October 4, 2011

Shod, Barefoot : A Runner’s Manifesto

I am growing increasingly annoyed with the current so-called "debate" between the proponents of barefoot running and the advocates of high-tech shoes, supports and orthotics.

Just this morning, coming in to work after my running commute, a co-worker who saw me in my bare feet asked “So, is THIS the new fad everyone’s talking about?”. I had to strongly resist the urge to answer something along the lines of “The fuck would YOU know”, being well-aware that the dude was only trying to strike a conversation.

But the fact remains: going barefoot is a high-profile statement.

Aside from the unexplainably strong reactions from some people seeing others in their bare feet (what’s the difference between that and flip-flops, anyway?), I don’t think barefooting is so extreme that it has to become some sort of religion, a strictly exclusive choice that makes everything and everyone else in disagreement an enemy.

Taking off your shoes and discovering the world without soles under your feet is a great feeling and a liberating experience for sure. But it’s not something you do against shod people, who in return certainly don’t have to antagonize you for it either.

I don’t know what’s up with some people on either side of the topic, but I’m not liking the “If you’re not one of us, you’re one of them” mentality that has seemed to spring over the last couple months.

In an attempt to set my record straight and in the greater interest of free running, I feel it’s time for me to take a stand.

I’m not a barefooter. I’m a runner.

I don’t need to belong to any other community than the one of those who run. I can’t care less if you run in shoes, in Vibram FiveFingers or on your naked feet. All I care is that you go out often and enjoy being your own means of locomotion, connecting with the environment and letting go of pretty much everything else in life than the sound of your heartbeat.

As a further means to stay away from labels, I even started calling my own technique “Holistic running”. As of today, I’m the only person in this movement.

We don’t have to argue

People, seriously. Some of us run barefoot and are amazing at it, and some of us run in thick, expensive running shoes and are amazing at it. That’s great! There doesn’t need to be only one way. Why can’t we look at barefooting as just another take on the great activity of running? Let’s celebrate what unites us, not pick on our differences.

I steer clear from dogma.

Whether it’s about worshipping a God and rejecting anyone else who thinks otherwise, wearing a single style of clothing and hanging out with only similarly-dressed people or eating strictly one diet without ever tolerating the sight of other food, I try to distance myself as much as I can from dogma. Barefooting, or shod running for that matter, aren’t exceptions to this rule of mine.

I run barefoot.

Each time I go for a run in my bare feet, I’m taking a course in proper running form given by my own body. I connect strongly with the ground and the environment and I’m reminded that the way to run light, long and free is to hit the ground with the least possible impact while standing straight and relaxed.

I run in shoes.
I enjoy the rock plating under my trail runners when I bomb down a steep hill topped with sharp, unforgiving rocks. I’m thankful to be able to head out when I put on my Gore-Tex runners in the winter and don’t suffer from frostbite. I love to commute to work in minimalist footwear that makes me feel like a fast urban beast. And I have to say I love putting on my “marshmallow shoes” the day after a tough, long run, when my feet are still sore.

Everything is NOT always better without shoes.

I’m not Barefoot Ken Bob. There are things this amazing man does that I can’t do. When I do renovation work, I wear steel toe boots. If this statement holds true for the safety of my feet, so does it in less-dangerous settings like technical trail running or urban commutes over unpredictable sidewalk hazards.

I also happen to live in Montreal, Canada, where winter isn’t only a colder version of fall. It gets extremely frigid up here and I don’t think anyone else than Wim Hof would make it to the corner of the street in their bare feet in February. For us Canadians, barefooting is sadly a seasonal activity that has its limitations.

With that said, I don’t think motion control and orthotics are the answer

How could things that restrain you physically make you stronger, healthier? That’s not how our bodies work. If you over-support a part of your body and suppress its movement or render its actions useless, it will weaken and fail you even more. I have become convinced that the only way to run healthy is to train properly and gradually, by stimulating our bodies and giving them time to recover, while making sure we have a proper, natural, well-adapted form.

It’s about your feet.

The whole barefoot / shod issue is not about one thing being perfect and the other one being evil. It’s about your feet, your body and your health. What the barefoot movement has brought is a better understanding of the workings of the running body; let’s all benefit from it, whether we wear shoes or not. I think at this point, we can all agree that a light, forefoot strike with your feet under your hips will benefit your running form and help you keep injury at bay. The rest isn’t that important.

I am not telling you what to do.

I took off my shoes about two years ago and started experimenting with barefoot running. I benefited from that in numerous ways, starting with the end of my injury cycle. I also became much faster, gained great endurance and overall health. But all this doesn’t mean I pretend to know anything or think everyone should do it. If you want to give it a try, go ahead. If you don’t, that’s fine, too. Really. If you are enjoying some good, injury-free running, by all means, keep doing what you do!

So what, now?

Well, I guess all I’m saying is the whole barefoot / shod issue needs to go. It’s not productive and takes away from what’s really important. It doesn’t matter what we put or don’t put on our feet, all that matters is that we thrive to enjoy free, happy running.

We’re all runners. Let’s focus on the really interesting things, like proper form, various nutrition strategies, interesting outings, running techniques, stretching, awesome stories and so much more!


  1. Amen, brother! Hooray for a little bit of common sense and understanding... Let's just love the fact that more people are getting outside to play!

  2. Great stuff. Running is running hey?! It's always amazing when some people see or know you run barefoot, they get strangely offended like you are against them or shoes. "No dude, I just like running barefoot and after lots of research have found it to be very beneficial, especially in reducing injury. Wear shoes if that works for you, barefooting doesn't work for everyone, everywhere, all the time. But it works for me if that's OK?"

  3. Absolutely!
    Here's to hoping that the offended looks and bewildered comments will fade away as more people understand that this is just one more way of enjoying happy feet and running free :)

  4. Well said! When I run, shod (minimal) or barefoot, I leave behind 'the debate' and my ego. It's all about the run for me.

    Thanks for the heartfelt, common sense post. :¬)

  5. Bien dit, ami. We should all leave the egos behind, running or n'import pas. No dogma. I discovered mininalist running at age 66, after 44 years of injuries. You think I don't get stares on the trails?

  6. You might be interested in my recent book, Run Like an Indian, from Amazon. This is available only as a Kindle eBook. An objective review would be appreciated.

  7. Indeed, I am!
    Now I only need to find if there's a Kindle reader for laptops, because I own much more running gear than computer gizmos ;)

  8. Well, my agreement is with Amazon exclusively right now, due in part to the current legal squabble with the DOJ-Apple lawsuit. You would think at 3.99, somebody would have read it & commented by now, but not so far. Like a lot of eBooks, it's not a long tome, only @30 pages, not likely worth buying a Kindle just to read it.