in the Desert


One thought on “Barefoot

  1. Very interesting article. I’m not a runner, but an avid hiker, and I have used Vibram Five-Fingers on day hikes. I had the most rugged version of those shoes – they’re called Trek, I believe – special-ordered from Europe as they were sold out in the US. But even with those, there is no stepping onto cholla spines, they go right through the sole. I’ve been hesitant about trying the 5-Fingers for actual running since they offer no dampening of the impact. I am always torn between the assumption that whatever our ancestors did should be more natural and healthier than what we do today, and the reality that those very ancestors died in their 30s. Yes, they ran barefoot all their lives, but by the time arthritis would have become an issue, they were no longer alive. Which means that running barefoot might actually be really bad for you, except it doesn’t matter if you die at an early age anyway.

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