Welcome to Earth

What is Barefoot Running?

WELCOME TO EARTH: Fartlek Training

Welcome, one and all, to Welcome to Earth, that part POSSSESSED where we answer a letter from an alien from another galaxy who is definitely not human. This month’s letter comes from Mark Zuckerberg, who was expelled from his host planet in 2004 and currently resides in a mysterious $100M compound on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Mark writes:


Within the labyrinthine intricacies of kinesiological discourse, might one solicit an erudite exposition expounding upon the enigmatic practice of terrestrial propulsion commonly recognized as ‘barefoot running,’ wherein the absence of customary pedal shrouds becomes the focal point of ambulatory scrutiny?



That’s an excellent question, Mark, and it fits very well with this issue’s ‘Running Is Weird’ theme, because barefoot running is actually quite weird. Not weird in a bad way, but more in the way of its dictionary definition: Of strange or extraordinary character, odd, queer, eccentric, caused by witchcraft or the supernatural. That’s barefoot running in a nutshell.

Basically, barefoot running is the decision to forgo modern running shoes and run with nothing between you and the ground because you believe that it is actually better that way, which, to most runners, does not sound right at all. How could running with no shoes be anything but terrible for your body? With no cushioning or protection for your feet, surely you must be increasing your risk of stress fractures and musculoskeletal issues, not to mention abrasions and puncture wounds from all rocks, sticks, and used heroin needles that are typically strewn about the places runners like to run. It just doesn’t make sense.

But then there’s the other side of the coin, the side that says, actually, the opposite of barefoot—wearing shoes—is way weirder. Homo sapiens have been around for 300,000 years, but anthropologic research suggests we only began wearing shoes 40,000 years ago, meaning we humans have been barefoot for most of our time on Earth. Advocates of barefoot running never point to this fact because it’s fucking ridiculous. Instead, they highlight what they believe to be the practice’s benefits for biomechanics. Barefoot running, say its proponents, encourages natural and efficient running form, and they argue that it actually strengthens the muscles and ligaments in the feet and legs, improving overall balance and making injury far less probable. Hmmm.

Barefoot runners also believe that they are receiving clearer messages about the terrain—via their feet—than they would were they wearing a pair of running shoes. This point actually sounds kind of plausible. In countries where they eat with their hands, people tend to suffer less from gastrointestinal issues. The thinking being that handling the food allows the brain to better prepare the stomach for what’s coming down the hatch... Or did I just make that up, Mark? You’ll have to Google it.

The argument for barefoot running that sounds most dubious, however, is that running without shoes reduces overall impact. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that like saying you’re better off not wearing a helmet if you’re going to have a cinder block dropped on your head? I mean, take you, Mark. If I was going to kick you as hard as possible in your weird, oblong alien balls on behalf of all humanity, would you want to stuff a cushion down your pants or just go commando? Then again, I suppose if you’ve always run barefoot or with minimal foot coverings—like the amazing Tarahumara people of Mexico—the type of impact produced by modern running shoes would probably fuck you up.

One last thing to consider: there is no shortage of champion barefoot athletes, beginning with Abebe Bikila, who finished first in the 1960 Olympic Marathon (in world record time) with nothing on his feet. That said, he was wearing shoes when he successfully defended his Olympic title in ’64... Anyway, I’ll tell you this much, Mark, if you’re considering becoming a barefoot runner, I would transition as gradually and gingerly as possible. Good luck!

If you’re an alien from another planet and you have a running-related question you’d like answered in 700 words or less, 

 you can write to us here!