Too Shy to Run Barefoot?

by Summer on July 8, 2010

You like the idea of barefoot running, and you want to give it a try…but there’s one thing holding you back.  You are wondering what people are going to think, and what they will say.  Well, here’s some advice to help you handle the sideways looks, the ‘funny’ comments, and just plain being shy about going barefoot.

Barefoot running is getting more and more popular, so unless you live in a very remote – or very traditional – area, you’re probably not the only barefoot runner.  Every day more and more people take up barefoot running, so rest assured that while you are still a ground breaker, you will become less and less unusual with every run you do.  Until the barefoot runners reach that ‘critical mass’ though, here are a few common sources of skepticism, and some advice on how to handle it.

Non-runners

Don't be shy! Get out there!

Non-runners tend to think all runners are a bit crazy, and to run without shoes may just confirm their suspicions that runners are just out to find more and more sources of pain and discomfort.  Chances are that they won’t be interested in your arguments about preventing injuries and natural biomechanics, so don’t waste your breath.  Instead, often the best course is just to go along with the joke.  Comments like “did you lose your shoes?”, “can’t you afford shoes?” and so on are best met with nods of agreement and a response such as,”gotta cut costs somewhere!”  In other words, just laugh along with the joke.

Shod runners

Shod runners are a little trickier.  They will probably have researched all the shoes on the market, got a professional fitting, and spent a lot of money. Some shod runners will be genuinely interested in what you’re doing, and will have seen barefoot runners or heard about it somewhere. Those aren’t the ones that will give you a problem though – the ones that you need to handle are the ones that are looking for a reason not to barefoot run.  They will be the ones that shoot a funny look your way as you trot by, or say something to their running buddies just within your earshot.  Chances are too, it will be misinformed.  Again, the best action is to shrug your shoulders and carry on.  You know the facts, and you know why you are running barefoot. When you are still running when they are injured, or when you cruise past them in a race, then they will get your point!

Your gym

This one is the toughest – being told by your gym you can’t run barefoot on the track or on the treadmills. It’s nonsense, but the gym sets the rules.  If you meet these kinds of restrictions, the best thing to do is put your case in writing to the gym manager.  Make your points based on the facts – that feet are cleaner than shoes, that evidence shows that barefoot running prevents falls and injuries, and that it is a type of running growing in popularity –fast.  Ask to meet with the gym manager to talk about barefoot running, and see if you can come to an agreement.  Chances are, once you state your case, especially if other barefoot runners are there with you, you will get the changes you request.  If you don’t, run barefoot somewhere else, and try again later.

Your running buddies

This one is the easiest to fix, but it can hurt the most – when your running buddies make excuses for not running with you if they get the slightest suspicion that you might be leaving your shoes at home that day!  Now it’s not you that’s embarrassed to be seen running barefoot, it’s your friends who don’t want to be seen running with someone “so crazy” as to not even wear shoes. The way to handle it is to talk about it – and think about what you might be doing that could be a factor.  If you are limiting the speed or distance of a group run because your barefoot, as slowing your pace and shortening your distance is often the right thing for you to do, then you can’t really blame them if they want to go further and faster. If this is the case, try offering meeting them for part of the group run – just as far as you want to go barefoot – or concede the issue and wear your shoes when you want a social run.  If the problem is they think you look weird, then talk about it, and explain the reasons you go barefoot. Who knows? You might even make some converts and then you can all run as a group again – but all barefoot this time!

No matter what happens, and what anyone says, you know why you run barefoot.  You know you will improve your form, you will avoid injuries, and you are taking your running to a whole new level. Nobody can take that away, so hang in there. More and more people are taking up barefoot running every day, so enjoy being unique while you still can!

Photo Credit: milena mihaylova on Flickr

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sean July 8, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Great post. I really think this is one of the central obstacles to people barefooting. When most people try out most new things, they don’t really want to become an advocate. Yet by the simple act of taking off your shoes, you are much more likely to have someone openly take up the subject with you (for better or worse). This gets compounded by the fact the most people just want to go out and run…it’s a time of focus/meditation/workout–they don’t want to be bothered.

I’ve experienced many of the situations you posted…in the last couple weeks. A dad and his son were out for a bike ride. The dad shouts to me, “You shouldn’t be barefoot, that’s dangerous!” I chalked it up to a message he wanted more for his son than me.

Abbie July 19, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Thanks for your comment & sharing your experiences, and I agree, I bet if he were alone that Dad might not have said anything ;)

Toby August 11, 2010 at 8:06 am

My advice: your health is wayyy too important to be influenced by the opinions of others.

Imagine how you would feel on your deathbed, you could of become a happier and healthier person but you submitted to other people’s misguided opinions.

Craig November 13, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Your right, thanks for this post, it was exactly how i felt and now i feel like, lifes too short to care about what others think im gna do it!! Thanks!

Isaac Parmantier August 21, 2015 at 8:44 pm

You have remarked very interesting details ! ps nice site. “Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us every day.” by Sally Koch.

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