Monday, March 7, 2011

10 facts you should know about barefoot running and Vibrams

“People who don’t wear shoes when they run have an astonishingly different strike,” said Daniel E. Lieberman, professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University and co-author of a paper appearing in the journalNature. “By landing on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision, much less than most shod runners generate when they heel-strike.

Yes, Professor. I understand your point and the point of every 'barefoot' runner that has made many marvelous claims since they read 'Born To Run'. But I've been saying all along that I'm not buying into it. Here are a few reasons.

1. The Lance Armstrong of ultra running and seven time winner of the Western States 100 Scott Jurek, who went to Copper Canyon in Mexico may not have won that race against the Tarahumara as depicted in Born To Run, but did you know that he went back the next year and kicked some Tarahumara butt, wearing Brooks Cascadia running shoes?

2. The Tarahumara do not run barefoot, they wear inch thick rubber sandals.

3. Christopher Mcdougall himself said he only runs barefoot for short distances and only when he needs to correct his form (as if he can't do that in running shoes.)

4. Runners love a quick fix. Hey, we run because we don't want to be still we want to keep moving. But this won't make you any faster, it won't cure all your running injuries and....

5. Changing your running form while going barefoot or minimalist can lead to shin splints, fractures, Morton's neroma, and metatarsal problems. I still have a lingering injury from changing to light weight trainers while trying to improve my form.

6.There's more to the Tarahumara than minimalist shoes and barefoot running. They are known as "the people who run fast." Running fast is not something you accomplish be running barefoot, it's genetic.

7.Kenyans also run barefoot at a young age. They run to school getting in at least 10 miles a day. When they are old enough and if they are lucky they get running shoes. If barefoot running was faster for them, why don't they run marathons barefoot?

8.The name of Vibram five fingers bikila shoes come from Abebe Bikila who was the Olympic Marathon Winner in 1960 and 1964. In 1960 he ran barefoot as he trained, and as he ran his whole life. He won in 2:15:16. When he ran in 1964 he set a new world record of 2:12:11... wearing Pumas.

9.If we were meant to run barefoot then why is it every culture on this planet has decided to cover their feet. Society on a whole has decided that walking and running with shoes of some kind is much more beneficial to them then being barefoot.

10. And finally my moment of validation. In regard to the the quote above and similar claims in "Born To Run." Here are a pair of Vibrams that are worn in very suspicious areas:

Remember it's not the shoe that makes you a great runner or gives you great form it's you.
Just ask Paula Radcliffe, she doesn't have the greatest running form, never grew up running barefoot and has to wear orthotics (which make your shoes a few ounces heavier) yet she's still holds the world record in the womens marathon. Something to think about.


  1. * He's sponsored by Brooks and is paid to wear their product when he runs.

    * They do both. If you see the pictures Luis Escobar took of the Tarahumara, you see them doing both.

    Chris repeatedly makes the point that it's not about whether you wear shoes or go barefoot -- that's just a preference -- but that going barefoot will, at the very least, change your form to something more efficient and better.

    I'm not sure what your point is.

    Light-weight trainers are NOT the same as barefoot. There's no evidence that barefoot running itself is inherently dangerous or the cause of those injuries. That said, there's also no evidence that barefoot running is 100% safe. More studies need to be done. But just because you're barefoot doesn't mean your immune to overuse injuries, or that if you run with bad form (and I've seen barefoot runners heel strike!) you won't hurt yourself. The opportunity that barefoot running offers is that, if you use your sensations as a guide, you *can* learn to run with better, safer, form.

    Actually, the research suggests that it's a function of training more than genetics. What makes the Tarahumara and the West Africans have a disproportionate number of fast runners is that they spend a LOT of time running (and that running fast is prized). Tarahumara who leave the Copper Canyon lose the ability to run fast once they stop doing it so much.

    a) Many of them do (Bikila, e.g.). b) By the time they're on the marathon circuit, they're sponsored athletes. c) For them, getting shoes is a status symbol. Further, as Chris McDougall likes to point out, if you have great form you can run in almost anything.

    Again, he was sponsored at that time.

    The coverings that most cultures created were, at first, huarache-like sandals, and minimalist shoes (bear hide with some sort of insulation). Cultures in colder climates created foot coverings. Aborigines and tropical peoples rarely did. Shoes as we know them were, again, a status symbol.

    Those wear spots show me that you're a) heel striking, and; b) pulling/pushing with your toes. The reason you're doing that in VFFs is because the VFFs provide too much padding in those areas (and the ball of the foot). Many people wear VFFs just like regular running shoes. In short, VFFs, contrary to their claims, are NOT a barefoot substitute.

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  3. You make a good point. And there may not be any scientific proof saying either or is better. But I work with a lot of runners and the majority that buy into the vibram and barefoot thing are inexperienced. Most are buying vibrams because someone told them or they read it some place, or better yet because they look different. When I say the majority of these runners end up getting injured I am not kidding.
    By the way my point is running barefoot does not prevent you from heel striking. I've put many runners on a treadmill to give them a gate analysis and a large number of them heel strike anyway. I will admit I enjoyed born to run as much as the next guy but I believe the take home point was form and enjoying the process, not so much about running barefoot.
    Thank you for reading.