Aging Bare Feet

by Editor on August 22, 2011

Raised to go barefoot as much as possible, I’ve gone through each stage of life making some accommodations and concessions, but reaping some victories as well. While I’ve shed my shoes whenever possible at school and jobs, I know when to tuck my toes into something approved by society. Bare feet were usually okay under a desk, but not in gym class or at orchestra performances.

When pregnant I defied the obstetrician who worried my feet would “spread” if not contained. Nope, didn’t happen. Neither have I lost friends by slipping off footwear as a guest. Ok, once I got some unfriendly stares, but each to his own.

As a parent, my choices in clothing and shoes have sometimes been about a child’s comfort. I wore pretty flats to PTA meetings and visits with teachers, but often unconsciously kicked them off. Not surprisingly, this is something I still do as a lecturer and teacher.

Having luxuriated in barefoot running all my life, I’ve discovered a few things have changed a bit for me as I’ve aged.

I am 61. Somewhere around 59, I developed a hammer toe. This condition makes my high arches even more susceptible to issues (I’m told by a podiatrist). To deal with the condition, I use “Yoga Toes”— small latex cushions with holes cut for each toe. I also wear soft toe separators between the affected toes. Beyond that, I pull on the toe in an effort to lengthen and straighten it. These methods seem partially successful, and I can still run barefoot without having the toe top striking the ground. Additionally, my balance on that foot is better than on the other foot, and the podiatrist’s concern for my arch has yet to materialize.

Along with paying close attention to the condition of my feet and to take care of any issues, I now obey certain guidelines that I didn’t used to follow.

1)     I run barefoot on grass, sand and pavement when it’s warm and even wet – but not when it’s frozen. In the past, I liked doing that — inspired by the scene from Bell, Book, and Candle where Kim Novak chases her cat out into the icy streets in her bare feet. If she can do it, so can I (I thought)… but not anymore.

2)     I rock scramble barefoot by the sea and where rocks are dry and sun-warmed.

3)     I run in minimalist shoes (rather than barefoot) on gravel, bark or where a lot of animal feces may be: dog parks, farms, etc. I used to take great pleasure in going barefoot over downed fields of hay on our farm in Oregon. The gopher snakes were huge but didn’t bite me, slithering underfoot, creating an undulating surface.

4)     I’ve become more observant about moss, seaweed, oil or anything that can throw my (now less good than it had been) equilibrium off-balance.

5)     Running in bursts and walking in bursts helps me stay in control of my forward momentum, making falls less likely, as well as missteps and stumbles.

Seeing seniors older than myself able to run (barefoot and shod) is reassuring. It’s worth being careful to keep this gift of movement.

~ Ariele M. Huff

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather Church August 22, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Awesome Ariele! YOU are inspiring!

Ed August 22, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Good for you. I discovered the barefoot concept about a year ago and have been working to strengthen my feet with five toes and barefoot whenever. I do not like going out on our trails, paved or otherwise, without protection for the bottoms of my feet. But with the discovery of mid foot strike and changing my running style to a more natural stride, I have once again discovered the joy of running (something I was told to quit several years ago by an orthopedic surgeon). And I have been running in minimalist shoes for about three months and it feels great. Love it. Oh yeah, I should add that I am 70 years old.

Rachelle August 23, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Fantastic, everyone! Ed, you’re inspiring! Happy running.

Gregory January 19, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Great article. I’m 35 and embraced the barefoot way three years ago. It and other lifestyle changes, are now habits and less of a novelty in my job and daily life. It’s encouraging when we’re are able to share this life in the real world. Now recovering from an Achilles tendon rupture I find shoes even more unbearable – opposite to what my therapist suggested, with inserts and so forth. I’m back running in the trails with my dogs and soaking it all in through my soles.
Go strong Ed!

Barefoot Rose January 19, 2012 at 10:29 pm

I always liked being barefoot. I started running barefoot a couple of years ago. Now, I consider myself a barefoot lifer. I used to wear socks in the winter but now I’m even beginning to dislike those. I look forward to being in your shoes…er, footprints someday.

Erlend February 2, 2012 at 2:22 am

Fun fact: In Sweden and Norway it’s considered impolite NOT to take your shoes off when visiting people. We prefer smelly feet to mud (and worse) on the carpet.

I totally support your decision to wear minimal shoes when it’s cold. One argument could be that there is no “feedback” from numb feet anyway!

Happy running.

Bronwyn Cooper March 18, 2012 at 4:18 am

What a shame even we Podiatrists weren’t given correct info on “natural walking”, let alone running, all those years ago, despite Dr William Rossi DPM’s good work in this area. It remained buried away until fairly recently. I have subscibed to these approaches for the past 7 years of my career, due to their superior results on patients of all ages and all manner of clinical problems. Sadly, most clinicians who deal with foot and gait problems are still oblivious to the results that restoring good function can bring about, including in the frail aged!

Francis Chin March 23, 2012 at 6:57 am

In the 1960s when I was a little kid, I used to watch my father and uncle — street food hawkers — carrying huge baskets of cooked food on their shoulders and walking barefoot to sell the stuff. Their feet were made of cast iron!

For years, I ran in expensive branded shoes and suffered continual knee pains! Since I run barefoot 2 years back, the pain has gone. However, I limit my barefoot running to stadium tracks since on road pavements there are sharp stones and cement slabs.

Questions here: Does barefoot running really get rid of joint pain? Why is it that I could run faster and longer on my bare feet?

Lawrence Smith August 31, 2012 at 2:10 pm

I’ve been running for over 40 years (I’m fast approaching 62), but it was not until I was in my 40′s and doing a lot of racing that minimalist shoes opened my eyes to the possibility of “barefoot” running. I discovered lighter and lighter racing flats could be used for 5K, 10K and longer races. It occurred to me that I could train in racing flats if only they were not so fragile and cushioned. The real change came when I was in the hospital after emergency abdominal surgery, and I began jogging the corridors barefoot, wheeling my intravenous tree as a went (this drove the nurses nuts, as I had a gaping hole in my abdomen, which had not been sutured so that quick access was possible). When I was released from the hospital, I was told to do nothing for 3 months, but after 3 days, I went to the gym to move around a bit.There a discovered a wooden running track above the basketball court, and I began running barefoot. What a difference! I am a teacher of the Alexander Technique, and I had done a lot of writing about running and the technique, but barefoot running really helped me to clarify the natural mechanics of running. Here is my website on the subject:
http://www.alexandertechnique-running.com
On it, there is an article about the difficulties I encountered when moving to barefoot running. It wasn’t all easy.

Courage!

Ariele M. Huff October 25, 2012 at 5:09 am

Francis Chin:
Yes, I agree. My joints definitely feel better than they did in my 40s when I was following some advice to use regular athletic shoes.
& Yes, I feel like I can run so much more “lightly,” faster, easily when using the barefoot stance and method as well as minimalist or no shoes.
It’s wonderful to have discovered this well kept secret!
Ariele

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