Image from theleoafricanus.com: Zola Budd Barefoot
It sounds counter-intuitive to say the least, but a team of scientists has discovered that running barefoot is better for your feet. What!
The researchers found that runners who have trained barefoot tend to strike the ground with the ball or mid-foot, rather than their heel. Whereas runners wearing cushioned running shoes tended to hit the ground with their heel first.
Image from the Evening Standard: Galahad Clark Barefoot
Hitting the ground with the heel first "creates an impact; it's like someone hitting your heel with a hammer with up to three times your body weight" said one of the researchers. Shoes cushion that impact.
The researchers studied runners from the United States and Kenya as they ran on tracks. All ran at least 20 kilometers a week, and those in Kenya were from the Rift Valley where they are famous for doing it barefoot. It seems that barefoot runners have developed different ways of preventing the pain by hitting the ground with the ball of the foot which is less damaging. Doing it this way takes advantage of energy stored in the ankle and the arch. However it puts more pressure on the calves of the legs, so barefoot runners should stretch more.
It's evolution. Human beings have been running barefoot for millions of years. The journal Nature reports that "fore-foot- and mid-foot-strike gaits were probably more common when humans ran barefoot or in minimal shoes, and may protect the feet and lower limbs from some of the impact-related injuries now experienced by a high percentage of runners." Modern running shoes were only invented in the 1970's when rival running shoe companies Adidas and Puma made them a necessary item.
It sounds good but it doesn't explain how running barefoot on concrete and filthy city sidewalks could possibly be better for you. Supposedly once you develop calluses on the bottom of your feet you are fine. Hmmmmm.
Image from Terra Plana
Oddly enough, Galahad Clark, the head of Terra Plana ethical shoes is also a big fan of barefoot running. And this is a man whose life is the shoe business. He ran the New York Marathon in bare feet and pronounced it "wicked." and said his feet were the least painful part of his body after the run.
He claims that the Vivo Barefoot shoes are like not wearing shoes at all. To create them "we worked with podiatrists and biomechanists to get the shape really accurate and mimic the foot's movement. It's as thin as you could possibly make a sole, so it allows you to feel the ground. I wear them every day."