Why I Went Barefoot

This post was migrated from my Go Lovely Rose blog.

I took up running two summers ago. We were living in northern New Mexico at the time, and using the Couch to 5k plan, I was soon jogging half an hour, three times a week along the breathtaking trails of the Jemez Mountains. I loved it and was terribly proud of myself.

Nevertheless, less than six months later, I was forced to hang up my running shoes for good. Among other maladies, the joints in my right leg were chronically inflamed. I took up yoga, hoping that it would rehabilitate my leg, but even after a year, the old injuries would flare up every time I went for so much as a light hike.

I was pretty dismayed, but I didn’t know what to do about it, so I simply avoided the “bad” activities and prayed it would get better. It didn’t.

Then I discovered Mark’s Daily Apple and switched from a Paleo diet to a Primal one. The shift seemed trivial at the time, but in hindsight, it kicked off a minor revolution in the way I approached, well, everything. Unlike Paleo, which was mostly a diet, Primal was an entire way of life. It wasn’t long before I began to embrace its crazy ideas in areas other than diet.

One of these was barefooting, a concept I connected with immediately. In fact, I was already spending over half the year in worn-down foam flip-flops. However, whenever I needed better traction or protection from the elements, I was forced to wear my running shoes.

It took me a while to connect the dots, but I eventually realized that I could walk, run, or stand arbitrarily long in my flip-flops without any joint pain. However, as soon as I donned my running shoes, I would be limping for days.

Could it be that my fancy sneakers were causing my problems? That’s certainly what the evidence suggested.

Even then, the cost of barefoot shoes gave me pause. At roughly $100 a pair, they were significantly more expensive than any footwear I’d ever purchased before. Was it really worth it?

I waffled for many many months, but I finally broke down and bought a pair of Vibram Fivefingers.

That summer, some friends invited us out for a hike. In the few months since I’d bought my Fivefingers, I’d taken them for walks and a few short runs, but nothing major. This would be it’s first real test.

And a very fair test it was! The hike was grueling (for me, that is — I don’t hike much). By the time we descended the last few hundred feet, I was feeling the strain in my right knee with every step. I worried that I would be limping for days, and it was with a great amount of trepidation that I climbed out of bed the next morning.

At first, both legs were incredibly sore, including the knee and hip joints. However, as the day wore on, it became clear that it was a healthy kind of sore, like I’d used my body and it was growing stronger as a result. I kept waiting for the familiar nagging joint pain to appear, but to my happy surprise, it never did. After a few days rest, the soreness faded and my legs felt fully recovered.

I’ve been a dedicated convert ever since. I’m careful to avoid anything with too much arch support, and lately, I’ve even been splurging for bona fide barefoot shoes — shoes with Vibram soles, which offer protection without sacrificing flexibility and the ability to feel the ground (fancy word: proprioception).

I’m happy to say that the joint pain is a thing of the past.