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Since the late 1970s running has been an important part of my life primarily for fun and fitness though I also enjoy a good dice from time to time :-) - at whatever level. The purpose of this page is to share some of my accumulated learning and experience. Comments and discussion are welcome.

Why this page?

Wikipedia-logo-en.png Barefoot running
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Visit Barefoot running for more in depth information

To answer the question "Where have you been the last few years, you seem to be coming back?" and to share my experience of barefoot running since an injury late in September 2010 severely spoilt my fun.

Barefoot running and me

Excluding the barefoot running I did in the early 1980s in Africa (mostly 8-10 km recovery runs on a golf course), I (re)started running barefoot in March 2011 when I had essentially given up on a competitive season that year on account of a hamstring injury I had been unable to shake for 5 months.

My objectives shifted from trying to improve times to enjoying what running I could and toughening my feet to become a barefoot runner (which I thought would be cool :-). Enjoy it I did, and after 2 years started the 2013 season ready to race again. Surprisingly, I won my age category in two series (Juratop Tour and Swiss Masters Series) thanks largely to barefoot running (and a bit of luck with race selection in smrun :-).

liberate yourself from the tyranny of the shoe industry and run barefoot

Just to be clear, this article is not a recommendation for others. My approach was not even optimal for me, and might not be at all appropriate for you. First learn as much as you can about barefoot running, find an experienced expert to work with if possible, work out whether or not it is the best way forward for you, and if so, customise the approach for your own specifics and proceed with care.

Principles I applied (and continue to apply)

Whether I am training or racing, the following principles apply in order of priority:

  1. Enjoy the run.
  2. Avoid injury (take care, no shame in slowing down, walking or dropping out).
  3. Race if the situation arises (if it does, principles 1 and 2 still take precedence).
Becoming a barefoot runner:
  1. Buy or make some minimal footwear - not all surfaces are barefoot-friendly, especially when you start this journey.
  2. Do at least some (proper no shoes at all) barefoot running to master the technique and strengthen the relevant muscles etc.. Even the most minimal of minimal shoes affect how one's feet 'stroke' the ground[1] and may reduce the benefits of barefoot running.
  3. Start each run barefoot carrying a pair of minimal shoes in case needed. Use them only if needed. The need diminishes over time as the soles of the feet toughen through regular barefoot running.
  4. Personally I prefer not to race barefoot, as I invariably do get caught up in a dice at some stage, and don't want to lose time on rough sections of the course. In most races I wear "borderline" minimalist shoes - neutral with little or no raised heel and enough of a sole to protect from harsh stones under foot. My huaraches, similar to those depicted above, are great for training (easy to carry and slip on when needed) but too thin for racing on most stony off-road courses.
  5. Accumulate knowledge (web search) and "know thyself" to be able to adapt that knowledge to your unique characteristics.
  6. Stick to the 3 principles above (enjoy the run, avoid injury, race if a suitable situation arises during the event).

I am not "hard core" and wimp out over winter as soon as the temperatures get close to zero. I also find my feet get sensitive in cold wet conditions and usually opt for comfort over heroism.


Injury and recovery rates

The frequency of overuse injuries (or niggles) for me has been much lower since running barefoot and in minimal footwear. When I have had problems, the principle has been to help the body heal itself while still going through the motions; i.e. keep running barefoot if possible (otherwise take a day or two off), run with some discomfort up to the point of pain sometimes, but never into pain. Learn the difference - for me it is usually obvious.


Some problems I occasionally experienced seem to have disappeared completely[2] (touch wood!):

  1. Lower back discomfort
  2. Straighter spine (better posture)
  3. Exercise induced asthma

The down sides

Lower mileage

During my first year of barefoot running, I wanted to do as much as possible barefoot (i.e. 100%), and my feet decided my mileage (which went down). This was probably best for that long standing hamstring injury which disappeared, but not great for being competitive.

In retrospect, I need not have spent so much time toughening my feet to run on the harshest of trails - I still can't do it, and prefer to spend more time on less painful routes running further a bit faster.

Overuse injuries are not eliminated

Running barefoot does not eliminate the possibility of overuse injuries. Certain muscles need to get stronger as one re-learns and perfects a natural running motion. So far (November 2013) I have not had any overuse injuries since starting this barefoot running adventure.

Feet less protected

I have caught my big toe on protruding stones or roots occasionally - really painful, especially when it happens again before the previous time has fully healed. After such experiences I get careful and retrain my brain to keep lifting my knees and feet properly. This "retraining" seems to last at least until the next spring.

Obviously, the soles of one's feet are also more exposed to anything on the road or path (glass, thorns, stones, roots, ...). Use your eyes. This can be tricky in the dark, so consider wearing huaraches or other minimal footwear after dark.

All in all

For me, the benefits outweigh the difficulties. At least for now I am continuing to train barefoot whenever it is comfortable to do so (i.e. e.g. not in the cold near/sub zero months).


Growing up in Africa, where most people did not wear (or even own) shoes, I was impressed with the super-tough and very fast barefoot runners there and wanted to be more like them.

When I started running a bit more seriously, cross-country running during my last year at high school, I decided to wear shoes to avoid injury and losing a whole season by (e.g.) stepping once on a piece of broken glass or thorns, etc..

Later, I took up road running and was led to believe that pounding tar would lead to long term knee problems, unless I wore specially cushioned shoes such as those made by prominent manufacturers. I did not realise that the cushioning in the shoe soles permits heavier pounding. There were many counter-example barefoot runners around who did not "pound" the tar, but I continued to wear expensive shoes without really thinking about it beyond protection against broken glass etc..

... 1980s - 2010 ... years of on and off running, triathlons, cycling when less than extreme work pressures occasionally allowed ...

Many years later (in 2010), Chris Sole, a legendary[3] and inspirational friend of mine, recommended Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run which gave me the courage to just do it.


I wrote the original of the above on 5 November 2013. Thoughts since:

  • Dec 2016: still running barefoot and in minimalist shoes :-).
    • It seems that the longer one runs barefoot, the less likely one is to have the sorts of problems one might encounter when starting barefoot running after years of running in well cushioned shoes.
    • One gets better at knowing when, when not, where and how to run barefoot, and how far one wants to go with it.
      • In my case, I have given up trying to be a 100% barefoot runner for several reasons including:
        • I still wimp into warm shoes in winter,
        • it takes too long and too much discomfort to recondition the feet each year to run on the rough trails covered in quarried stones,
        • that time is better spent running at a reasonable pace on easier surfaces (grass, tar, wood chips, athletics track, ...) to prepare for races (yes, I still enjoy a good dice, especially if it is uphill :-).
    • On the other hand, the less one runs in shoes (i.e. more barefoot), the more susceptible one might become to injuries when wearing them!
      • Actually, this might not be true, though it does seem that way to me. Perhaps I am just more reckless in shoes.

  1. i.e. how one's body and brain respond with running motion to the sensations coming from the feet and the rest of the body.
  2. Possibly for reasons other than barefoot running. For example, I have stopped swimming in chlorinated indoor swimming pools (might account for no EIA), significantly reduced my intake of refined sugars and spend less time in front of computers.
  3. 12 successive Table Mountain race titles for a start.