Skip navigation

Got to bring a friend on the trail today and introduce him to this sport.  Cameron is my neighbor, a producer of plays and an RPG aficionado though I never was in a theatrical piece with him we have played D&D together.  I love the opportunity to turn my friends on to trail running and promote the activity.  I’m actually quite snobbish about trail running as opposed to road running.  I’m spoiled by our gorgeous trails here in the Bay Area and Northern California and don’t see why anybody would want to run on a sidewalk, stop at a traffic light or suck exhaust from vehicles unless, of course, it was on the way to the next trailhead.

In my persona as Coach K I thought I would start Cameron off like I started myself, 5 easy laps back and forth down Baker Beach.  It is about a 2.5 mile run, the length of the beach being about a mile from the naturist section down to where the storm drain lets out on the South end.  Today’s training was also an opportunity for me to give a go at some barefoot running in a safe place where barefoot running is sensible.

Barefoot running is the hottest trend in my sport and I have some pretty strong reservations about making it a regular practice but I am intrigued by it enough to give it a shot.  My strongest reservation about barefoot running is that the biggest proponent of barefoot running is actually a shoe company, Vibram, already reknown for their rugged work boot soles but now emerging into the fitness shoe world with their 5 finger shoes. The Vibram Five Fingers, essentially, are gloves for the feet with toe holes and neoprene soles with a bit of a tread.  They strap on like Mary Janes.  I have to admit they are well designed, but they do look ridiculous with pants worn on the street.  I’ve seen it.  So if the point is to toughen up the feet to make you run like a person who grows up in an unshod culture, what’s the point of wearing a racing glove on your foot.  If you are going to be committed to minimalism in your sport, go naked and barefoot. I do.

The second reservation is how this trend seems to have been ignited by one book, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.  I haven’t read this work but from what I have absorbed it is a cultural study of a Native American tribe that run barefoot for miles over mountains.  Proponents of the barefoot running movement cite McDougall’s study as a justification to trail run barefoot, or at least in those Vibram’s, which to me still appear to be shoes.  I must reiterate that I haven’t read Born to Run, but as a baby anthropologist with a BA from the University of California at Berkeley, I am already indoctrinated well enough in cultural anthropology to know what my initial position would be:  Although human beings evolved to be distance runners we are a synthesis of culture and evolution.  I would argue that this culture that McDougall references journeys through childhood and adulthood unshod throughout their lives, my culture, and yours, is shod before we have the ability to walk.  We both share an adapted human foot structure, McDougall’s subject culture and ours both, but the differences in our culture and the environmental factors of them have re-shaped the foot through our living in it and our feet have reached their cultural potentials.  But cultures do change and I must admit that cross over can produce unexpected results.  Have a Westerner run without shoes for awhile and she may become more aware of her stride and connection to the trail and moreover the earth and universe.  Give a pair of Adidas to one of McDougall’s tribesmen and see them run further, harder and faster than they could have ever dreamed of doing.  Still, I’m wary of fitness trends, especially those that cite only one source.  I’m not sure if McDougall’s intention was to advocate barefoot running for Westerner’s and because I think he is a serious student of culture, doubt he would do so.  Still I haven’t read the book and I will reserve judgement until then.  Apparently its quite good.

My final reservation is that it is said, and where is it published, I wonder… that pain and injury in running have been on the rise since the advent of the modern running shoe.  To that I say, more people drown in swimsuits, so maybe if people swam naked there would be less death by drowning.  Do you see the logic there?  More people run in shoes, and hey, they get running related injuries.  Have there been any studies of a qualitative nature that prove that the shoes are the causal factor in running related injuries?  It could be one component but I’m sure the injuries are caused by the combination of myriad factors.  Running on the street I think is probably the leading culprit.  Have there been any long term studies of barefoot running vs. #VFF running vs. running shoe running?  Anyone out there wanna be my sponsor I’ll give you a totally qualified report. Adidas, Nike, Vibram, La Sportiva, I am speaking directly to you.

So walking barefoot to the beach to the parking lot wasn’t so pleasant but once on the sand it was nice.  Feet cold in the wet sand, but toes happy.  Who doesn’t take their shoes off on the beach and immediately feel just like a kid running around and splashing in the shore break?  Began the run with Cameron down to the North End and I could see him kind of going all out so I persuaded him to slow it down.  Geek that I am, I was trying to de-mystify trail running by making it seem mystic and in conversation I tripped over a buried boulder.  I hit it perfectly on the ball of my right foot, stumbled and recovered.  Thought maybe this barefoot running was whack, but as I warmed up I did begin to enjoy it.  I loved the freedom of crashing through the sea foam and running through the shallowness of a wave’s retreat.  Cameron told me the story of the Little Mermaid, which I had forgotten:  Ariel traded her voice to the Sea Witch for legs so she could meet the Prince she had fallen in love with, but the legs were faulty.  Every step on dry land felt as if she were walking on knives.  The Prince had to marry Ariel by a certain date or else the Little Mermaid would be dissembled into sea foam. The Prince fell in love with another and Ariel’s curse was imminent.  Ariel’s mermaid sisters pleaded with the Sea Witch to save their beloved sibling and exchanged their beauty for a dagger that would reverse the curse and turn Ariel back into a mermaid. The instructions were to use the enchanted blade to stab the Prince through the heart and let the blood flow over her human legs.  She couldn’t and threw the knife into the sea.  For that sacrifice we have sea foam and for that filial devotion we have sea hags.  We still have witches who teach us its best not to bargain to make people into what they are not and the world is still rife with fickle princes and love struck princesses.



  1. Hi. Just came across your blog. Enjoyed reading some of it.

    On the subject of barefoot running I’d take issue with your statement that Vibram is the biggest proponent of the activity. There are hundreds of runners, running bloggers, researchers, meet up groups, discussion boards, etc. that are touting the barefoot experience. Many of them actually favor running with NO shoes, Vibram or otherwise.

    Yes, the research on barefoot running is spotty. Much more should be done. But some of the early research does indicate that running barefoot is more efficient and does result in less injuries than a comparable sample of shod runners.

    I’ll grab your RSS and follow along with your running.


      • polynesian69
      • Posted Monday 15 March 2010 at 12:52 pm
      • Permalink
      • Reply

      You are right on the issue that you’ve pointed out in my post and Vibram isn’t the biggest proponent of barefoot running because they are the company selling the shoes. I think I made that statement in error because of the barefoot bloggers who are running in the VFF’s. I put the horse before the court. This blog is me trying figure things out and its not necessarily articulate before I submit a post, but I thank you for allowing me to clarify that confused thought. What I hope comes out of the barefoot/minimalist movement is a better designed and more minimal trail running shoe. My beef with the shoe industry is that very few people buy running shoes to run in, they buy them to look cool in. I also know that money making and endorsed elite athletes are running mostly track, big money events. Endorsed athletes’ shoes are disposable and replaced by the sponsors. I’m not in that position so an investment in a shoe has to last me awhile.
      I wanna sincerely thank you for your feedback and hanging out on my page. This is the mental part of the sport, trying to figure it all out. You’ve deepened my understanding of my approach and position. Thanks again and comment anytime.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: