Saturday, December 3, 2011

Barefoot Running, an essay ...

I came across this essay by Chas Gillespie on his feelings about Barefoot Running and it's proliferation through the running community and thought my readers would find it as interesting as I did.

Chas is a 1:04:xx Half Marathoner and has Qualified for the 2012 US Olympic Trials being held in Houston this coming January. He is also a Harvard grad.  Gillespie is a talented runner, but, as you will see from this essay, he is also a student of his craft.

A fair warning, this essay is rather long but extremely well written and, IMO, well worth the read. The reason I posted it here is because my views on Barefoot Running mirror Gillespie's and he does such a good job at laying out a clear and concise argument that it would be fruitless to try and duplicate his fine effort.

Enjoy! CLICK HERE to read.

Come back and tell me if you agree or disagree with Chas.  I have a few more thoughts on the subject but will wait to share them in the comments.



  1. Wow! What a great essay. He makes some really valuable points. As an injured runner on the mend, I had all but decided to come back in January as a completely minimalist runner. Now I am not so certain. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I think if he wants to torch Mcdougall like that, As a quack who is going to do more harm than good based on shitty and uneducated form lessons, then he needs to also look at most of the running shoe store clinics and classes that send brand new runners out with no clue HOW to run, but since they are in a highly cushioned shoe, they are safe.

    I don't evangelize barefoot running, but this guy seems like a guy with a grudge.

    There are so many ways to get injured by running. All the shoe manufacturers and their in house research are just as guilty as the barefoot movement. 1.6 billion? peanuts compared to the shoe industry...

  3. Great piece of writing, excellent. The barefoot "movement" is yet another example of how we want to jump aboard the quick-fix train and spend our way out of harm's way. We never stop looking for the magic potion. There is no magic -- to run injury free takes being dialed into your own body, staying strong, flexible, and healthy, and making smart training choices.

    One good thing to come out of it is the bigger range of shoe choices though. I'm definitely grateful for the models with less heel drop that are more readily available now.

  4. Jeff... instead of leaving my response here I decided to post my thoughts on my blog. Check it out.

  5. You know I want to weigh in on this!! As you know, I am a believer in the value of barefooting. I also got injured from it--my own fault for doing too much, too soon. One of the reasons I am a believer is that when you take your shoes off and run, you cannot land on your heel. You can't land on your heel because it's not made to be landed on--our feet are designed to be bigger at the forefoot/toe area and thus create a better landing pad than the small heel. Put big running shoes back on and there you are, landing on your heel. You are also overextending your leg in front of the center of gravity. More and more studies are beginning to show that these two actions send a great deal more shock through your body, which yes, can lead to greater rates of injury. All this said--when I sat in on a panel of natural running experts, they were all open to any and every type of running shoe that works for any runner. Their advice? If you have been running for years without injury, why change anything? So it really comes down to a very individual decision. I believe a more natural running form is better for me, but I'm not a zealot who says everyone needs to do the same. We can all be friends! (but I'll never approve those hokas!) : )

  6. Thanks for the essay. I like my shoes, but then again I have nothing to fix!

  7. I am completely ambivalent about barefoot running...It is the cool thing to do now...and it works for a lot of people. I don't see it working for me (you try running down the street BF in Caratunk in Feb...)

    I get it. I read McDougal and loved the book - what it did for me was really get me to think about my running FORM and STRENGTH, not throw away my shoes...I think a lot of injuries are caused by poor running form and weakness...

    But really, what the hell do I know I am a tree doctor.

  8. This work accurately points out full spectrum dominance is required to succeed as a runner. All too often people lose themselves in the details and have no clear big picture. Short of this the work featured little in the way of original content and spoke in generalities rather than quantitative terms. As such it is an opinion piece with a strong dose of hating.

    When discussing impact transients the author demonstrates a lack of understanding of physics, namely springs and rods and the argument behind the photos. The impact transient is captured by a forefoot strike in a spring manner with energy conserved. For a heel strike the transient is dissipated as shock through a stiff rod and energy is not conserved. This amounts to an argument over low single digit percentage performance gains but the author should be able to get it right. As such he discredits himself.

    At the end of the article he links to Geoffrey Mutai. Examination of the video reveals a very high cadence and a forefoot strike. The shoes are Adidas Adizeros Adios featuring very low weight and a minimal heel to forefoot differential, a nuetral shoe.

    Light shoe weight, minimal heel to forefoot differential, stiff shoe cushion, and a high cadence are what gives Geoffry Mutai the last single digit performance gains possible and mathematical analysis can support such.

    The linked piece does little other than muddy the waters and add further disinformation to the fire while contradicting itself.

  9. My gosh, that article is excellent. There is a lot of valuable takeaway here.

    To be clear - I've never been against barefoot running. But I've been critical about the consumerism and spin that came out of nowhere to surround it.

    Examples - I would have had the same reaction to the Shimano Di2 shifting system if people started claiming that using it put you one step closer to the Creator. It's cool, but not that cool - no one with a Di2 has managed to pass me on the road yet while I'm riding my plain old Ultegra group.

    But I did have the same reaction to NUUN - it mystifies me how a marginal electrolyte product managed to transform itself into the official must-have sports drink of moms. The Nuun "mom-gang" was, and continues to be, unbearable.

    Anyone else notice that the mad dash for bloggers to get their posts up about barefoot running have dwindled? It's because it's cold. There's no doubt that some huge %% of barefoot running as a viable alternative was short term manufactured by advertising agencies.

    And by the way Chas Gillespie doesn't have a grudge, he has an opinion that will make some people nervous.

    So like I've always said, keep running barefoot if it's working for you. And if you are starting out or still deciding, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY, not Madison Avenue.

  10. That was a crazy long article. But I agree with everything it said. When people ask me if they should run in Vibrams, I tell them it's a fad and that they can learn to run well barefoot or wearing a pair of shoes. All of my friends who have tried Vibrams have gone back to wearing shoes.

  11. That was one of the best written opinions on barefoot running I've read (not that I'm that well versed on the subject, but it was logical and clearly well thought-out). I was particularly taken by the points about "absurd consumerism" and the observation that virtually every shoe company now has a so-called barefoot model. It may work for some (many?) people, but there's no denying that barefoot running is now a thoroughly commodified trend. I spent all of 2010 sidelined by running injuries. I managed to avoid injury entirely in 2011, part of which I attribute to favoring my Asics DS Trainers over my beefier Kayanos. Do I think it's entirely because of wearing a more flexible, lighter, lower heel-drop shoe? Absolutely not. I've committed to more strength training, cross trained like a mad woman by starting my triathlon career, and have run less than half the mileage that I was putting up before. I think Chas is right (and a far more credible authority on the subject than me, or any of us here...) - it's about the full package, not the shoes.

  12. I basically can't understand why anyone gives a rat's behind what someone wants to wear. I think people put a whole lot of effort into bashing folks that are happy with their footwear. In the same light, if they decide that VFF is not for them after trying them out that's cool too. Holy cow people! Get over it.

    ...and if you think it is just a consumer thing. Well, let the free market system take care of it. If it is truly a bad thing, those companies will tank.

    Hmm... with this mentality maybe someone should go nuts over folks who like Hoka One One shoes!!! LOL!

  13. @BFN - Yep, runners get injured. It sucks but it happens. My take from the article is that "just" BF running is not the solution. Form, cross training, weightlifting and just becoming more athletic overall (since we are indeed, athletes) is a more sound formula. However, I agree in that both sides of the argument are both guilty.

  14. CtS - "There is no magic -- to run injury free takes being dialed into your own body, staying strong, flexible, and healthy, and making smart training choices.

    One good thing to come out of it is the bigger range of shoe choices though. I'm definitely grateful for the models with less heel drop that are more readily available now."

    Well said, that was my take-away as well. AND I to like the variety of options available in footware. I rotate 4 pairs of shoes - all different - 2 pretty minimal.

  15. MissZ, SP and Kepa - I really do not disagree with the science behind the value of BF running. My main issue(s) are touched on by Chas in that McDougal's book has created a new market,which I am also cool with as that is what capitalism is all about. BUT, where I tend to get upset is when companies like Vibram have a pic of the cover of "Born to Run" in a user manual.

    Now I get this, it is marketing - it is what I do for a living - but if looked at with a clear heart it is disingenuous, IMO.

    They take advantage of a damn good story presented in a damn compelling way by a damn good writer to push a product that was not even designed for running. Think about that. As a marketeer I call this genius, as a runner I call this bullshit.

    Does BF running have it's benefits? Probably. Maybe. IDK? But getting back to why I believe a lot of the movement is disingenuous is because many of the proponents treat it as a "Silver Bullet" to injury prevention and better running form.

    Since Werewolves are myths(Sorry Twilight fans)the viability of the premise of a Silver Bullet are false in running, hell,this premise is false in life.

    Train hard, sculpt your core, LOSE WEIGHT, and more importantly spend your time finding ways to be more athletic, if that includes running around without shoes then so be it.

    Just don't tell me those 10min runs in the grass without shoes or 16min/mi pace in Vibrams are the only reason for success.

  16. First - It's not the footware, it's the form... that said, being barefoot is definitely one way to adjust your form (with more feedback than you can get from any shoe)

    Second -- The jury is out. There's not any evidence that EITHER barefoot or shoes are better than the other... YET. There is research being done on this, but it's not published yet.

    Third -- The commercialism is a problem. I can't believe the number of "barefoot" shoes that are being sold (at VERY high prices), that still have arch support, or 1" of foam in them. Personally, I'll admit, I wear Invisible Shoes running sandals as my training and daily-wear shoes. At $25, they've outlasted every pair of shoes I've owned.

    Fourth -- I must confess, I'm a convert. I went from injury to injury to injury... until I went barefoot. Three years since then without one injury. Plus I have arches in my formerly flat feet.

  17. I am a barefoot convert. I was injured when reading Born to naturally, I wanted to try ANYTHING to get better. I switched to the Nike Frees and I'm on my third pair. No injuries... and I even ran a 17.1 mountain race over Imognene Pass this summer (with 7 miles of straight downhill).
    That beging said, I think shoes are a VERY personal thing. No two people are going to be the same and I don't really find it fair to generalize what is "best" for the whole running community.
    I give people my opinion on how the Frees work for me, but I never tell them that they have to switch. It's so so very personal. :)

  18. Awesome post and article. I read the article this morning but didn't have time to comment. I'm loving all the comments so far on the topic.

    I would have to say that I fall into the category of Patrick: "I've never been against barefoot running. But I've been critical about the consumerism and spin that came out of nowhere to surround it."

    I hate how much my local running shop promotes barefoot running, Vibrams, and the like. I kid you not but if you divide up their wall of running shoes, it is 50% regular shoes, 25% trail shoes, and 25% barefoot "shoes". (Side note: If I'm running barefoot, what is the point of spending $100 on "shoes")

    As a lot of other commentors have already said, there is a lot more to it than shoes: core, form, etc.

    For the people who do try barefoot running (at least in my personal experience) do not know what they are getting into and jump in uneducated. It is the uneducated ones that end up injured.

    Any ways, loving the discussion and I'll be back to read the forthcoming comments.

  19. For someone who is "ambivalent about it - whatever people want to wear on their feet, that’s fine" (paraphrased), he sure has a lot to say about it. After trying barefoot running, I found that, FOR ME, it was a useful addition to my training, as one of many approaches. I'm amused by the commercialization of barefoot running and the oxymoronic tendencies of the marketers - "barefoot running shoes?" Really?

  20. Thanks for opening a discussion on this! I found the article to be very logical and straightforward. The comments here are equally interesting to read. I particularly enjoy and agree with Patrick's comment.

  21. great link! and not too long at all....unless you were like me and clicked every embedded link he included.

    I really liked his writing, and viewpoint. And of course applied it to my own situation...I think due to my size I need a little more shoe than a true minimalist shoe. The closest I have gotten is the Sauc Mirage and thats about it for me. I have however worked on form over the past two years.

    I was really struck by the comparison pic of Jurek and the Tarahumara dude.

    damn good article -thx for posting

    and I also LOVE the shoe choices now:)
    People ought do what works for them and gets them out the door.

  22. Wow what a post i am really very impressed here can you more share here i will back soon as soon possible.
    Thanks for sharing...

    "Michael Muskat"

  23. This was so well-written. I too, jumped on the bandwagon, swayed for awhile by "Born to Run" but all barefooting really did was make me feel cool. I still got injured.

    If done right I think that barefooting can have some benefits, but it heavily depends on transitioning correctly, slowly, and so many other factors about each individual's body.

    Thanks so much for posting this!

  24. I can't say one way or the other that BF vs SW (shoe wearing) is right since it is a choice we all have to make.

    I think that once anything gets into the fanatical stage it loses its point and sometimes I feel that is what happened with barefoot running.

    I started paying attention to the weight of the shoe about a year ago and have gotten into lighter and lighter shoes since and not because running BF is more natural that SW but because I did not want to haul around any extra weight.

    Now I will say this. I believe I have a tendon bruise or a possible stress fracture on the top of my left foot and I was not blaming my shoes or anybody/anything for this issue BUT this morning on the TM after a few minutes of 'running' I almost quit the pain was too much. At that point I accidentally landed on the forefoot and had zero pain.

    To me this tells me that my form was off and that I need to focus more on that and no shoe or non-wearing of shoes is going to make a difference other than focusing on form. Just like swimming.....proper form equals less stress on shoulder joints and a faster time in the water.

  25. What we should be debating, why one shouldnt put clip on aero bars on a road bike!!!! Just sayin!!!

  26. THanks for posting the article, Jeff! I started "Born to Run" but couldn't get into it. After reading this essay, I am kinda wondering if it is worth it. Is it a good story regardless of his position on barefoot running?

    I was also intrigued by the elite runner who was cleaning up, then switched coaches and running style, then got injured. I am a big believer in that your body is gonna run the way its gonna run. I think swimming and biking are the only technique oriented sports that you can really muck with because they are such non load baring sports compared to running, which is your ENTIRE body weight.

    I am glad that I switched to a more minimulus shoe that puts me more on my forefoot, but I am glad that I didn't go too extreme with it.

  27. I love the article - thanks for the link!

  28. Hey that's really a great post and a wonderful description out here, I really like the way things are being executed and discussed here.

    Headphones for running

  29. The article by Gillespie is just as polemical as Born To Run. I enjoy what has come out of the "barefoot" movement which is renewed attention to form. As a cross country coach I have seen the Good Form Running technique pay off with a team appearance at the State meet this year (in Michigan) and personally I enjoyed doing a half marathon I ran pacing my daughter in my Vibrams. I guess, in the end, I appreciate the excitement Mr. McDougall's book has caused and tend not to cast such a baleful glare on the whole so-called movement because the predictable forces of marketing and such make their appearance.

  30. Bottom line - you may have success if you change your running form from heel to mid-foot strike. There's absolutely no need to get rid of cushioning to do this, it's borderline idiotic. The shoe companies are selling a fraction of the material for a premium price. Don't get duped!

    Loving my 4mm drop hokas ;-) (with a midfoot strike lol)

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