~Jogging on Jacksonville Beach, FL at sunrise. May, 2015
Connectedness. When I ran with running shoes in the past, I would just feel the cool air and soak in the sights of the sky/trees/stars while running. Running barefoot adds a new dimension to the running experience – I feel a whole level of connectedness to the ground, and as a corollary, the environment I am in.
Lighter strides. With running shoes, my feet were completely buffered from the ground. I could never feel my strides, save for the numbing ‘thud’ between my feet and the soles of my shoes/ground whenever I land. This made me take heavy strides subconsciously. With barefoot running, I am definitely running much lighter than before. I’m not pounding on my knees/ankles/feet anymore.
Right landing. People who wear running shoes typically land heel first (a.k.a hard heel strikes), which places more stress on the foot. The correct running form should be to land on the front or middle of the foot. Here’s what a Discovery News article says about landing:
The difference in the way the foot strikes the ground is important. Lieberman’s study examined the physical stresses on feet with different types of running and found that people with running shoes strike the ground with the mass of the entire leg, nearly 7 percent of the body. That’s more than three times the weight of impact for barefoot running.
“It’s really about how you hit the ground,” said Lieberman, who specializes in human evolutionary biology. “When you hit the ground, some of your body comes to a dead stop.”
For runners in cushioned shoes, “it is literally like someone hitting you on the heel with a hammer,” Lieberman said. But, he said that “the way in which barefoot runners run is more or less collision free.”
Interestingly, I came to the same conclusion during my first barefoot run, before reading about it. With running shoes, I would land on my heels and it caused a lot of impact. When I run barefoot, I automatically adjust and land on my forefeet/midfeet. Since I can feel my foot on the ground, I can immediately tell if I am landing incorrectly with each stride. After my first barefoot run, I had a small blister in the top left corner of my right sole, which I see as a sign that I’m exerting more force than necessary on that area. It’s an indication that I should distribute my weight on other areas when landing.
Better posture. Everything is very instinctual and it takes no more than just a few steps for me to get into a comfortable running posture. The contact between the foot and the ground is like an instant feedback if my posture needs correcting and if so, how. In retrospect, my posture and jogging stance felt stiff when I ran with shoes.
Freedom & Liberty. Running without shoes made me realize how binding it was to have my feet wrapped up in socks and enclosed in shoes. When running barefoot, I can feel my heel, mid-sole, forefeet and my toes against the ground and brushing against the cooling air with each stride. It’s a liberating experience.
Mindfulness. Every step I take, I’m aware. Every time my foot touches the ground, I can feel both the ground and my foot. During my run, I am present, of myself, my posture, my surroundings, my environment.
Less stress for your knees/feet/joints. Studies have shown running barefoot brings less stress for your feet, even when compared with expensive running shoes (Nike, Adidas and Reebok included). A new study suggests running shoes may cause damage to knees, hips and ankles. With running shoes, we tend to shift our weight down to our ankles, which lead to higher possibility of ankle sprains. You might have heard how prolonged running causes knee cap pain – I suspect it’s because of the heavy strides we take with running shoes rather than running itself. By running barefoot, that’s less likely to happen since you get a better running posture (Reason #4) and lighter strides (Reason #2), which means lesser weight on your knees/ankles/feet.
Gives you stronger feet. All the shoe wearing has made our feet weak and soft. In fact, some of us wear poor-fitted shoes that cramp our toes/feet. Here’s an interesting excerpt from an article “Go Barefoot to Get Stronger“:
Through years of wearing shoes, our feet lose their tactile capacity, which is bad enough. But they also fail to develop to their proper size and shape. Tendons and ligaments shorten, muscles weaken, and the risk for foot and ankle injuries increases.
If it sounds like the ancient Chinese tradition of binding the feet, it kinda is. “It’s identical, but to a lesser degree,” Rooney says. “Shoes crush the foot into abnormal positions and you don’t get the movement the foot is designed for.”
Going barefoot builds up our foot muscles and makes them stronger, the way they should be.
It’s Fun! Do you remember the times when you were young and ran around barefooted? How did that feel? Walking/Running barefooted brought a sense of child-like wonder that was lost since long ago, like dancing in the rain. It made running fun, more fun than it normally is. I ended up running longer than my normal route (3km vs. 2.4km).
Saves money. I wish I knew about barefoot running before I bought all the sport shoes – Adidas, Reebok, soccer shoes, Nike Air, Zoom, Zoom+ and what not. Sports apparel have become more fashion accessories and cost more than they should. If I add up all the money I spent on sport shoes over the years, it easily sums up to over one grand. That is a lot of money that could have been saved and used for better purposes.