Should I run barefoot?

No. Not here. Not now. Seattle for all of its beauty is not the ideal running environment for your first foray into barefoot running. I know, you’ve read the book, and you want to maximize your muscle potential and ligament strength. You want your ankle optimized for subtle terrain changes. I get it. It just feels “right.” You were, ‘Born to Run.’ Until you step on a needle, a screw or something squishy. Barefoot running is predicated on two things: favorable terrain and what I call tissue dynamic range or TDR.

While our terrain in Seattle is varied, most runners need the convenience of pavement running for a majority of their run. Pavement heightens the stress on your feet while running. In other words, it doesn’t “give.” That lack of spring results in more direct stress to your feet. Ouch! Softer terrain includes hard pack, trails, grass, softer tracks, sand or anything with less firmness. It doesn’t have to be wet or sloppy, but just less hard than pavement. These options can ease the barefoot stresses, but still pose an injury threat related to puncture wounds through skin that is not ready for it.

What is TDR? It’s how I think of the ability of our tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones) to dissipate stress. Unfortunately, TDR, lessens as we age. It takes longer for our tissue to adapt to a new activity, particularly one with increased tissue stress. Barefoot running, when uncompensated, results in greater local tissue stress at the heel in particular and behind the toes at toe off as well. These pressure points can result in soft tissue, joint or bone injury. Skin damage is also likely. What often is pursued as freedom quickly becomes incarceration as stress fracture, bone contusion, tendinitis or fasciitis sideline your aspirations. Shoes oftentimes help steer you away from these potential difficulties. Many styles are designed to be limited in their profile resulting in less weight and a more natural stride, while still preventing the cumulative stress injury of pavement on your feet. So, before you jump off on your next run, sans shoes, consider the risks of the terrain, your age and your willingness to put up with potential injury.