To Bare, Or Not To Bare? The Debate On Barefoot Running

With summer in full swing, barefoot running is picking up the pace!  Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World showcased an article looking at both sides of the barefoot debate- check out these tips from their experts, and let us know what you think! In 1960, Ethiopian Abebe Bikila won the Olympic Marathon in bare feet. In 1966, Robert Parker recorded his hit song "Barefootin'." And in 1969, Paul McCartney walked barefoot across Abbey Road. No one noticed a trend; people in the '60s had other concerns. Three decades later, Ken Bob Saxton completed his first barefoot marathon in 4:12. Still, it wasn't until 2009 that barefoot running became a hot topic. The biggest impetus was Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run. While ostensibly the story of Mexico's Tarahumara Indians—who run barefoot or in tire-tread huaraches—controversial chapters in the book conclude that running shoes have done little to prevent injuries. The popularity of minimal shoes, such as the Nike Free and Vibram FiveFingers, has fueled the fire. "Barefoot Ken Bob" Saxton, founder of, and sports podiatrist-biomechanist Kevin Kirby, D.P.M., a runner for nearly 40 years, agreed to discuss the merits—and drawbacks—of running barefoot. (McDougall declined.)

RUNNER'S WORLD What are the best and worst things that can be said about barefoot running?

KEN BOB SAXTON The best thing for me and a lot of others who run barefoot is actually the stimulation and exhilaration. It's the process of being more interactively involved in the running—we feel it on our feet. We don't just robotically pound out the steps. And we enjoy the freeing effect of air blowing across our feet. In short, it's fun.

KEVIN KIRBY I have no problem with people who occasionally run barefoot on a safe surface as a supplement to their normal training. But in today's society, we don't have a lot of grassy fields. We have a lot more asphalt, concrete, glass, and nails. So I worry that barefoot running is going to produce injuries, such as puncture wounds, infections, and even lacerations of vital structures at the bottom of the foot. I would hate to see someone who wouldn't get injured in shoes go out barefoot running and get a serious injury.

RW In recent years, there has been a lot of talk in running circles about Pose running, Chi running, and now barefoot running, which all seem to advocate for a midfoot or forefoot landing pattern. Have you encountered a lot of runners interested in these approaches?

KIRBY Yes, and I think Pose running and Chi running can be okay for some people. They both seem to advocate landing more on the forefoot because proponents think rearfoot strikers will somehow be less efficient and/or get more injuries. But forefoot running can cause injuries, too. I've seen a lot of Achilles tendon injuries among runners who were naturally rearfoot strikers but then forced themselves to run more on the forefoot.

SAXTON I've met runners who got injured from the so-called minimalist shoes more than from barefoot running. I think the shoes take away too much of the feedback. When I ran my first marathon, I wore shoes, and I got such bad blisters that I had to walk the last six or seven miles. My toenails all turned black and fell off. Since then, I've run a total of 74 marathons barefoot, and hundreds of shorter races. I've run on trails and roads, and covered tens of thousands of miles in training. And I can assure you that the total barefoot damage that my feet have endured is significantly less than what they suffered in that one marathon in shoes. I don't think my feet are particularly special. To read the entire article and for more information on Barefoot Running, visit Runner’s World online.