March 17, 2010 posted by

Run Free, But Not Necessarily Barefoot

Before you throw out all of your modern running shoes and go prancing around barefoot like a Tarahumara, consider this: the winner of this year’s Copper Canyon Ultra—a Raramuri—credits his victory to wearing running shoes instead of their traditional sandals.

As reported by El Diario de Chihuahua, Yo he participado 3 veces, en la primera no llegué a finalista, en la segunda quedé en el lugar 14, las dos primeras veces usaba huaraches, pero están mejor los tenis, ya me acostumbré los uso desde hace dos años porque no lastiman”, reveló con cierta timidez el rarámuri triunfador.

Which roughly translated means that the race winner came in 14th the first two times he participated wearing sandals but won this time because his feet were more comfortable in running shoes. A Nike representative must be en route with a contract.

With all the recent data showing how running shoes can hurt your feet (more accurately weaken), and of course that tome of beautifully-crafted hyperbole, Born to Run, what to wear was a huge topic down in Mexico. I don’t think anyone questions the logic that as a culture we’ve become dependant upon shoes which has weakened our feet, but the jury is still out on whether barefoot running is a paradigm shift (did I use this phrase on two consecutive days?) or something that should be reserved for training only. If we’re keeping score, my group of runners were all wearing running shoes, albeit many were favoring racing flats over the more modern “system support” trainers.

Personally, I haven’t given up any of my shoes. For now, instead of wearing one style, I switch back and forth between support, no support, barefoot, five-fingers, and different styles with a theory that this will force my feet to adapt to the many different stresses and get stronger than they would be if I just went barefoot. I, however, have absolutely no evidence that my theory bears any merit yet. I’m beginning to think that a combination of racing flats, barefoot training, and foot strengthening exercise is going to be the protocol for almost all serious runners in the future.

Or you can just distill it all down to corn mash, drink it, and just go out and run for as long as you can. As race director and folk hero Caballo Blanco puts it, “The point: None of that crap really matters, what or not one wears on their feet. Run Happy…Run Free.”

pic: race winner josé madero, by brooke cantor


  • I agree with Caballo, but still think if going shod minimal is the way to go. Obviously, the winner of this years Copper Canyon didn't win because his shoes bestowed mystical powers on him just that they made his feet more comfortable for that particular race. So yes, depending on the terrain, the skill of the other participants, and whether or not you want to win it might be advisable to wear shoes in a race. Otherwise, "run happy…run free." –Chris Robbins

  • I agree with the "free" part, and last I checked barefoot is still free.

  • I'm a barefoot runner, so I'm with you, Matt. But "free" in the context used by Caballo(if I may speak for him) is to be unfettered by ideologies meaning do what works for you & get out there & run & be happy. Add to that, most barefoot runners aren't competitive in the usual sense (though a few are), but if you are competitive & looking to win most long distance races you might have to throw on a pair of shoes to do it. Just my take. –Chris R.

  • Chris — I'm not sure about the competitive part about barefoot running. I'm faster than I ever was in shoes. However, I'm light years away from being an elite runner. In the last 100 years, there have been a handful of very fast barefoot runners who were elite, but none recently.Given the tiny population of barefoot runners (maybe 0.01 percent or less), it's hard to know whether or not running barefoot makes sense in the competitive sense.

  • You're certainly faster, and freer, whenever you're not injured, which is probably the most important point here.I was a sprinter as a kid and barefoot was just as fast as any shoes that didn't have spikes, and spikes tried to be as close to barefoot as possible. Sprinters still run this way, meaning step by step barefoot running can be fast. Funny it's come into vogue with the ultra crowd, who tend to run over the most rigorous terrain. I'm sure there is a point to where you can condition your feet to be strong enough–like Abibi Bikila. Most people are likely never to reach that state, I suppose, meaning some form of shoe will probably remain popular, if for no other reason than protection.I'm pretty convinced that very supportive shoes only serve a rehabilitation purpose and everyone should attempt to move away from them as soon as they have the proper condition.Just another pitch for conditioning the masses; a daunting thought.

  • I suppose it just depends on the person. Some people can't stand barefoot running while others can. The winner probably never ran in running shoes so it made the race quite comfortable to him while people like us use running shoes everyday so barefoot running can have benefits on us. Foot Confusion is the answer people!!!

  • your theory makes no sense!Running barefoot is the only way to actually run since humans are born without shoes and shoes are only manufactured products, which make running less efficent and increase injury!!!The precentage of elite runners in the USA has nothing to do with whether it's good or not. Guess what?Just as many Americans don't eat sugared products as those who run barefoot. Does it mean that it's good to eat sugared products? NO! Just because "everybody" does something doens't mean that it's right. Actually, most of "popular" behavior is most outlandishly self-destructuve. The shoe companies have marketed their itams so boldly and have used propaganda so much that you guys actually believe this nonsense. In every single lab it shows that running barefoot is better. You know why? BECAUSE ITS THE ONLY WAY TO RUN!! So have some self-confidence and believe in yourself and run the rught way-not the way shoe comanies want you to and the way a brainwashed society impleads on you!

  • What theory of mine do you speak? I'm simply citing an example of a guy who went faster with shoes then he usuall does without them who then credited his win to shoes. He did. Not me. I'm just the reporter. You may choose to tell him this theory makes no sense but, for him, running is to make money and support his family and he made a lot more this year than the last two. So I'm guessing he won't agree with you.

  • google…


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