People might think they’re crazy, but barefoot runners, even those who pursue punishing marathons sans shoes, say that freeing your feet from the confines of a sneak is just as God and nature intended.
“It’s kind of like trying to explain a sunset to a blind person,” said Rick Roeber, the Midwest representative for TheRunningBarefoot. com, a website dedicated to spreading the gospel of going shoe-free.
He compares walking and running in shoes to typing with gloves on. It’s just not quite right.
Ken Bob Saxton started TheRunningBarefoot.com in 1997. Saxton, who is writing a book about barefoot running for spring release, has been running barefoot his whole life, off and on. He started the Web site in response to the many questions from other runners when he showed up at races without shoes.
“It’s easier to direct them to the Web site instead of answering the same questions 1,000 times,” said Saxton, a computer technician who lives in Southern California.
Elizabeth McCullough of Lexington, Ky., who started running barefoot earlier this year, went to Saxton’s Web site for direction and soon embraced the idea.
Although it seems counter-intuitive, Roeber and McCullough were serious marathoners who ditched their shoes after physical problems resulted from running.
McCullough broke her pelvis while running a marathon.
“The doctor had told me, ‘When you are breaking bones when you are running, you shouldn’t be running,”’ she said.
But the former Marine wasn’t deterred. After consulting with the Web site created by Saxton — known in running circles as Barefoot Ken Bob — and after she had healed sufficiently from her injury, she slowly took to the road. She said there was a transition period before she felt totally comfortable running without shoes.
Roeber doesn’t come right out and say people who opt for some minimal foot coverage are wussies, but he’s fanatically committed to running barefoot.
He has run without shoes since April 2004, when, after having run 18 marathons, he was in such pain he thought he might have to give up running.
Running barefoot presents some challenges because he lives in Missouri. It gets cold and it snows there.
He wears shoes to work at a communication company, only because he has to, and even then he wears loose-weave huarache sandals. “I like to keep them as free as possible,” he said of his feet.
Barefoot running has been around a long time, said Dr. W. Ben Kibler, orthopedic surgeon at Lexington Clinic. An Olympic marathoner, Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia, won the gold without shoes in 1960. Barefoot South African runner Zola Budd famously knocked American Mary Decker out of medal contention in 1984.
Kibler said the less material you put between the sole of the foot and the ground, the more rapid the activation of the muscles. From that point, he said, the human foot is a little bit more effective as a shock absorber and offers a little bit more propulsion than an elaborately constructed shoe.