Barefoot running is intriguing. The simplicity and honesty make it attractive as an option. It is almost nostalgic to picture barefoot kids running around in a yard or on gravel roads. Of course not everyone is easily persuaded, running shoes are just comfortable for a variety of reasons.
Enter Ashish Mukharji – well really enter in the Born to Run book, but Ashish followed that book up with this one. The title and subtitle are wonderful and really do highlight the purpose of this book in it’s entirety: Run Barefoot, Run Healthy: Less Pain More Gain For Runners Over 30. The book makes no pretensions, it wants to get you to try barefoot running.
I’ll admit I do want to try it. I’ll probably give it a go here on a nice day. So, well done to Ashish, although I wasn’t really a tough sale. He dismisses my beloved vibram five fingers and all minimalist footwear, and that’s not really fair. A lot of the injuries that he tags as caused by footwear are prevented through minimalist footwear. They may still let your feet get sweaty and stinky. They may take away some of the sensitivity of your feet, but they also keep you from getting caught up by gravel or glass.
He also doesn’t really need the over thirty tag. Not sure why he even put it in there. Maybe it makes the book more appealing to those who are in the couch to 5 k group after stopping all forms of exercise post-college.
That being said, the book has some great points that it makes. On the down side it makes them over and over again. Here are the big points:
1. Shoes cause more injuries than they prevent.
2. Barefoot running has few potential ways of getting injured.
Ok, so really, those are the same two points. Ashish uses different examples and interviews with dozens of barefoot runners. No run of the mill runners here, these guys are doctors or professionals of some sort. They all run barefoot, and for most of them it has proven by far easier and less injury prone than shod running.
After say 75% of the book, we finally get to what I consider the interesting bit. This is where he explains how to go about starting running. The first is to take it slow and start on smooth clean surfaces. A couple of barefoot running blogs and webpages recommend starting off on gravel and trying every surface you can, but I think here Ashish has it right. My feet need time to adapt and harden up.
He also spends time explaining the stretches that can keep you running longer and it also offers reasons to start off slower. Good drawings through out the book get used in the last chapter to show stretches. Several of the runners in their interviews admitted when they switched over they ran too far. One jumped in to the same distances they were doing before and ended up with stress fractures. It’s probably the only negative account the book mentions about barefoot running, and all it says is that you shouldn’t over do it. The references at the end of the book give links for videos that demonstrate proper technique and articles to back up the benefits of going barefoot.
The only thing lacking was a discussion of microbial infection for those who choose to run barefoot. Feet are amazing and they are good barriers to infection. Imagine your hands, you touch bacteria all day long – on doorknobs, on tools, on ink pens, on each other. Concrete provides a relatively desiccated surface that is remarkably difficult to culture bacteria or any microbes on Ashish notes in his book, but he doesn’t go on to say that bacteria and worms and all the other things need a puncture wound to enter the body. What this means is that running barefoot is fine on just about any surface as long as there are no puncture wounds. So, if you do get a cut, slide the shoes back on again.
So, I’m persuaded on two fronts. I’m going to give barefoot running a try, and I’m going to pick up Born to Run and read it because I want to find out more. While Run Barefoot Run Healthy is light on the narrative and isn’t an entertaining read, it’s a great resource for runners in general.