Can Runners Really Be Barefoot & Fancy Free?

With the release of Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run” in 2009, the debate over the benefits and drawbacks of barefoot running has been ignited in the running and podiatric communities. The book centers on a tribe of “super runners”, the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico and their ability to run massive amounts of miles while barefoot. The amazing speed and endurance of the Tarahumara acts as a testament to the success of barefoot running and lures several everyday runners in the book to also attempt the “barefoot” running style by wearing only thin soled coverings on their feet.

The temptation to try going barefoot is definitely there for runners looking to improve their performances; but there are some concerns to think about before tossing the old runner sneakers in the trash and hitting your toes to the pavement. In an article in “Runner’s World Magazine”, the famous runner Amby Burfoot interviews sports podiatrist-biomechanist and long-time runner Kevin Kirby, D.P.M. and barefoot running advocate “Barefoot Ken Bob” Saxton on the pros and cons of barefoot running (Runner’s World Article – “The Barefoot Running Debate”). “Barefoot Ken” agrees with the ideas supported by the Tarahumara runners in “Born to Run” in that he believes that barefoot running feels more natural, naturally strengthens foot and leg muscles and thus prevents injury and improves running speed. Dr. Kirby agrees that occasional “barefoot” running with some type of protective shoes or on a safe surface could be beneficial to some people for strengthening leg and foot muscles and offering a change up while training.

However, both Dr. Kirby, D.P.M. and “Barefoot Ken” agree that runners need to proceed with caution when trying out this trend. In today’s world running completely barefoot is often unsafe due to the surfaces most runners travel on. No one wants to take a barefoot jog and accidentally step on a sharp pebble or rusty nail on the sidewalk! Some type of protective covering must be worn over the feet. Several options include the “Vibram FiveFingers” (which are also mentioned in “Born to Run”), or the “Nike Free”. Both of these shoes have minimal cushioning and attempt to allow the foot to act as though barefoot while still being somewhat protected from the elements. Runners should also make their transition to barefoot running a gradual or incomplete one. As previously mentioned, Dr. Kirby discussed his support for occasional barefoot running, but making a drastic transition to running barefoot could be dangerous and lead to injury. It is also important to consider that even doing a small amount of barefoot running can be harmful to some runners, as barefoot running may not be for everyone.

Currently, the American Podiatric Medical Association feels that more research is necessary to determine both the short term and long term effects of barefoot running (APMA Position Statement on Barefoot Running). So for now happy running, whether you run with or without shoes, but tread carefully!!

Please visit for more information or call 614-885 FEET (3338) to schedule an appointment with a podiatrist in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus Podiatry & Surgery is located on the North side of Columbus, Ohio near Worthington.

By Dr. Animesh (Andy) Bhatia