What’s the best barefoot running surface?

Posted by | Posted in Barefoot Running | Posted on 04-12-2009

When I tell people that I run barefoot (or when they see me out running without any shoes), the first response I get is, “Oh, so you run on the grass?”

When I suggest to people that they should try running barefoot, the first thing they say is, “With my feet/knees/ankles/eyelashes, I’d need to run on the grass.”

So barefoot = grass is the common wisdom.

But wisdom is rarely common, and what’s common is rarely wise.

What I’ve found is that the best surface for barefoot running is NOT grass or sand or anything soft, but the smoothest and hardest surface you can find.

For me, here in Boulder, Colorado, we have miles and miles of bike path.

In New York City, the sidewalks are perfect!

So, what makes a hard, smooth surface the best?


Grass and sand and soft surfaces are too forgiving of bad form.

Hard smooth surfaces tell you, with every step, whether you’re using the right form.

If it hurts, you’re not.

If you end up with blisters, you didn’t.

Pay close attention and each step is giving you information about how to run lighter, easier, faster, longer.

I’ll never forget going out on the University sidewalks with the Boulder Barefoot Running Club… I had the makings of a blister on the ball of each foot. But I decided to see if I could run in such a way that I didn’t hurt my feet any more.

At first, each step sent a shooting pain up my leg. Then I made some adjustments and I just felt the friction on the ball of my foot.

By the end of the first mile, I had made some other adjustments — using each step as an experiment — and the next thing I knew I was picking up the pace while putting out less energy than ever. I was running faster and easier than I’d ever run without shoes… and it was painless.

I’d love to hear what surfaces you run on, and which ones you like best and why.

BTW, the reason I like my huaraches is that they provide NO padding that reduces the information I get, just protection from the kind of information that leaves cuts and scrapes ;-)