Should You Shed Your Shoes?
If you’re ready to try barefoot running, here's what you should keep in mind.
Is a forefoot foot strike really better? continued...
"When you run [long distances] on the balls of the foot, there are more shin splints, more knee pain," Ross says.
But another foot expert says less impact on the heel might be better, at least for some people.
James Christina, DPM, director of scientific affairs for the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), says, "It could potentially be better for someone who does pronate excessively." Pronation is the natural slight inward-rolling motion of the foot as someone walks or runs. With overpronation, the ankles roll too far inside after the heel strike. That can cause foot problems.
''Some people are going to be very well-adapted to barefoot running," Christina says, but others ''may do horribly."
The APMA doesn't take a stand for or against barefoot running. "It should be approached with caution," Christina says. ''At this time," he says, "there does not appear to be completed research on it."
Galloway, who ran barefoot in his youth, says, if you do it regularly, barefoot running helps to develop a quicker running motion. "I do believe it strengthened my feet," he says.
How hard on someone's feet is barefoot running?
Not hard, says McDougall, who says his feet have no calluses.
Tamara Gerken, 43, of Atlanta, has been running for six years and has run barefoot for the last 16 months. She says barefoot running has helped her run farther despite having a Morton's neuroma -- a painful nerve condition in the ball of the foot between the toes.
"I can run [barefoot] up to 17 miles before I feel the pain from the Morton's neuroma," Gerken says. She adds that when she wore shoes, the pain started at 3 or 5 miles.
Gerken also credits running barefoot with making her faster. In the past year, she says, she's knocked 15 minutes off her half-marathon time -- from 2:37:36 to 2:22:31.
Barefoot running is likely to be harder on older feet, Ross says. ''When you're younger, the feet are more resilient," he says. The arch is typically in better shape, too, and problems such as hammer toes haven't developed.
But Ross doesn't rule out barefoot running. "If you have a perfect foot, if you are biomechanically blessed, then you can go out and try to run barefoot," he says. "It could work."
Are some surfaces better than others for barefoot runners?
Asphalt beats other paved street surfaces because it has "a little more give," Ross says.
McDougall says he prefers asphalt due to its smoothness. But he advises fellow barefoot runners to try ''any surface that feels comfortable."
Grass surfaces are great, says Kimberley Jackson, 23, of Indianapolis, who's been a runner for 10 years and first tried barefoot running in late 2009. She's taking a break from it now, due to inclement weather. But she still likes the idea of not having to rely on any equipment.
Whatever surface you choose, it should be free of glass shards and other debris, Christina says.