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Barefoot in Asia – Regev’s Review

Posted by | Posted in Barefoot Hiking, Barefoot Sandals, Barefoot Shoes, Minimalist Running Shoes | Posted on 06-03-2012

I just realized that I have a strange history with barefoot running, barefoot walking, and minimalist shoes.

First, like most of us, I spent a lot of time barefoot as a kid in the Summer. I went to a camp in the Pocono Mountains (Camp Shohola just in case any readers also went there) and whenever I had the chance, I was barefoot (made easier by the fact that I spent half of my days doing water sports). I was a competitive diver, too, so that kept me out of shoes.

In junior high school and high school, I was a gymnast, so that was even more barefoot time every day.

When I was 18, I went to New York City to be a street performer. I had already been doing this in Washington, DC, doing a magic act in Georgetown, and on K Street, near the White House. When I got to NYC, though, I found it much harder to get a crowd and, even worse, within a few weeks, the other street magicians had stolen all my bits! I asked one of the veteran street acts what I should do and  he said, “Simple, write an act that nobody would dare steal.”

I pondered this for a while, until I landed on the answer. I created an act that had a bunch of crazy gymnastics in it (I did a running front flip over someone’s head, stealing their hat and placing it on my head while in mid-flip), and a finale where I… wait for it… walked on broken glass in my bare feet.

Now let me back up. For the gymnastics part of the act, I wore minimalist shoes. They were some old Adidas (I can’t remember the name), with zero-drop, very little toe spring, not much padding. Just enough between me and the ground so I didn’t kill my feet. This was in 1980-81, BTW.

I loved these shoes. I bought every pair I could find. When I could no longer find them, I asked the local running shoe store what happened and he answered, “Adidas stopped selling them; they were lasting too long.”

I don’t know if his info was accurate but, if it was, it wouldn’t be the first time a company pulled a product that didn’t wear out or go obsolete fast enough.

Luckily, I found a company that sold shoes to prisons (you can find ANYTHING in NYC), and they had the last few pairs of these shoes… I bought them all. And they lasted through some serious abuse.

Okay, back to walking barefoot on glass, though. Let’s just say that it’s part physics, part showmanship, and part some-hard-to-describe-thing that, if I could convince you to jump onto a 3″ high pile of shattered beer bottles, you would instantly get a knowing look in your eye and say, “Ahhh… I get it now.”

In 5 years and thousands of shows, I only got one small cut. But by the end of the day, my feet were FILTHY from being barefoot on the street.

CUT TO: Going to Asia in 1989.

This is where I got hooked on being barefoot. Aside from the fact that you never wear shoes into almost any building (I was in China, Nepal, India and Thailand), there were plenty of opportunities to be barefoot outside as well. There were also plenty of times where you wanted something on your feet, but not much because it was really hot when I was there, and anything more than a sandal was way too much.

When I came back from Asia, I stuck with the habit of removing my shoes whenever I went into someone’s home (we’ve saved a fortune on carpet cleaning by not dragging dirt in from the outside).

Okay, so why this long story?

Simple, I was reminded of it all when Regev Elya did his review of Invisible Shoes, which he took on a 7-month trip through Southeast Asia (I’m SO jealous).

Of course, I think that Invisible Shoes are the best minimalist shoes for a trip like that… but check out what Regev says.

Barefoot Running is Bad For You!

Posted by | Posted in Barefoot Running, Training for Running | Posted on 24-02-2010

Ever since Chris McDoguall’s book, Born to Run, became popular (interestingly, long after it came out), the debate about barefoot running has become heated.

There was no big argument when Zola Budd ran barefoot, or when Abebe Bikila won the marathon without shoes.

But once “regular folk” started kicking off their kicks, it’s become a rhetorical battlefield out there — the converts touting the great benefits of barefoot running, and the critics assuring everyone that taking off your running shoes is akin to playing Russian Roulette.

Then the Harvard study came out, showing that when you run barefoot, you adjust your stride to put less stress on your body. And, right on the heels of it (pun intended), came editorials about how running barefoot is the worst thing you could do… though, most of those editorials came from people who own or work for shoe companies or shoe sellers.

Just yesterday, someone forwarded me an email saying “Well, I’ve seen people who tried running barefoot and they got injured! I’ve seen people during marathons, sitting on the side of the road in their Vibram Five Fingers, crying in pain!” And right after, I got an email from an Invisible Shoes huaraches running sandal owner, raving about how old running injuries they used to have are gone now that they’re out of shoes.

Mark Plaatjes, world champion marathon runner, physical therapist, and co-owner of the Boulder Running Company, has said that he doesn’t think most people have the correct body type for running barefoot.

Road Runner Sports sent out an email saying, “Well, if you run barefoot, you could step on something and really screw yourself up!” (that’s not the actual quote, which I’m too lazy to look up, but the gist of what they warned).

What amazes me about this back and forth nonsense is how enraged the anti-barefoot gang is getting, and how they’ve thrown out not only their logic and critical thinking skills, but how they’ve ignored what every well-known barefoot running coach has advised.

So let’s address some of the issues, as quickly as possible (which isn’t hard, since the arguments are simple):

  1. Barefoot running will give you plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis, ingrown hair, or male-pattern balding (or any other injury). Response: Runners in SHOES get the same injuries! Thoes problems, when they occur are not from “barefoot running”, they’re from OVERUSE.If someone you knew when to the gym for the first time, and did the workout that Arnold Schwarzenegger used in his Mr. Olympia days, they’d end up with all manner of injuries, soreness and overall inability-to-move-for-days-ness. But nobody would scream from the rooftops, “Weight lifting is bad for you!” They would say, to that individual, “Dude, you did too much too soon. Scale WAY back and build up to that slowly.”

    Clearly, the cure for overuse is UNDERuse.  Do less. The only problem is that the only way to know how much you can really handle, is by doing too much… until you’ve done that enough and gotten the hint.

    I will concede though, that barefoot running form may have an overuse bias built into it, and that’s because the motion of absorbing shock is like doing “negatives” in the gym, doing more eccentric contractions of the muscle. With “negatives,” instead of contracting a muscle to move a weight, you try to resist as the weight pulls against you (think about a bench press in reverse — instead of pushing the weight from your  chest, you try to keep a heavy weight from dropping onto your chest). We are much stronger in the eccentric direction, and it doesn’t give the same kind of “burn” you get from the concentric movement… but the next day, you realize you’ve done WAY too much work. This is similar to why walking DOWN a mountain feels fine at the time, but the next day you realize — due to the massive soreness — that it was harder than walking UP the mountain.

    Nonetheless, it’s possible to get smart enough not to over train… just takes some practice.

  2. Some people aren’t built to go barefoot. Response: Not only is there no evidence for this, but what the barefoot running coaches all say is that by running barefoot you develop the skills, strength, and form that allow you to run barefoot.Now, there’s not any real science behind that argument, YET, either (some researchers are working on it)… but, come on, which makes more sense: That someone is physically unable to run barefoot or in minimalist running shoes (the way humans have run for hundreds of thousands of years), but is absolutely fine in shoes… or that, due to lack of use, they may need to build up the strength before they can run barefoot.

    Besides, the only reason they would be okay in shoes and not barefoot, is because they’ve transferred the stress that the muscles and tendons and ligaments would have to deal with  if they were barefooted (and get stronger by doing so) into the bones and joints.

    Again, the message is, Go slowly! (seeing a pattern here?)

  3. You could step on something or, worse, IN something! Response: Yeah, so?  But: a) How bad would it REALLY be?; b) How often is this REALLY a problem, or are you just imagining it happening without knowing the actual numbers?; c) Are these injuries worse than the various problems people have in shoes?; d) If you do step in poo… which is easier to hose off: your feet or a waffle-soled shoe?This argument, of course, cracks me up since I offer a solution on this website — get some huaraches barefoot running shoes and you’ll add a HUGE (but thin) layer of protection with a barefoot feel.

    By the way, I’m a bigger fan of huaraches rather than Vibram Five Fingers, or Nike Free, or the other minimalist running shoes not because I sell huaraches, but because huaraches feel more like barefoot. The VFFs actually have quite a bit of support, the Nike Free have a big thick heel, and anything with an upper that covers your toes… well, it covers your toes.

Finally, what cracks me up about the anti-barefoot gang is the simple denial of the numbers. That is, there are a LOT of people taking off their shoes without a problem. WAY MORE, it seems, than those who have any of the easy-to-solve overuse issues. You don’t end up with a movement like the barefoot running movement without a high percentage of happy converts. This alone should, but doesn’t, temper their argument.

And, again, the answer couldn’t be simpler: Oh, if you’re going to try barefoot running, you may need to go WAY slower than you thought, you’ll have to learn to listen to your body in a way you haven’t, you’ll need time to build up strength to let you handle the same distances you may now be running, and you may want to get something to give your sole a bit of protection. Enjoy.