Barefoot on the beach
“Barefoot shoes”, shoes for those who don’t want to wear any. A strange contradiction in terms, and enormously popular these days. What’s this trend all about?
The big idea is that these shoes don’t control pronation or cushion the feet, they only protect them from injury. This allows people to run in a more natural way, landing on the mid- to forefoot.
This theory sounds great. But “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. If you are a happy heelstriker in anti-pronation shoes with ultra-cushioning – by all means, don’t change anything!
Sometimes switching to barefoot running can arise out of a travelling inconvenience. Such as me being in one place and my suitcase, with running shoes, in another. No running store in sight, and who wants to miss an opportunity to run?
Luckily, there was a beach. You don’t need shoes to run on a beach. And by the time the suitcase finally arrived, the blisters of many daily barefoot beach runs had healed. It had become easy to run barefoot, even on concrete.
Going barefoot normally takes a lot of time, three months at least. Muscles and tendons all need to get used to it. A beginner’s running training schedule is a good place to start.
Unfortunately, back home it was too dangerous to run barefoot. Sharp stones, pointy twigs, animal poo: roads and tracks can be full of nasty things. Even the beach was not free of dangerous debris. So back to running shoes it was, for a while.
Until now. There are many brands and types of “barefoot shoes”. The slightly odd-looking Vibram 5-fingers is probably the best known. My choice here is the Merrell Vapour Glove 2, it weighs next to nothing, is totally flexible and the feel of the ground is great. The next best thing to no shoes. They have no “rock plate” and are not suitable for tracks with sharp rocks.
Although if you’re really into sanddune running, bare feet are always superior to any kind of footwear. All shoes accumulate sand.
The run-down on some cheaper alternatives: trail spike shoes are (of course) great on trails and not so great when crossing hard surfaces. Taking the spikes out could be an option (didn’t try that, because it would probably ruin the spike sockets). Ballet shoes: not enough protection and they didn’t even last 5 kilometers. Water shoes with rubber soles and a textile upper were OK-ish, but not very comfortable.