Our soles have a lot of nerve endings for a very good reason; ALL of the stresses and strains put on our bodies while running (or walking, or standing) go through the soles of our feet. Therefore, the soles of our feet are the only sensible place to measure these forces in a way that helps us figure out how to change the way we run, to reduce and/or eliminate unnecessary stress and strains on our whole body.
Some folks will complain that their soles are “too sensitive” to run barefoot. And that’s an understandable feeling, considering your soles have probably been protected from any form of stimulation for most of your life.
But sensitivity is extremely important to our survival, it is what helps prevent us from doing stupid stuff, like holding our hand in the fire too long, staring at the sun until we are blind, sliding our bare feet across the ground causing abrasions, or slamming into the ground until our knees are damaged. There’s nothing wrong with being sensitive. Most of the early 21st century converts to barefoot running did so because they were too sensitive to tolerate the damage that was happening to their bodies while they ran in shoes!
It is our sensitive soles that keeps us from going and and “just doing it” without regard or awareness that we might be injuring ourselves over the long-term. It is our sensitive soles that teach us to run gently, efficiently, and gracefully before we start running long, far, or fast.
Pain isn’t a sign that we’re too sensitive. It is a sign to be sensible! It is a message from the nerves in our body that something needs to be changed, either in the way we’re moving, or eating, or whatever. Is it a sign that we weren’t born to be barefoot? I doubt that. Now if your feet grew shoes in response to going barefoot, that I would take as a sign that you weren’t made for barefooting. But, none of our ancestors in all of recorded history, have ever responded that way to barefooting. No one spontaneously grew shoes. So how can footwear be natural? it isn’t.
Footwear can be a tool, for when we want to do something foolish. For those times when we want to go a bit further than our barefoot might be able to carry us comfortably. We get in trouble, however, when we start believing that we need footwear all the time, for more normal, everyday activities, like walking a couple miles, or running a few miles. Then we become dependent on footwear, it’s like needing that cup of coffee, every day, several times a day, just to feel “normal”.
Minimalist footwear is great for extremes, but most people don’t need to run extreme distances, on extreme terrains, extremely often. For most people, a few miles, a few times a week would help them get and stay fit. And I haven’t had any problems running over short distances (under 15 miles or so) barefoot on some of the roughest gravel around … the only problem in my mind, is I had to “work” at refining my technique, so that it was more gentle, efficient, and graceful.
I have had a tough time of running in shoes, especially over 15 miles on any terrain, without my feet bleeding from the abusive rubbing of the shoes or socks against the thin skin on the top of my feet.
I’m not out to convert the majority of runners to barefoot running, because they’re probably already running with pretty good technique, otherwise they wouldn’t be running (though they do seem to be injured an inordinate amount of the time), and they’re already in pretty good shape (except when they’re injured for long periods).
It’s the rest of our society, people who believe that running hurts, is hard work, or just plain boring, that I think will benefit most from barefoot running.