Caught your eye, didn't I? No, I haven't actually been running barefoot but I've spent a good deal of time (that I probably should be devoting to other matters right now) lately reading/thinking about it.
I probably spent more time than most barefoot as a child. As soon as it was suitably warm, we were allowed to play outside without our shoes and I can recall the feelings of many different textures beneath my feet: grass, rocks, mud, asphalt, and pretty much everything in between. I was frequently caught at the barn without my shoes on and you can imagine that wasn't always a great idea. Like the time I stepped on rusty barbed wire and my last tetanus shot was at a fuzzy undetermined date in the past. (My parents decided I'd probably be fine without the shot. I lived.) Or the time I was standing on a fence and a calf thought my foot would be tasty. (Calves are pretty harmless though; it's just a strange sensation to have your foot in a cow's mouth.)
My dad bragged about his barefoot running on his track team in the 70s and I marveled at the way my grandma could walk across hot gravel without anything between those pointy rocks and her feet. Being barefoot in the elements seemed like a way to prove your grit.
So, of course, I fell hard for the the new "barefoot running" trend of the Nike Frees when they came out in 2005. I was training for my first marathon, was in great shape, and raved about my light, flexible shoes that taught my feet muscles to be strong. I logged hundreds of miles in my first pair while studying abroad and one of my first purchases when I arrived home was my second pair.
Shortly thereafter, however, I started having problems with my knee. I desperately tried to train through it, but a month before my marathon, it was just getting worse. 17 miles into a long run, my knee hurt so badly all I could do was limp home and I had to admit defeat.
I was advised by a doctor with running experience (who may or may not also be my mom) to quit running for at least a month or two to let it heal. After my time off, I went to the running store to seek advice and the owner was horrified when I showed him my Nike Frees and described the training I'd done in them. He said they were definitely the cause of my injury and shoes like that should only be used for short muscle building workouts on a treadmill or track.
I banished the Nike Frees and the dream of near-barefoot running to the back of my closet and moved on with expensive, supportive running shoes. I haven't had any significant knee problems since and was able to go on and finally run that marathon last year.
So, you can imagine my horror when my when best friend and first long run partner caught the latest barefoot running craze: the Vibram Five Finger. I warned her and cautioned her and reminded her of my follies, but to no avail. She insisted these were different and even worth the stares you receive when you wear something that resembles reptile toe socks. I sighed and waited for the inevitable letdown or injury.
Well, she's been running in them for months now and is still loving her Vibrams. Injury free, which is wonderful, but I considered that some kind of lucky fluke of nature. Somewhere along the way, Sarah passed me her copy of "Born to Run" and implied there was some connection between the Vibrams and the book, but that it was mostly a story about running. I started the book months ago and would pick it up now and again, but it was a really slow story to get moving. I took the book to the beach yesterday though and have almost finished it today (like I said, I probably have other things to be focusing on right now, but I'm kind of a compulsive reader...once it gets good, I have a hard time stopping until the end.)
It turns out that "Born to Run" is not only a passionate story about running and its history, but a very compelling piece of propaganda for Sarah's point of view and this whole barefoot running thing. (I think she was well aware of that when she loaned it to me.) It's got me really, really wanting to ditch my shoes and just sprint off into the distance, despite my unfortunate falling out with near-barefoot running before.
The whole logic behind the barefoot running movement is that barefoot is natural, running is natural and running shoes are not. The rate of running injuries has increased dramatically since the advent of specialized running shoes and many competitive runners all over the world and throughout history train barefoot. There are some interesting ideas and research in the book and it's prompted me to explore around the internet on the topic too.
Anyway, have y'all read "Born to Run" or had any experience in the whole barefoot running department? I highly recommend the book even if you think trading in your padded shoes is crazy. I'm kind of on the fence about which side of the debate sounds crazier now, so, Sarah, consider this a win in your book. : )