Most folks wonder why anyone would willingly run 26.2 miles, never mind doing it BAREFOOT! That's exactly what Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila did at the 1960 Olympics in Rome when he won the Gold Medal in the marathon. Americans viewing this and hearing about it at the time were thoroughly amazed and left it at that. A half century later a growing number of runners are leaving their high-tech running shoes at home to run barefoot -- well, not completely barefoot, in most cases they run with minimal foot coverings that protect the foot from sharp pointy things while allowing the foot to function naturally.

This writer recently received a couple of E-mails from a friend, runner Laura Bailiff, who, among other things, extolled her exuberance and experience in recently beginning to run "barefoot." Her messages were so interesting that I thought you'd like to hear what she has to say on the subject. First, though, here are some reasons why some runners have taken to running sans running shoes:

•Studies have shown that wearing shoes takes more energy and that on average one can run 3% faster running barefoot than with 12-ounce shoes, for example.

•One study showed that barefoot runners use 4% less oxygen.

•In January a Harvard scientist published an article that concluded that running without shoes can be less impactful. Further studies are needed to determine if this would lead to fewer injuries.

•Landing on the forefront of the foot (barefoot running style), instead of the heel, is the natural way humans are meant to run.

•Running barefoot is FUN!

Now, here's what my friend Laura had to say about the subject.

"All is going well with me and I continue to run almost daily. I have done four ultra's now but have pretty much settled into the marathon distance. I will do an ultra or two per year but it just takes so much training time and keeps me away from home too much. With one daughter soon to get married and another not far behind (twins), I like staying closer to home. I have been doing alot of barefoot running lately...actually not completely barefoot but in my Vibram Five Fingers. I recently did the Maui Oceanfront Marathon in them and I am loving the barefoot feeling...plus my times have improved when running barefoot. It is so much faster and I have heard this from other runners who are using the shoes. The surprising thing is, I have had no foot or knee issues of any kind and I feel better than ever running more natural. Before trying this, I did alot of research and I really believe barefooting is actually better. It's the way we were designed to run. I did not want to go completely barefoot as there is a definite problem with glass, nails, and other road hazards, but the Vibrams do protect your feet. Of course you still need to be aware of your running surface and watch the ground...something we should all be doing anyhow. Here is a pic just after finishing The Maui Oceanfront Marathon last month."

"Two weeks later I took a second place age group 55-59 at the Death Valley Trail marathon., although I did that one in regular running shoes. One thing about the Vibrams is you do feel the rocks underfoot, so they are not good for technical trail or gravel. I'll be doing the USMC at Pendleton in April and the OC Marathon in May in the barefooters. They do take some getting used to and a gradual buildup in them, as you are using new muscles to run this way."

"As I said, I did quite a bit of research on these crazy shoes before buying them, since they are not cheap. They run about $75-$100. vibram.com has a pretty good website, although a bit hard to navigate through. I also searched online for people's opinions that had run in them for longer distances. I am pretty much always barefoot anyhow so my feet are rather tough to begin with, so that may make a difference as to how quickly I adapted to running in the Vibrams. They suggest a gradual build-up on the mileage in them and that is so not me...so I just put them on and went out and did seven miles in them the first day. Funny you should mention Chi-running as several of the articles I read, mentioned this.
I started doing it just as a fun alternative and now I rarely run in regular shoes unless I absolutely have to. They are especially great in grass and even feel good when they get wet. No blister issues at all when they are wet and I can't say that about regular shoes. When I have gotten them especially dirty or muddy, I simply wear them into the shower to get them clean. They are also machine washable and then you just hang them to dry. I haven't had them long enough to see how long they hold up compared to my Aasics...time will tell. I run in the Sprints and I also own the slip on's without a strap. Both are great and you can run in any of them. Take care."
Laura

There's not much for me to add. One thing: Abebe Bikila did not run that Olympic marathon barefoot as a planned strategy. It turns out when he got to the Games, the running shoes that were available for him did not fit right and weren't to his liking, so he decided to run barefoot like he did back in his home country.

If you are thinking of running barefoot, do your research like Laura did because you can stress the achilles and calf muscles if you do too much too soon or don't adjust your running technique adequately.

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From Ed Mayhew: author of Fitter After 50 and other books, CDs, videos and articles on how you can make falling apart as you age merely an option -- not a mandate! http://www.YouCanGrowYounger.com