Barefoot Running: What Older Runners Think?

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Barefoot running is a trend among runners that has become more popular in recent years. There are several studies, and opinions for and against barefoot running, especially after a new research came out advocating that older runners who switch to barefoot running may not adapt as well as younger runners. We asked several seasoned runners what they think about and their experience with barefoot running.

Chris Pedersen, Sacramento, California: I switched to barefoot running with racing flat type shoes over a year ago and haven’t looked back. It’s been much more comfortable for me. No pain issues and easier to concentrate on form (watch pronation, keep arms moving forward/back not side-to-side, etc). FYI: I’m over 60, have degenerative disc disease, see my Physical Therapist every month and run off pavement most of the time.

e-Ann NC: Good grief – don’t these barefoot runners ever step on a rock, or a pebble or stick, or a nail, or a piece of anything sharp or sticky or just plain disgusting (think dogs)? Sure on the beach – or your own front yard – but on hot asphalt or concrete? I want to see everyone barefoot running down the sidewalks, or even paved paths in mid to large cities. Who wrote this article a podiatrist?

HC Atlanta: I’ve read several posts from people who suffered some type of foot pain in running shoes that vanished when walking barefoot around their home. Subsequently they decided to run barefoot. This happened to me. Mine was plantars and achilles and heel shooting pains. I went through all the running styles, minimalist shoes, even walking on gravel for what I thought was plantars. You know what the problem was? My foot had spread and was being scrunched up in a regular width shoe. Switching to a wide shoe and problem was solved!

Philippe Orlando Washington, DC:  One element many people miss is that running barefoot or in minimalist shoes, no heels, foot very flat, and striking the ground with the ball of the foot will place a much harder load on the calves and by extension on the Achilles tendon. “Older” Achilles tendons, that is ones above 40 years old, might not adapt ever to the switch.

Dr. Kat Lieu, NYC 6: Run barefoot on natural surfaces (sandy beaches, grasslands, hillsides, etc…) and not on man-made concrete surfaces. Our feet weren’t built by evolution to withstand the ground reaction forces from man-made surfaces with each foot strike.

Minimalist shoes, maximalist shoes, schmoo schmoo– As a doctor of physical therapy, I strongly believe that the key is to run on natural surfaces like our ancestors.

Dave Holzman Lexington MA: I started barefoot running at 57. Running on asphalt hasn’t been a problem. I did work up to my mileage slowly and carefully.

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Carolina, NYC: I am a senior citizen who made the switch to forefoot walking, not running, and it has changed my life. After a long bout with Lyme disease and arthritis, I had to wear expensive custom-made orthotic shoes just to walk comfortably–or at all. Still I had neck, shoulder, back and knee issues and walked with a limp. After a year-and-a-half with an inspired trainer, I am now wearing flexible, flat, minimal shoes, even to walk around New York City. My body feels lithe and young, I don’t limp, nor do I have any of my other complaints. This is not something to be undertaken lightly–I did it with professional help and a LOT of persistence on my part–and requires total body awareness. But it has convinced me that the joint issues we confront in later life are due to the habit of walking heel first. Note that babies also walk on their forefeet until shoes train them to do otherwise. Something to consider for those with children.

Samredman, Dallas: Barefoot running on a sandy beach is particularly wonderful. Unfortunately, beaches aren’t handy for me most of the time, but when I can, I find beach barefoot running to be an amazing experience which feels like it was meant to be.

Yescolleen, new york city: I am runner and tennis player who has had plantar fascitis and a heel spur for years. I’ve also worn orthotics for over twenty years. After reading Born to Run, I gradually transitioned to barefoot shoes. It’s been over 4 years now and I no longer have plantar or heel spurs or wear orthotics.

I can’t run actual barefoot, but all of my shoes are now barefoot shoes, either VivoBarefoot or Vibram Five Fingers. I now have wing tips, boots, maryjanes, gym shoes, sandals, tennis shoes and many others styles — all barefoot.

I’ll never go back. I love my barefoot shoes and have a cool pair called Alitza that I wear with my hip dresses and skirts. Forget Birkenstock (as recently written up about in The New Yorker). Barefoot is where it’s at!

Ed Wolf, Chicago, Illinois: I run everyday in some very nice Asics shoes, i have heard a lot of stupid things but this is right up there with the best of them. Who thought this was a good idea?

Judy, Milwaukee, WI: I do. When I began to run more I went to a special running store and purchased the recommended shoes for high arches. Within a month or so I was dealing with a soft tissue injury and many visits to the physician. The only time I felt good walking around was when I got home and could walk around barefoot. I took a few years to totally ease into barefoot running for any distance but I enjoy running so much more with out the pain.

The Pooch, Wendell, MA: Lots of people are frequently and chronically injured while wearing conventional running shoes, and lots of people run successfully while barefoot or while wearing minimal shoes.

Porcupine pal, Omaha: As an old person, with 40 years of running experience, I can attest that barefoot running is not a good idea. For many old people, continued running is not a very good idea either.
Running is a fickle mistress, or master, reducing a person’s mobility much earlier than other forms of aerobic exercise.

The Pooch, Wendell, MA: Your personal experience means that nobody else should go barefoot, or should even try to keep running into old age?

Michael Morad-McCoy, Albuquerque, NM: Ok. Anecdotal. As is the following. A little over a year ago I started running again after a long absence. Although in my 20s I usually ran 6 miles a day at a 6 minute pace, in my late 50s, even the slowest run would require doses of ibuprofen and involve mornings filled with stiffness and achiness. Then I read about the “Born to Run” approach and slowly began trying to change my gait to a forefoot strike. The initial attempts, in my old heavily-cushioned shoes, led to much less stiffness. So I bought a pair of minimalist shoes and worked hard on changing my mechanics. The result was much faster times and a complete lack of the need to dose with ibuprofen. I don’t think I’ll ever go completely barefoot, but forefoot mechanics and restored the joy of running for this old runner.

Howard G, New York: “Barefoot Running May Be Harder for Older People”

Ummm….

Just about everything is harder for older people —

Dan B., Stamford, Conn.: What about stepping on sharp objects. This seems insane to me.

Ken, Rancho Mirage: Age 68 and I can hardly walk since I was such a runner in earlier years. Multiple ten mile runs on hard surfaces, it turns out, weren’t giving me the health boost I thought i was getting. So, barefoot running is no different from running in shoes or clogs. I can’t do it.

ReadOn455: Hallandale, FL: Runner’s will suffer in the long run. They’re body weight pounding on one foot at
a time is pressure & cause fractures. Most have heel spurs and don’t know it. With age bones become thinner, not to mention the knees.
Why would you injury yourself for no reason?

Peggy, Sacramento: Barefoot running? Pressure on your feet, legs, hips and back, not to mention joints. This is really one of the dumbest ideas I’ve read about. But nothing surprises me anymore. People are just not smart about their bodies and how far they can push themselves physically. Excessive exercise is all the rage these days. Go for it, you will just increase your Dr.’s retirement and he will love you for that.

The Pooch, Wendell, MA: Humans covered every continent except Antarctica while walking and running barefoot or in thin leather sandals and moccasins. Many modern humans successfully and enjoyably run barefoot or in minimal shoes on a variety of surfaces. In contrast, many runners wearing ultra-cushioned high-tech shoes are frequently and constantly injured.

Running barefoot or minimalist does not guarantee injury, and wearing cushioned shoes does not reliably protect from overuse injuries.

Judy, Milwaukee, WI: For me, the barefoot or minimalist approach allows greater feed back from my feet so that I am more aware of what is happening in my body. I use a posture as suggested for barefoot running and know the important of keeping the body relaxed. It is so much more than just taking off shoes and running. It is the same awareness as when I am doing yoga.

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