Sunday, May 1, 2011

My 5-Mile Barefoot Run

Today, May 1, is the first annual International Barefoot Running Day.  So I went for a 5-mile barefoot run.  Actually, it turned out to be a 5.25 mile run--5 miles barefoot on the trails and 1/4 mile walking barefoot on the paved bike path. It was one of my best runs ever.  Yes, best ever.  The day was perfect--58 degrees, sunny, with a slight breeze.  The trails were in good shape--still slightly muddy and wet, but generally soft and luxurious.  My feet craved the feel of the ground.  Some parts were soft and squishy, others hard-packed and rough. A few areas had gravel and were difficult to run across without a bit of pain...but still enjoyable.  Once I had a dandelion flower stuck between my toes...that won't happen with shoes! I had a smile on my face for the entire 5 miles.

One of the differences between running barefoot and shod is the relationship you have to the environment.  When I run barefoot on the trails, I am running in nature...not through it like I would with shoes.  I am part of the environment, not treading over it.  You feel "one with nature" as you trod lightly on the ground.  You notice the ever-changing terrain--mud, rock, sand, dirt, sticks, and clover.  You feel the warmth of the sun on the top of your feet and on the ground itself.  You immediately notice when you have entered shaded terrain...the cool ground wakes up the soles of your feet.  Upon emerging into sunlight again, your feet immediately feel the warm dirt.  Your body and mind are intimately connected to the landscape.  With shoes, unfortunately, all of these subtle cues are lost.  Shoes force us to run through nature, rather than within it. Deer jump off the trail in front of us well before we arrive...with bare feet, I get within 10 feet of many animals.  They sense I'm just part of the landscape. 

I'm currently lying on my couch typing this blog post with my feet up.  My toes are tingling.  My feet feel alive.  I'm still smiling.  Today was a great run.  One of my best.  Hope you can experience barefoot running too.  It may change your life.  If not, it should still put a smile on your face as you feel like a care-free 5-year old kid romping around the neighborhood.  When did you last feel like that?

If you want to learn more about barefoot running, check out one of these recent books.  I've own all three and they are very good.

Barefoot Running Step by Step (Barefoot Ken Bob and Roy Wallack)
Barefoot Running (Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee)
The Barefoot Running Book, 2nd edition (Jason Robillard)

I also own this book, but haven't read it yet:
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Barefoot Running (Craig Richards and Thomas Hollowell)

PS:  Running in "minimalist" shoes is not the same as running with bare feet.  Not even close.  I have several pairs of minimalist shoes, including 3 models of the Vibram FiveFingers, and I like them all.  Still, they are not the same as going bare.  Don't even get me started on the Nike Free line...they aren't even minimalist--way too much cushioning, not light enough, high heels, and restrictive toe box. If you cut off the heels like this guy did, it may become an OK shoe when zero-dropped.


Suza said...

I'm starting on my own path of barefoot running... I'm still in the walking stages and I made the mistake of starting when it was cold/raining out, and my toes went numb and it was a pretty rough walk.
I'm surprised by how fast my feet have adapted though!

Thanks for the book recommendations, I'm going to check them out! :D

Chris said...

Slow and steady wins the race. Don't do too much too soon (TMTS)--it'll lead to calf strains and metatarsal injuries.

Ben S said...

After reading about your experience in the way your running streak ended I held off with my planned long interval workouts. I had to learn to run slow once the snow melted because naturaly I wanted to run faster on dry surfaces in pleasant weather. I sensed it was beginning to take a toll. Being mindful has paid off as my running streak hit 121 days today. I'm thinking of running a trail marathon or double trail marathon in June. Is a 50 plus mile ultra possible when my longest run has been 15 miles in 2 hours?

Chris said...


Congrats on keeping the running streak alive!

Doing 15 miles in 2 hours is plenty fast for ultras...almost too fast. But you need longer slow runs before tackling a 50 miler. Although, I did my last 50 miler with 12 mile long runs, so what do I know?

Janice said...

I agree. When I run barefoot, I feel like a kid again. Why on earth would anyone choose to wear shoes?

Chris said...


Yep. Shoes are tools just like anything else--use them when needed...which is not every single day! Do we wear mittens on our hands every day?

Jess said...

While I fully support the awesomeness you received from this kick ass run, I can not say I will be joining you on the barefoot path. But heck to the yes!!!

Chris said...


You could try a short barefoot run through the grass at the end of your next regular run, right? Nothing too extreme. Just a quick 100 meters.

ed said...

Alright Barefoot Chris, that's a good LONG run! Wish I was able to do the same.

When you're at Woodstock this summer, you may want to check out the "fully" natural race they offer . . . . although I think going barefoot is the closest most will ever get to being "natural" on a course.

Chris said...

At the end of a 100 mile trail race, going bare seems like a great idea. Keeps the chaffing at bay!

janak said...

Welcome to the barefoot running world. As you know, I have been running barefoot for two years. Only this year, I have added concrete sidewalk running to toughen my soles. It seems to be working- slowly. Now I am able to walk (not run) barefoot on gravel without screaming! It took a lot longer to train on concrete- 2 - 3 miles at a time. Now I have reached 5 miles. Contrast to that Grass trail didn't need any toughening and 10 miles was no problem! Gravel will remain an issue for me a long time!

Chris said...


You are doing extremely well with your barefoot progression. Congrats! I've already tossed in a few 5 milers barefoot on the trails this year, but not much on road or bike path.