Buying the proper shoes is like an art form for some runners. There are many considerations: arch of the foot, the distance run each week. Brand loyalty, cross-training capacity.
Or, you could just forget shoes altogether.
But those who practice barefoot running say there’s nothing better.
“For me, it’s about connecting to nature. I was into being barefoot way before I knew the concept of barefoot running,” says Glen Colello, a cross-country coach and co-owner of Catch a Healthy Habit Café in Fairfield.
Colello didn’t just decide to hit the pavement sans-shoes one day. He did his homework, which is ultra-important according to barefoot running advocates. There’s a form to barefoot running, Colello says, and those anxious to try it out need to start out very slowly, and educate themselves before they begin. How?
Colello’s first exposure came in the form of a book, namely Christopher McDougall’s Born To Run, which explores the running habits of the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico. He also got in touch with Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee, authors of Barefoot Running: How to Run Light and Free by Getting in Touch with the Earth, and also the people behind the popular RunBare website (runbare.com).
Next came the actual running barefoot part. He’s never looked back. Colello, who had back surgery in college, said that now, at 40, he’s running pain-free for the first time in years. He has introduced the practice to the students he coaches at Green Farms Academy, as well as started a barefoot running group on meetup.com.
He says that beyond gaining better form and incurring less injury, the practice allows you “to have your eyes open and your ears open, trying to take everything in.” The trend is, without a doubt, growing. But that doesn’t mean everybody’s a fan. Many shake their head at the concept of running-minus-shoes, and some podiatrists and other doctors have spoken out against the practice on the internet, radio and elsewhere.
Take Barefoot Running is Bad (runningbarefootisbad.com). The site — as the title bluntly explains — is a testament to the negatives supposedly associated with the sport, including serious injuries.
Still, the general public is interested.
SoundRunner, a retailer with locations in Branford, Old Saybrook and Madison, carries the Vibram brand of running shoe (if you want to call it a “shoe”) popular with some barefoot runners. The thin, snugly fitting Vibrams are “five-fingered,” with spots for each toe. Rubber soles do protect the foot somewhat, but are nothing like the thick, shock-absorbent sole you’d find on a pair of Nikes.
“Some people feel it helps their form,” says Melanie Borsari, manager at the Branford store. She says the store sees a decent amount of interest in the brand and that employees do their best to fully inform customers on the various options, because even within the seemingly specialized hobby, there are variations.
The Vibram Bikila, for instance, is geared mostly towards straight running. The TrekSport, however, is built for slightly better traction when doing trail running or rock climbing. The knowledgeable staff at SoundRunner has the details down, and are happy to talk about barefoot running with customers, most importantly encouraging them to start out slowly so that the runner’s body has time to adjust to the change.
She says she gets how the practice might help ward off injuries, and believes it might be because in barefoot running, the runner better focuses on his or her form compared to when wearing a normal running shoe.
Borsari, however, says barefoot running isn’t for her.
“To each his own,” she says. But it seems that, at least for now, barefoot running has no shortage of once-shoed converts. “We’ve had a lot of people coming in to try them on,” she says of the Vibram brand. “There’s a lot of curiosity.”