The Art of Running Barefoot

The Art of Running Barefoot

This is a little tribute to my new Terra Plana Vivobarefoot running shoes and the yoga of knowing your body.

Gymnastics, contemporary dance, capoeira and circus school are some of my favourite sports.  They have their fair share of running and jumping, yet not one of them calls for a pair of shoes for support and protection.

For the first time in years I donned running shoes (the normal sort, not my Terra Plana beauties) to go cross-country, traversing rocky, uneven ground.  My ankle wobbled and for a split-second I thought I was on the verge of an injury.  But I found my balance and continued on my way.

This happened many more times before I realised that my body was strong enough to cope with a bit of instability. Years of training without shoes had developed the little muscles that keep everything in line.  It had also encouraged the awareness to know when things aren’t quite right and the ability to unconsciously self-correct.

I remember a yoga teacher of mine telling her class that she didn’t want to have a lot of yoga dependents on her hands.   She wanted her students to be able to practice yoga without relying on her for corrections.  She wanted us to be in tune with our own bodies.

Traditional running shoes are generally sold to us with the promise of protection but I’m coming to feel that they also make us dependent on them. When our shoes provide cushioning, there’s less impetus to run in a way that minimises jarring.  If the leather on our feet stops us rolling knees and ankles, we disconnect from the muscles that are designed to do that for us.

I love my Terra Plana shoes because they are made ecologically and with the intention of reconnecting us with our feet.  Feet are wonderful and they deserve to be loved, so indulge them by taking a walk through sand, or even play barefoot on the carpet.  Do a ballet class and amaze your feet by how much they can be stretched.  Wiggle your toes under the desk at work and notice all the other bits of your body that wake up too.

Let your feet know you love them.

PS If you are used to normal trainers, please don’t go for a sprint in barefeet or barefoot-equivalent shoes immediately.  You’ll need to work up slowly.  You might also like to read about Roger Bannister who broke the four-minute mile in 1954 wearing thin slippers.  More on that and some tips for running barefoot here.

  • Lucy
    Posted at 01:30h, 20 December Reply

    I’ve just walked a long way along a couple of trails in Western Australia (1100km), beginning in traditional ankle boots, then they broke, so I transitioned (painfully!!) to Merrell hiking shoes, which now feel great… Now reading this, I dream of walking far and wide in shoes (I do think I still need shoes) that connect me to my feet, and with a very tiny pack. Yum!

  • Alison Terry
    Posted at 13:40h, 30 December Reply

    Thanks for sharing these ideas, and for your wonderful and inspiring site, Rachael.

    A few months ago, I started getting back into running. I’m lucky enough to have a bridle path close by that leads up onto miles and miles of undulating fields, so it’s the perfect training environment, with just the odd badger or hedgehog for occasional company. The best running shoes I’ve found for this are uncushioned trail shoes, but I often feel that by running in shoes I’m missing out on some of the benefits of tickling the Earth with my feet. Just a hunch, but from martial arts training I’m aware that we can draw energy up from the ground, as well as dispersing it through our feet, and I’ve often wondered whether a rubber sole might interfere with this continuous process of energy exchange. I’m going to have a go at adapting gradually to barefoot running on the grass… it seems to work OK for all the other creatures I meet up there!

  • rachaelwest
    Posted at 15:46h, 30 December Reply

    Lucy and Alison, thank you both so much for sharing.

    Lucy – what an adventure you must have had. And Alison, as I read your comment my feet are tingling with anticipation at soaking up the energy from Western Australian soil.

    For the new year I’ll be visiting Margaret River, a favourite wine region with its big, old eucalypts and a coastline that seduces foreign surfers to renounce their citizenship and become Australian. The land holds so many memories of childhood camping trips.

    I’m back to re-acquaint myself with my country. Thank you both for the reminder that my connection with the land is such a big part of that process, and how much deeper that connection is when I throw away my shoes and run barefoot.

  • Alison Terry
    Posted at 14:19h, 05 January Reply

    I did it! I ran about 3 miles barefoot on the downs a couple of days ago. At first the cold was quite a shock to my feet, but it soon felt very natural. And I honestly don’t think this was just my imagination, but I seemed to have more energy than usual… felt as though I was springing along gracefully rather than just lurching forward! Definitely easier running uphill, with more grip. The ads for trail shoes go on about how they shed mud easily, but you know what, nothing beats the soles of your feet for this! And running downhill was more controlled. By the time I got back to my shoes and put them on again, it felt strange to have my feet so confined and they did get very hot very quickly, having got used to generating their own warmth!

    So, a successful first experiment. I look forward to doing it again soon. Thank you for the nudge in this direction!

    I know Margaret River well. How lovely. Enjoy! You will be able to go wild swimming too… lucky lucky girl!

  • rachaelwest
    Posted at 12:04h, 07 January Reply

    Wow! What a great story, Alison! I have no excuse here in the midst of summer to not do more barefoot-ing. I’m now pondering the Australian comparison of self-regulating temperature – staying cool on hot asphalt….!

What do you think?

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