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Should You Shed Your Shoes?

If you’re ready to try barefoot running, here's what you should keep in mind.

Who should not run barefoot?

Anyone who has diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, or a compromised immune system -- such as people with HIV or rheumatoid arthritis and those taking drugs that suppress the immune system -- should not run barefoot, Ross says. Anyone else at risk of infection should not try it either, in Ross's opinion.

What's the best way to start running barefoot?

Take it easy. "Your body will tell you how far to go," McDougall says.

''I would suggest doing very short segments, about 20 to 30 yards the first week," Galloway says. On week two, he says, move up to 200 yards or so. Then gradually increase your distance by another 200 yards every other day.

What about the newer ''minimal'' shoes?

Those ''glove-like'' shoes are promoted as being close to barefoot.

"It's a lot better than going out running barefoot," Ross says.

McDougall, who has no ties to the makers of the shoes, has been known to wear ''minimal'' shoes and is quoted in a YouTube video saying they can help keep barefoot runners ''honest." His advice for newcomers to barefoot running is to learn the technique first, skipping the minimal shoes while you do. "Then add whatever [minimal] shoe you want."

Some foot doctors recommend transitioning from conventional running shoes to minimal shoes to barefoot. McDougall disagrees. A better plan, he says, is to go barefoot, learn the technique (via workshops or running with an experienced barefoot runner), and then add a minimal shoe if desired.

How should a barefoot runner care for the feet? What about blisters and calluses?

''Your feet will take care of you," McDougall says.

Still, cuts happen, as do infections and blisters.

Christina tells runners -- wearing shoes or not -- to leave their blisters alone. "Protect it, cover it with a dressing," he says. It should drain on its own. If it doesn't, he says, see a foot doctor.

Can a barefoot runner keep a pedicure looking presentable?

Gerken swears it's possible. But, she says, she needs to touch up the polish every couple of days.

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Reviewed on November 22, 2012

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