5 Barefoot Running Hacks

Here are 5 shodless tips to help you on your barefooting journey.  Some of these are not for the faint of heart; they will all produce results.

  1. Run a mile on gravel twice a week. Gravel is one of the most difficult surfaces to traverse barefoot. It requires light and agile steps, coupled with a relaxed attitude that embraces the discomfort. Since running barefoot is all about receiving feedback and making adjustments, an unforgiving surface provides the perfect recipe for maximum results. You may not make the mile the first time, or the second, or perhaps ever -- but any time spent receiving such wonderful feedback is worthwhile.
  2. Travel everywhere barefoot. There was a time when walking barefoot in the store, at school, around the house didn't even turn a head. In many countries, this is still the case.  Unfortunately in most "developed" countries, barefooting makes you come across as a social pariah.  If you live in the U.S. like I do, you are in one of the most anti-barefoot places in the world. This complicates the task of traversing your everyday barefoot. There are no laws against going barefoot in stores; unfortunately in the U.S. many stores will set dress codes of their own. Stores who claim their policy is based on Health Department laws are misinformed or simply lying. For example, the state I live in (Michigan) has this to say about being barefoot:
    Some Michigan restaurants and supemarkets display the warning sign "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service - by order of the health department." Although such signs may represent the attitude of store management, the requirement is not based upon any Michigan law. Michigan's food safety standards address employees involved in food handling and do not regulate the attire of the customer.
    In most places, it is also legal to drive barefoot. In Michigan for example, they specifically tell the police:
    There is nothing in the Michigan Vehicle Code that prohibits barefoot driving. Careless or reckless driving would really be a stretch, as an argument could be made that a barefoot person has more control over the pedals.
    Obviously a lot of my research is U.S. centric, since that's where I live. I suspect if you do similar research for your area, you will find similar results.  Know your rights and exercise them, no one will do it for you.
  3. Run on as many different surfaces as you can. Your body is built to adapt.  Running on sidewalk, blacktop, gravel, dirt trails, rocky trails, grass, the track, etc. are all ways to shock your body into paying attention and adapting to the task it is performing.
  4. Ditch the transitions. Shodless running means no transition shoes.  No Vibram Five Fingers, no sandals, no water shoes.  Although I have nothing against these, and think they are useful in some circumstances, the truth is they block feedback.  Anything between your soles and the ground is a barrier. Running shoes just happen to provide a huge barrier, whereas transitional shoes provide a limited one.  Want to run barefoot?  Then do it truly shodless! If the Nike Free is "like running barefoot", and that's been their actual motto, how about you save the $85 dollars and don't buy a solution to a problem you don't have -- consumer culture be damned.
  5. Explain shodless running to friends and family. Folks can be cruel with things they don't understand. If you're a human, you may have noticed this.  What better way to examine your barefoot feelings than to explain it to someone else.  The next time someone stops you, shouts at you, is exascerbated by your bare feet -- stop -- and calmly explain things to them.  Articulating how and why you feel barefooting is a good idea may open someone's eyes.  Questioning preconceptions is difficult, especially with multi-billion dollar companies cramming conformity onto the public. Knowing barefooting works is one thing, but understanding why being shodless is beneficial can help take your training to a new level.