More runners going ‘barefoot’
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado – When most folks go for a jog, they wear their running shoes. But a growing number of folks locally, and even nationally, are joining the barefoot movement – running with an outer-sole to protect the foot, but nothing else.”You run with no shoes,” said Laura Eilers, a local woman who’s training barefoot. “Or run with FiveFingers. For me, the inspiration is to get to feel the ground under my feet. I feel I run faster and more effectively when I run barefoot. I still run at a snail’s pace, but I feet a lot stronger running that way.”And Eilers isn’t alone. She’s part of a growing trend to return to the roots of running, like humans’ first ancestors did – without supportive running shoes.”It definitely feels a little interesting,” Eilers said. “You get to feel the earth beneath you. It gets you more in tune with the surface you’re running on and you get to spread your toes out.”Doc PJ Perrinjaquet, a longtime Summit County physician, is a convert to barefoot running as well.”I’ve been running in homemade tire sandals since I gave away my running shoes to a diabetic in Vanuatu and made my own from tires left after WWII and [a] kerosene lantern wick,” Perrinjaquet said. “I’ve completed a dozen Mountain Crest trail marathons in homemade tire sandals since without an injury.”According to Perrinjaquet, he’s seen research supporting barefoot running because “running on the forefoot is healthier than a heel strike, and running barefoot or with minimal support forces one to run up on their toes.” But he also noted that “I don’t know if there is enough research in the sports medicine literature yet to make a general recommendation. Ultimately, each runner has to try different things to find out what works for their unique biomechanics.”Why run barefoot?Dr. Ivo Waerlop, a Dillon chiropractor, is definitely a supporter of barefoot running – he even said he worked on an advisory committee to Vibram, the company making the FiveFinger, an outer-sole used to protect a person’s feet. This product is often used by barefoot runners because it has “five fingers” for toes and simulates the feeling of being barefoot.Waerlop, along with his partner in Summit Chiropractic and Rehabilitation, Dr. John Asthalter, said modern running shoes allow people to strike the ground heel first, causing too much stress on their ankles, knees and hips. Runners who heal-strike experience more injuries, they said, and without supportive running shoes their bodies wouldn’t even allow them to do it because it would hurt. And without modern shoes, people would adapt to their environment by running on their mid-foot or the balls of their feet – a better way for the body to cushion the shock created by feet striking the ground.”Shoes pretty much decrease how we use our muscles in our feet,” Waerlop said. “And if the base (feet) isn’t solid, it effects all structures above it (ankles, knees, hips, etc.). … The foot is key. It’s the first interface with the ground.”To Waerlop, barefoot running can improve mechanical functions of a person’s lower extremities because feet provide body-position awareness.”Feet tell the brain where the body is in space,” Waerlop said. “A lot of information is passing from the feet to the brain – what helps to control balance. Balance and coordination are off when feet are always encased in shoes. If you don’t know where body parts are in space, injury is more likely.”Asthalter also noted that the human body was always designed to be walking on uneven surfaces while barefoot.”Anything else is going to be changing the way the brain works,” he said. “The brain is adaptable, but it was designed to do it without shoes. Otherwise you’d be born with shoes, or with hooves.”Even so, both Waerlop and Asthalter agreed that barefoot running isn’t for everyone, and it takes time to be able to do it. People have been wearing shoes since infancy, so foot and leg muscles used when barefoot running are underdeveloped.”It’s not for every person to just go out and do,” Waerlop said. “We emphasize in training that people need to go slowly, they need to build up their strength in their feet and calves slowly, and they need to make sure they have the type of foot for barefoot training.”Waerlop added that people with excessively flat feet, pre-existing injury or people with especially rigid feet aren’t generally candidates for barefoot training. If they’re interested, they must see a professional to find out if it’s possible.”For a lot of people, you can’t just get off the couch and do it,” Waerlop said.Eilers, who suffers from knee and ankle pain, started out with barefoot training slowly, and under the supervision of a specialist.”It’s been a six-month process for me,” Eilers said. “I walked around in them (fivefingers) first for six months before I started running in them.”Waerlop and Asthalter both recommend wearing Vibram fivefingers to provide runners some protection for their skin since people’s feet aren’t generally tough enough to go truly barefoot for any length of time.And Waerlop suggests: “Go slow. If you’re going to embark on your own and it continues to hurt, someone should look at it.”Vibram fivefingers can be purchased locally at Wilderness Sports.”You get some funny looks from people out on the trail,” Eilers said of her fivefingers. “It’s a fairly entertaining conversation to be having with people who haven’t seen them before. It looks like little ninja shoes.”To take a barefoot running clinic, contact Waerlop and Asthalter at Summit Chiropractic & Rehabilitation, (970) 513-9234. The next clinic is Tuesday evening. Call for more information.
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