Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Barefoot Panel Discussion

A friend called this afternoon to give me a heads up about a panel discussion on barefoot running. The panel was comprised of Alan Culpepper -- Two time Olympic distance runner and owner of Solepepper Sports, Bobby McGee-- World renowned expert in running biomechanics for more than three decades, Charlie Merrill-- Physical therapist specializing in the treatment of running injuries, Melody Fairchild-- Professional runner and coach, and passionate barefoot advocate, Danny Abshire-- Co-founder of Newton Running; footwear developer/shoe designer, Aaron Anderson-- Pedorthist with more than 14 years of experience in orthotic design and fitting, and Barry Siff:Moderator; former pro endurance athlete and current member of the Timex Multisport Team. With the running shoe designer, shoe store owner, and two orthotics people I presumed rather quickly that there wouldn't be much of a debate, that most of these people would argue against barefoot running. It turns out I was wrong. Most of them seemed to support it.

The consensus seemed to be that your footwear predisposes you to run how you run and that mMost people should be able to accustom their lower bodies to running barefoot unless there is some significant pathology. It is something that needs to be moved into slowly. The person who arranged the panel discussion (turns out it was my son's high school cross country coach) has spent two years in transition; evidently he spent several months just wearing the Vibram Five Fingers at his work. They also said that runners tend to be gung-ho about everything running and go at it too vigorously and end up injured. It takes a long time for the tissue to become conditioned. Alan Culpepper said that if he's just doing a 6 minute per mile 20 mile training run (like the rest of us) he is a heal striker, but when he starts running fast (like doing a sub 4 mile) he goes more medial or forefoot. They also said that running barefoot can train you to run faster when in footwear even though you don't run faster barefoot, effectively overriding the type of shoe you are in. I've had this experience, but it's not fun. They seemed to think that this is difficult to sustain though for a long fast run; the lower leg muscles can only do so much for so long.

Most seemed to think that minimalist footwear is really where "barefoot" runners are headed because of issues such as pavement temperatures, debris, thorns, etc. Nobody there seemed to be doing their miles exclusively barefoot; most seemed to use it in their training, or be part way through a transition.

I am interested in the Newton shoes for road running and road races and am going to go take a look at them since they're right here in Boulder. I've included a link here. The owner of this footwear company seemed to be the strongest proponent of "barefoot" running, probably because from what I've seen he's the only one who has a traditionally designed running shoe that allows one to run as if unshod. Alan Culpepper said that racing flats serve the purpose as well, but after looking into it I found there are no wide toe box racing flats. The footwear is coming...ironic.


  1. Interesting panel. Can I post your post on my Facebook?

  2. Newtons are really expensive. I hope they're really worth it!

  3. I would not waste your money on Newton's. I think they are a sham. I do not know how wide your foot is but the inov-8 flite 220/230, soon to be 195 (grams per shoe that is) are extremely low profile and can be rolled up into a ball. I would also not rule out VFFs and in particular the new Bikila. I have run several marathons in VFFs including having just run the Boston 2 Big Sur (Boston marathon followed six days later by the Big Sur marathon) in VFFs.

    Good luck.

  4. Thanks for the info. I like a 2E. I run in VFF too but I've been experiencing some knee pain which I've never had before. I am keeping the VFF runs short and infrequent. I tried a Mizuno Alchemy the other day and thought it might be close to what I want when I run shod.

  5. Any specific details regarding the product (Newton running shoes) which support that it isn't what it is touted as would be helpful.