“You run barefoot? What’s that you say? What do you mean you wear ‘shoes’? But I thought you said…So what you are telling me is barefoot runners wear shoes? Are you talking about those funny looking things with the individual toes? I’ve heard about those. That’s weird. Doesn’t it hurt? That can’t be good for your knees.”
Does this conversation sound familiar? Why do we use the term “barefoot” if it causes so much confusion? Should we give up and settle on “minimalist” as a more appropriate alternative? Why not invent a new term that is a more accurate depiction of minimalist running without sounding so technical?
Five points to the person with the best new descriptor.
The question stands. Why do we call minimalist running “barefoot”? I’ve done it. Some big-name runners still do it. Check out Barefoot Ted. I don’t see anyone asking him to change his name to Sandals Ted just because he wears sandals.
Saying you barefoot run is a lot like making a Xerox or Googling something. It’s a commonly accepted term applied to a category.
In my opinion, “barefoot” describes a style and form just as much as it describes naked soles. Light feet, forefoot strike, quick cadence, and bent knees. These are as much a part of barefoot running as going shoeless. If you saw a man running down the street with no shoes, crashing heel first into the pavement with long, bounding strides, would you call him a barefoot runner? Not likely. He may have the footwear correct, but the form is lacking.
Barehand boxing, bareback horse riding, barefoot skiing… All of these “bare” sports are commonly performed with a wrap, a riding pad, a mini-ski. These aids are always optional, but they provide some safety and comfort while allowing the athlete to train and perfect their technique. For me, barefoot running shoes offer the same benefits. I may never be labeled as a barefoot purist, but I’ve never really been much for labels anyway.
The best ways to learn is to educate yourself. Grab a copy of the barefoot running book, which suggests one start out completely barefoot first, then add minimalist shoes later. It helps to ensure that your technique is efficient and solid. That said, I like to run far. I know that I’d be getting myself into trouble if I tried to go 15 miles without shoes on city streets (especially on my first run). That creates a few options:
- Run barefoot for a short distance and call it a day.
- Run barefoot and switch to my big, cushy running shoes after about a mile.
- Run barefoot and then toss on some minimalist shoes to finish my run after my feet have been roughed up by the pavement.
For me, this is a no-brainer. If I want to go far, I’ll use my minimalist shoes to help get me there.
So, what to do? Reserve the term “barefoot” solely for those who run with proper form and put skin on the ground? We could – and some do. I’d like to propose a new idea. Barefoot runners are often called crazy, so let’s get a little crazy. Let’s call ourselves…are you ready? RUNNERS. Catchy, isn’t it? Sure, that term has already been claimed, but bear with me for a moment.
Remember when runners all ran barefoot? That’s the way we started out. Shoes are a human invention. I bet the first runner to put on pair of shoes was considered a radical. Eventually, a whole clan of runners started putting on these funny looking shoes and referring to themselves as “shod” runners. As the trend continued and shod running became the norm, it became simpler just to drop “shod” from the expression and refer to themselves as “runners”. And there you have it…those shod runners stole our term. It’s time we take it back.
It might not be easy, but we can do it. Educate other runners on the benefits of barefoot running. Show the world you can run without injury and throw away the knee braces. Encourage fellow runners to give the barefoot style a try. As more and more runners join the ranks, we can once again set a new norm. We can show the running world that our passion for health and sport are the ties that bind us together. We can take join the countless throngs of fleet-footed commuters who traverse the earth under a single, unified banner.
Whether male or female, young or old, barefoot or shod…let’s throw off our labels (and maybe even our shoes) and run in harmony. Together, we can be RUNNERS.