We should chuck away those shoes and go barefoot running

I know people like shoes. In the town where I live, Lewes in Sussex, England, we have two shops that cause pedestrian traffic jams outside their windows. One is a homemade chocolate shop and the other is a particularly sophisticated shoe shop. This is mostly a female thing from what I can see and by the expression on some of the women’s faces as they gaze longingly into that shoe shop, I would guess that is veers on the side of pornography. Hey, well why not!

I am not knocking shoes – far from it. I have been as guilty as anyone over the years in buying a pair that I shouldn’t have afforded and I am still reluctant to throw some of them away. My cowboy boots went but I have hung on to those thirty-year old Chicago Dodgers 88’s All-Stars Converses, or Chucks as they are called and the outrageously expensive green moccasins which came all the way from Paris. Let me admit to a pair of stern, supremely comfortable black city shoes with steel heel caps which I bought in a shopping frenzy in Berlin too. So I am not immune from the shoe thing, OK.

I have also, over a number of years now, invested extremely large amounts of money getting correctly shod for running. An activity I have not been able to pursue of late but which I am longing to take up again. I have had all different flavours of Nike, naturally, but I went on to the joys of that superior brand Asics and I still own a pair which are practically scuffing the floor of my cupboard trying to get out on the road again.

So it is interesting to read today about what really is the best form of footwear. Nothing.

Nature magazine [ http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7280/ ] has just published the results of Daniel Liebermann, an American evolutionary biologist’s research into running feet and, as he is a runner himself we should take his findings seriously.

He says that running barefoot is better than running in even the most scientifically advanced running shoes….he doesn’t say it is a lot cheaper but that is true too.

He says that the problem with shoes is that they have encouraged us to move away from out natural gait and to land heavily and fully on our heels with each stride. Running barefoot, the natural way, means that you land on the sides or the balls of your feet letting your heels down gradually.

This is significant because when you land on your heel the body assumes you have come to a full stop and your body mass impacts cruelly on your heel bones with the force of say two or three times your body weight. Ouch.

Running shoes attempt to cushion the blow but all they really do is to disguise the damage. The evolutionary interests of biologist Daniel Liebermann has shown him that the human foot has had a tough old time getting to the fragrant things of, er, beauty that they are today. First we had to learn to stand on our back legs, then we had to walk on them with our front legs waving in the air or carrying the shopping and then we started to hunt on those open grasslands and we learnt how to run. In those days, he believes, there was never a shoe in sight. I wonder if they had chocolates.

Since I have worked from home I have gradually descended the sartorial evolutionary ladder. Why wear a suit? Why wear a shirt? Who needs shoes? Nowadays wearing a pair of shoes feels like a special occasion….and a suit makes me think I am off to a fancy dress party.

I hardly ever wear shoes round the house and I have increasingly gone in for barefoot gardening too. Feet are, let’s admit it, very comfortable. Maybe I will actually try a bit of barefoot running when my health finally returns. We just need to be careful of the surface we run on but then that is true anyway.

Meanwhile I’ll just put my feet up and have a nice mug of coffee.


  1. If you are interested in the debate about barefoot running, walk over to podiatry-arena.com…

    the foremost biomechanics specialists in the world are there, even me!

    i do have a pair of nike free, the equivalent of barefoot running, and although i don't run (thanks to mr newton's f=m/a) they are great to walk in

  2. Thanks Chris, I shall take a look. I noticed your thoughts on the dangers of where you run in barefeet but I assume you approve of us not wearing shoes in every day life unless we have to.

  3. The vast majority of the population (who have no pain when walking) would benefit from barefoot walking/running. it would certainly prevent a lot of corns and bad smells.
    The feet have intrinsic and exttrinsic muscles that are required to work (when walking) and confining them inside unsuitable shoes prevents them working. You wouldn't try bicep curls with your arms strapped in leather (unless that's your idea of a fun weekend).

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