M.S. in Biomechanics; Owner of Naperville Running Company, Naperville, IL
My experience with barefoot running began in high school where we would use barefoot running in drills on grass or on sandy shores. It was a fun alternative in training, and these drills helped strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the foot and helped with running form. Since then I have used barefoot running on and off in my training. To me, it helps break up the monotony of workouts. I also believe it helps promote a midfoot landing.
For our customers, we focus on barefoot running as a supplement to their regular training. A majority of runners should still plan to do most of their training in a traditional running shoe, but they may evolve to a less structured model over time depending on how they respond to their barefoot drills/training. The Tarahumara Indians that are referenced in Born to Run have essentially run barefoot their entire lives, are small in stature, and run on more compliant surfaces. All of these factors make them quite different than most runners we see in our store, and makes a huge difference in technique and injury prevention.
I don’t suggest runners switch completely to barefoot. One of the risks of barefoot/minimalistic running is doing too much, too soon. If a runner is not used to this style of running, he/she will often experience calf or Achilles soreness and possibly injury. This can be prevented by being cautious when implementing it into your training program.
A lot of talk has centered around the “FACT” that injury rates in running may be higher than they were 20 or 30 years ago and this may be due to the use of modern running shoes. I couldn’t disagree more. To make a valid assumption on injury rates, you need to compare similar groups of runners and this is not being done when you simply look at overall injury rates among runners. Today’s runner is quite different than the runners of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The average marathoner in the ‘70s finished somewhere in the low three-hour range. Today the average marathon time is closer to 4:30. Most people would agree that body type, mechanics, and efficiency of a three-hour marathoner is quite different than a 4:30 marathoner. You need to compare apples to apples to make a valid assumption, and that cannot be done when comparing today’s average runners to those of decades ago. Go ahead and compare 4:30 marathoners of the ‘70s to 4:30 marathoners of today, and then we can start taking a closer look at the root causes of injury rates. In my opinion, the injury rates among our customers would be significantly higher if we didn’t have the evolved, high quality shoes that are available today.