Primeval walking: experience the joy of running barefoot

Primeval walking: experience the joy of running barefoot

In the last few weeks, after a long cool spell, it suddenly became much warmer than usual. I don't know about you, but that's when I tend to literally undress and start wearing looser and lighter clothes, and especially to exchange trousers for a skirt.

The phenomenon to exchange warmer winter clothes for airier clothes and expecially skirts, is affectionately referred to as Rokjesdag' or 'Skirt day'.

With warmer weather one also feels more compelled to walk more than usual, which makes me put on sneakers which are much sturdier than the sandals I usually wear on a bicycle. As an avid sandal wearer (I suffer from hallux valgus which makes normal shoes too tight in front) I ditched them as soon as possible once I came back home as they felt so 'sweaty' on my feet. At home I wear sandals, flip-flops and sometimes no shoewear at all, which makes me feel happy. To walk through the grass with bare feet makes me even happier.

This experience reminded me of a friend of mine, whom I met through a diet forum and is better known as 'Primeval Runner' (Oerloper) because he has been running barefoot for many years now.
When I met him almost 20 years ago, he was the only one with this, but a few years later it suddenly became so popular that special 'just like running barefoot' five-toed shoes were also introduced.

He wrote how he started running barefoot in a book about barefoot running for beginners.
Barefoot running step by step (Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton / Roy M. Wallack) that was published in 2011 and what you can probably still find in an (online) bookstore.

Dutch Treat

It just feels so good says Holland's first barefooter George "Oerloper" Kerkhoven

In 2002, I didn't know Ken Bob. I didn't know anybody who ran barefoot, not in the Netherlands, not anywhere in the West. One day, without ever hearing anything about it, I just started running barefoot on my own.
I had an injury, Achilles tendonitis, so all I could do was sit on an exercise bike, just to do something for my health in place of running. Pedaling one afternoon, I suddenly heard a voice, like a thought in my head. It simply said, "Run barefoot."
So I made a pronouncement to everybody in that fitness' room: I will start to run barefoot from now on, just to heal my tendonitis. And everybody declared me crazy. But I ignored that and started to run barefoot, little by little, step by step. Because I was still injured, I couldn't run much with that pain. But within a month, the injury was gone!
Yet there is far more to running barefoot than that.
I love it, especially the feeling in the feet. Being in touch with the various terrains gave me an almost voluptuous joy. And after eight years, that's what still enjoy the most, the textures of all kind of ground forms. Most of all, I love to run in the woods, in nature. Only last year (2009) I started to run street races. That is okay, but I only did it to show people that it is possible to run without shoes. In the woods, hardly anyone sees me.
After a while back in 2002 I discovered the Yahoo! barefoot group and Ken Bob; I learned a lot from all of the forum members. And I also shared my own experiences.
After being the only barefoot runner here in the Netherlands for a few years, somehow people got inspired by my stories (without me knowing it!) and now we may have thirty barefoot runners here. And we even meet each other now and then during races or organized meetings. It's a lot of fun to share all the remarks one gets from shod people/runners and to share all the different experiences about barefoot running,
So while I am not sure whether barefoot running is better for you (like Dr. Lieberman says), I do know that, for me, it brings so much more pleasure to have better contact with nature. After all these years, I am still astonished, almost every day, that it is such a joy - which I couldn't say while running in shoes.

Is running barefoot good for you?

Well, it might be … at least in theory. Research is too limited at the moment to provide a definitive science-based answer as to the benefits of barefoot running.

But that lack of research hasn’t slowed the growing “natural running” movement, where there’s a strong belief that going shoeless reduces the risk of chronic injuries. The reason? It all comes down to running technique.

For most people, you’re probably going to have better mechanics running barefoot. It encourages a running pattern that is more efficient.

Barefoot strides are usually shorter and more compact, touching down more directly beneath your torso. That gait better aligns with your body’s center of gravity and usually leads to an increased bend in the knee, allowing your joints to better absorb the pounding.

Runners who go barefoot also tend to land more on the ball of their foot than the heel, which adds efficiency of movement.
Overall, it’s a more natural running pattern that reduces loading to your joints.

[George Kerkhoven adds his personal opinion in that running with bare feet makes him feel happier and less competitive, resulting in a less agressive running style and therefore less injuries ]

Three potential benefits of barefoot running

Within the barefoot running community, the claims of health benefits cover as much ground as a marathoner in extended training. But how much of a difference can ditching your shoes really make?

Let’s break down three arguments for going au naturel with your feet.

Running barefoot helps flat feet

Running barefoot could strengthen and tighten foot muscles to help stabilize a flat arch. If you’re always wearing supportive shoes, you’re not adding muscular strength in your feet to support bones that aren’t just naturally tight in their structure.
The key, though? The barefoot activity shouldn’t cause pain. Consider an “owie” feeling a sign that you should keep your shoes on.

Barefoot running reduces the risk of plantar fasciitis

In an indirect way, barefoot running might help keep dreaded plantar fasciitis (pain in the bottom of your foot near your heel) issues at bay. Why? As previously noted, running with naked feet often leads to better technique and cadence. Sloppy running form can strain your plantar fascia.

Bad running technique leads to less efficient firing patterns of the muscles in your lower leg, which can contribute to overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis.

Running barefoot burns more calories

Springy soles in running shoes work to propel you forward. That helpful bounce disappears when you take the shoes off. Barefoot running is going to be tougher and more challenging, so there’s a good chance you’ll burn more calories doing it.

Concerns about barefoot running

Ever step on a LEGO block and let out a howl while walking through your kid’s room? Well, just try to imagine what landing on a rock, stick or prickly weed might feel like while running barefoot.

Running without shoes definitely leaves your feet vulnerable to cuts, puncture wounds and infection. Logging barefoot miles on hot pavement or in extreme cold also could damage the soles of your feet.

[comment George Kerkhoven: 

Why do you have to propose that? (Imagining something is a well-known technique for getting something done - especially elite athletes do that - so imagining something negative is not so... handy.
The nice thing is that your feet have eyes, so to speak, so you NEVER tread into shards of glass or on a rock, a tree stump ... moreover, you also have your normal eyes: you would rather not walk with your shoes onto pieces stone or shards of glass, so use your eyes and do not tread into such obstacles.
It was (almost) always the first question people asked me: don't you tread all the time in glass, poo, stone etc etc ......... in short it is a well-known fear of people when they imagine themselves walking barefoot  and so they don't do it because of that better imagine that you are a natural human being and walk barefoot  through nature, as free as a horse (oh yes, for horses it is also better to walk without horseshoes!

Studies also show that the risk of foot stress fractures increases when runners ditch their shoes.

Anyone being treated for diabetic neuropathy — which can reduce feeling in your feet — also might want to avoid barefoot running. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes always wear shoes and socks when running or walking.

So shoes or no shoes to run?

This doesn’t have to be an either-or question. Instead, consider doing both.

You may try barefoot running as a cross-training activity, with workouts on a grassy field. View it as a variation in your routine, like hills or intervals. Most runners would benefit from doing some training barefoot. It can be a great tool for variety.

Minimalist-style shoes offer a middle-ground option, too. These shoes have less cushioning and support than traditional running gear, while still offering some protection for your feet.

How to try barefoot running

Three words sum up the advice on trying barefoot running: take it slowly.

Transition into barefoot running as if you’re taking on a new activity to give your foot muscles times to adapt. It’s not just a matter of taking off your shoes one day. There should be a thought process and training plan behind it.

Starting in a minimalist shoe with little to zero drop from heel to toe is a good first step.

Give your body time to get used to running with less support beneath your feet. Consider scaling back your weekly mileage by half as you switch to running on minimalist shoes. Add the distance back in slowly. A good rule of thumb is to increase by no more than 10% a week.

Start with walk-jog intervals, walking for 9 minutes, running for 1 minute, and repeat, working up to longer distances.

Changing to that style of shoes is going to tax some muscles more and some muscles less. It’ll change the load on joint and tendons, too.
Use foam rolling and massage on the lower legs and feet to boost recovery from the increased work being placed on them. It’ll help ease the transition to the new running method.

If the adjustment to minimalist shoes goes well, you could consider progressing to barefoot running. Look for softer surfaces to begin and, once again, scale back distance. Also, the skin on your feet needs to thicken to get used to barefoot running.

Focus on running form

The potential benefits of barefoot running shouldn’t be seen as an indictment against running shoes. This isn’t about demonizing shoes, but we do need to understand that shoes can change our running patterns.
So consider throwing in some barefoot or minimalist shoe running to reclaim your natural form. It might help you better understand what proper running feels like and push you toward better technique.

Closing words

I hope you will find inspiration in the linked articles and videos below and also experience a wonderful Ascension Day in which you will walk around with barefoot, maybe also in the woods just like George prefers to do. When you do it first thing in the morning, us Dutchies have a special word, "dauwtrappen" which literally means 'kicking up dew' which is what happens when you walk through wet grass on an early morning. Not just 'any' morning but specifically on Ascension Day.

Then you can take a forest bath at the same time, a subject that we will talk about another time.



A video with clarification by dr Lieberman

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