Have you noticed how, literally, there is a growing abuse in the use of the word ‘literally’? I chuckle when people use the word and clearly what they’re saying cannot possibly be true. A quick Google search brought me to this highly entertaining blog. One example from that site: “The cars were literally flying down the road.” Well very recently I’ve been experimenting with barefooting. When I say barefooting I don’t mean minimalist, or barefoot shoes, or aqua socks. I mean being barefoot – literally - skin-to-ground.
Very unfortunately, a few weeks after I wrote that I was running again, my Achilles started getting mad. So, yet again, I stopped. I posted a question in the Runner’s World Barefooting forum asking if some people just can’t do this minimalist thing. The collective wisdom there is that, to make minimalist work, one should start barefoot. And going fully barefoot outside fist requires barefoot walking. I’ve been going barefoot around the house for many months. But even doing that won’t provide sufficient nerve stimulation and reasons for the soles to toughen up. One must venture outside to make that happen. It just so happens that for me that means an almost other extreme: Our house is on a road that has been chip-sealed. If you’re not familiar with chip-seal suffice it to say it’s about the worst road one could choose to get road rash from. Oil is laid down and then a few zillion sharp pebbles are spread on top. Over time the traffic wears the pointy rocks into the surface. Very rough – and stimulating – for tender feet. I have to say the first few walks were pretty tough – but it’s amazing how quickly the feet toughen up. I now look forward to them. And it feels absolutely fantastic. There is no question the feet and ankles are toughening up.
This posting, however, is not intended to go on about the details of my barefooting experiences. Maybe that will happen sometime down the road. What I’ve noticed, as I’ve turned my internet forum attention a bit more to the barefoot community, is some interesting dynamics and perspectives around the barefoot movement.
Getting the feet closer to the ground certainly has been getting a lot of attention. While barefoot running has obviously been around a few years (as in “thousands and thousands of years”) Chris McDougall’s Born To Run has clearly lit a fire. Frequently people will come to the forums stating they’re interested in moving to minimalist or “barefoot” running and they want feedback on their approach. I haven’t, literally, seen the following statement, but it embodies what often happens: “I just closed the back cover of Born To Run and I totally buy into this concept. Fascinating. I am committed to barefoot running and I’d like to go buy the right barefoot shoes for me. Which ones are the best?” That will bring responses along the lines “To really learn minimalist running start really barefoot.” It is then the various forms of “You zealots!” start to occur. Even though people want to “go there” – there is this mental line they seem to have trouble crossing which really “gets them there”. I’m intrigued by this line from minimalist to fully barefoot folks have trouble crossing – both physically (shoe vs no shoe) and mentally (only the hard cores and zealots go truly barefoot). But to take it one step further – I don’t understand why often the reaction seems to be defensive and strong. I can understand “That’s not for me.” but not “You’re a bunch of nuts!”
A Hardcore Zealotor
At the extreme of this category is a guy (I presume) who runs the website Barefoot Running Is Bad. What I find interesting (and entertaining) about this is the amount of proactive energy he expends on his position – and I wonder what is motivating him. I learned once the opposite of love is not hate – it’s indifference. When there is hate (I’m using that word as a handle for the broad concept of putting active effort into something one is against. I’m most definitely not trying to tie it to the very serious issues of hate speech, hate crimes, etc.) there is commitment and engagement. The person responsible for the above website doesn’t not care about barefoot running, he is actively against it. Additionally, the site does not allow comments to be posted. It’s his site – he can do whatever the heck he wants, however not allowing comments speaks volumes to me. Why not allow a dialog? I’d love to learn more about where this guy is coming from. If, by a small chance of fate, the person responsible for that site is reading this, please put up a comment below.
Barefoot Is Unsanitary
This is a long-held belief. I had this perspective as well. Many will often say local health departments have ordinances requiring shoes in public establishments. This, apparently, is an urban legend. Stores can have policies requiring shoes, but that’s a far cry from an ordinance. What strikes me is thinking through why people think of it as unsanitary. Did you wash your feet today? I did. In fact – I scrub my feet with a small brush when I wash them. Have you washed the soles of your shoes today? Have you ever washed them? I haven’t, unless of course, I’ve stepped into an unfortunate substance that smells particularly poorly. (Additionally, I’ve never had to take a toothpick to my feet to get them clean – yet I’ve spent cumulatively hours with a shoe, bad smelling stuff, and a toothpick over a utility sink trying to get that last little piece of foul stuff out of a shoe’s sole.) I think the unsanitary aspect does play into going barefoot when you come home and you don’t wash your feet. Then think about getting into bed with nice clean sheets and unwashed soles that have been outside – disgusting.
The Dreaded Syringe
Many cite road hazards as the reason they could never go barefoot outside. The person taking this stance will inevitably list out the kinds of things one encounters on the road: Rocks. Pieces of metal. Glass. Unsanitary substances I won’t mention. And frequently the list ends with “Syringes”. Syringes? REALLY? Ok, I admit, I don’t live in an urban area, but I’ve never seen a syringe where I’ve run, let alone stepped on it, let alone needed to put in active effort to pull it out of my shoe. I once saw an interview with Chris McDougall and he said something entertaining: “We have two pieces of equipment that help greatly when barefoot running: Our eyeballs. If you see something you don’t want to step on go around it.” Barefoot Ken Bob demonstrates here the very complex process of how to deal with glass.
If you’re interested or intrigued by the concept of taking off your shoes I highly highly HIGHLY encourage you to give it a try. You don’t have to commit to always running sans shoes. You don’t have to commit to ever running sans shoes. Just go out for a walk. Give it a week and see how things feel. The immediate benefit I believe you’ll find is that it’s fun and stimulating. Over a period of just a few days you’ll likely notice some changes in your feet and ankles. However be sure you do this while barefoot – literally.