Didn't we just do this a few years ago? It seems like the running and triathlon communities go through cyclical phases. Not too long ago, barefoot running was the new craze. The Newton and Nike Free was inspired. Several running injuries later, everyone was back in orthotics. I had several friends that forced their biomechanically inefficient foot into barefoot running only to end up with stress fractures. Now, a few short years later, barefoot running is suddenly all the rave. Am I the only one that remembers that we just did this?
After reading Christopher McDougal's Born to Run , a fascinating book about Mexico's mystic ultrarunning tribe, the Tarahumara, one might think running shoes are the root to all evils. There is quite a bit about the benefits of barefoot running and a lot of slams against running shoes. The argument is that our ancestors ran barefoot and no one suffered running injuries. The author even goes as far to say that before cushioned running shoes and orthotics, no one got injured, suggesting that running shoes cause injuries. There is absolutely no evidence to support this, and I'm not sure how one would go about designing a controlled experiment to test this hypothesis.
We've all heard that running on the fore or mid-foot is more biomechanically efficient and causes less stress on the body than landing on the heel. In a recent study published in Nature, reveals that habitually barefoot runners tend to land on the forefoot while habitually shod runners land on the heel. Force a barefoot runner to wear shoes, and, whallah, they become heel strikers. This study has sent shockwaves through the running community and made it into the New York Times and NPR . I'm not sure you can extrapolate this data to say those who are used to wearing shoes would get less injuries if they went barefoot, and there's absolutely no way to evaluate a cause-and-effect of running shoes and said injuries.
Most running articles advocating barefoot running warns against jumping into it full throttle. Try easing into it, say once a week for a few miles on sand. Heck, I already do that, just for fun. Be aware that it's hard on your arches and calves. Plantar fasciitis, anyone? Wait. Isn't that a running injury?
Links to Barefoot Running (Pros & Cons):
Americans Long Way from Running Barefoot
Should You Be Running Barefoot?
The Barefoot Running Debate
Barefoot Running: An Opposing View