A comment I hear regularly from shoe-wearing runners and doctors who are cautious of going barefoot is this: “Feet may be made for going bare on natural terrain but not on modern surfaces.” I have to tell you, this is just another misconception to add to the long list of misconceptions about the human foot and footwear. Let me give three reasons why I think this is so.
|Rickshaw runners enjoy a modern surface|
First: I don’t think much of the earth is covered with the soft, manicured grasslands that most people must envision when they say “natural terrain.” It seems to me that the ground is generally hard and rocky in most undeveloped places where people live. Plus, I don’t think our ancestors really spent much time walking or running through “natural terrain.” Cities and villages are nearly as old as humanity itself and those villages are connected by roads (or at least well-worn paths) which – again – are hard and rocky. There are plenty of examples of primitive peoples living today much as their ancestors did for thousands of years. In parts of Asia and Africa, for example, rickshaws are still pulled by barefoot workers on cobblestone roads, a tradition that goes back for millennia.
Second: My friend Daniel Lieberman at Harvard (the other barefoot professor) has demonstrated in his research that impact forces on the body are virtually zero when running barefoot, even on the hardest man-made surfaces like steel. Thus, the body’s shock-absorption mechanisms are perfectly capable of handling the hardest of terrains. By the way, impact forces are not zero when running on hard surfaces in shoes.
Third: In my personal experience I find pavement and concrete the most enjoyable surfaces to walk and run on. I began running barefoot in 2006 because I was sustaining twisted ankles from trail running in shoes. I’ve not injured my ankles once since I switched to barefoot, but I find myself doing more road running these days. Why? Because it just feels better and it takes less concentration than navigating rocks and roots on a trail (yes, I am lazy).
Yesterday I walked through a wild field that was littered with thorns and was almost undoable even for my tough soles. Wow, it never felt so good when I reached the edge of that field and stepped onto pavement! Walking through “natural terrain” can be extremely unpleasant and I consider it a privilege to live in a time when smooth, paved roads and sidewalks are available.
Don’t be afraid of pavement. Take off your shoes and go.