Why are Definitions Needed?
We are not trying to pigeon-hole people with definitions, in fact none of the below definitions of, Runners, barefooters, barefoot runners, etc., are mutually exclusive. You may belong to several, even all of these categories. In some cases you necessarily will fit into more than one category, for example, if you are a “barefoot runner”, that most definitely does not exclude you from the category of “runner”. In fact, being a “barefoot runner” automatically puts you in both categories.
And this isn’t about being elitist, as in “Oh, excuse me unlike this person over here, I am a REAL barefoot runner!”
But, if you are having some issues with running, walking, or going barefoot, or simply want to discuss barefooting, or barefoot running, or running, or walking, with others, it’s very helpful to be clear as to what you are referring to.
These days it’s difficult to know if you’re a barefoot runner or not. When we tell people we are barefoot runners, or that we run barefoot, we are often asked, “What kind of shoes do you wear when you run barefoot?”
More odd, is that some “barefoot runners” actually have an answer, an actual type of shoe they wear to run “barefoot”???
This, of course, to the reasonable among us, seems like an absurdly ridiculous question (and answer). And yet it is often asked with sincerity.
The confusion is caused by marketing tactics used by shoe manufacturers wishing to ride the wave of good publicity about the benefits of barefoot running, especially since the publication of Born to Run.
I don’t blame Chis Mcdougall, the author of Born to Run. He never said you needed to buy shoes to run barefoot, or that running in shoes was the same as running barefoot. The shoe companies were quick to capitatlize on the successful arguments for barefoot running presented in Born to Run.
These unscrupulous marketing people want to deceive us into believing that we will get all the benefits of barefoot running, without the “annoying” feel of your bare sole touching the ground. And sadly, they have convinced millions.
The shoe companies will try to convince us that the ability for the foot to flex and exercise (something which is certainly restricted in modern support running shoes) is the main benefit of barefoot running. So, they are happy to sell us one of the most deceptively absurdly ridiculous misleading marketing terms ever conceived; “Barefoot Shoes“. The odd thing is that many people do not even recognize that this is an impossible, let alone silly, concept. Not only is the term obviously self-contradictory (an oxymoron), the marketing ignores the most important benefit of barefooting, which is awareness of how our bare soles are interacting with the earth beneath our feet, to help us learn how to run more safely. This ability of our feet to teach us to run more gently is our first line of defense against injury. Since the very purpose of shoes is to protect us from this feeling, then it is impossible for any shoe that serves it’s purpose to provide the full benefit of this natural feedback, which we can only get from running barefoot, teaching us with each and every step NOT to run in a way that is abusive to our soles or our body!
So it should come as no surprise to hear that many people using these shoes for running are getting injured. The shoes only provide a small fraction of the feedback as bare soles, which would immediately warn them if they’re putting too much strain on their feet. Plus they’re hit with a double whammy, if they have been depending on supportive shoes for several years, allowing their foot muscles, tendons, even bones to atrophy, and become extremely vulnerable to stress, then your feet are not going to be strong enough to run with bad running technique without the support provided by the type of shoes which allowed your feet to atrophy.
The sad thing is that barefoot running is often blamed for these injuries (mostly stress fractures in the feet, and strained calves and Achilles tendons) which are the direct result of ignoring or masking the messages from our bare soles (either with shoes, or limiting yourself to running barefoot on soft comfortable terrains, or simply ignoring the pain caused by running badly). This immediate pain caused by your own self-abuse is supposed to warned we when we are putting too much stress on our feet, muscles, tendons, ligament, even our bones before we go out and run mile after mile until their feet our feet are literally breaking!
Of course the shoe companies want us to believe that these messages from our soles are simply useless pain, and that, of course, is the “reason” you need “barefoot shoes”!
Do not believe them.
A bare foot is a foot with nothing on it, nothing that is not part of the foot at least. If you have a tattoo on your foot, that could be considered a part of your foot, just as any other form of plastic surgery might be considered to be a part of you – even if not a “natural” part of you.
If you are wearing jewelry or have painted toenails, your foot isn’t technically “bare”. However, those types of “foot coverings” will have little, if any, effect on feedback from the bare sole, or flexibility of the foot, and according to some reports, no abrasions or blisters – though I suspect this isn’t going to be the case for all runners, or for very long runs, all of the time.
To get the true benefits of barefoot running, at the very least the soles must be exposed. However, any covering over the foot can cause abrasion and blistering to skin as well as blackened toenails over long runs. And there isn’t much need for a covering over the top of the foot, other than holding the sole of a shoe onto our foot, or for warmth in cold weather. In which case, wear a shoe! According to the definition below, you can still be a barefooter or barefoot runner, even if you are not always barefoot or running barefoot.
I’m not really very concerned if you call yourself a “barefoot” runner, even though you’re running in “barefoot shoes” most of the time. However, I really do get upset when you get injured, due to an ignorance of how your soles are reacting with the terrain, and then you start broadcasting to the world that “barefoot” running was the reason you were injured.
To go barefoot.
Someone who goes barefoot regularly, or at least occasionally, and has the intention of going barefoot again in the near future (even if not until the end of a long winter).
To go run barefoot. A barefoot run isn’t necessarily about “running” continuously
To run with bare feet.
Someone who runs with bare feet regularly, or at least occassionally, and intends to run barefoot again in the near future (even if that “near” future isn’t until the end of a long winter).
Control Running Shoes
Footwear which attempts to force the runner’s foot to move a certain way.
Cushioned Running Shoes
Footwear that provide cushioning to protect the feet from feeling impact while running or walking
Foot Recovery Device
A supportive perhaps even cushioned shoe which can be used to allow us to walk about after an intense session of barefooting. (Hint: All barefooting sessions could be considered intense when starting out)
Something worn on the foot, that is not a part of the foot.
Something that fits the foot, has a sole that is thin and flat (no arch support, no raised heel, etc.), allows the foot to flex significantly, and can be worn while walking and/or running.
Same as walking, except that both feet are off the ground at some point during each step.
Someone who runs on a regular, or at least occasional basis, and intends to run again in the near future.
To run, not necessarily continuously. (you go to work, but you aren’t necessarily working the entire time you’re there, you at least get a lunch break, and yet you are still at “work”).
Footwear which can be used for running
Support Running Shoes
Footwear which does not allow the foot to flex significantly.
To carry oneself on your own legs and feet from one place to another (this might even include prosthetic legs and feet), while one foot, or the other, or both are in contact with the ground at all times.