MALIBU—I was anxious to look down for the first time at Todd Byers feet. I feared gangly, callused, Fred Flinstone looking clogs, but I was pleasantly surprised. His feet were shockingly clean and very nice looking. Byers, Logistical Director of the Malibu International Marathon, has run 256 marathons—76 of those marathons he ran barefoot. Some people call him crazy while others take off their shoes and follow in his footsteps.
Runners around the country are trading in their $100 running shoes to try out the sport with what mother nature intended: the soles of their feet. This small, but growing, group of athletes is convinced that running barefoot has tremendously improved their running and has aided in the prevention of common injuries like planters facetious, stress fractures and Achilles strain. There are hundreds of styles of high tech running shoes with roll bars, memory foam and shock absorbing gel that claim to correct your running form and provide comfort during the long runs. The $17 billion sports shoe market will not be happy to know the barefoot runners seem to have it all figured out.
Your body’s proprioceptive system loses a lot of input when you put anything between the ground and your foot. Because you have a better connection with the ground, your body naturally changes its stride and form to correct itself. Barefoot runners say posture and form improve drastically. Many testify that their knee, shin and foot pain disappeared when they began to run barefoot. Instead of absorbing the most shock in the heel, barefoot runners quickly learn to put their mid-foot or forefoot down first for the most efficient and pain-free stride.
Byers wasn’t the first to shed the over-padded running shoes and brave the pavement with his bare toes. Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila, Olympic Marathoner, won the first of his consecutive gold medals without shoes in a world record of 2:15:17 in 1960. Adidas was the shoe sponsor of the 1960 Summer Olympics and had few shoes left when Bikila went to try out their shoes. He ended up with a pair that didn’t fit right and the rest is history. He decided to run without shoes, the way he trained for the race. After he won, when Bikila was asked why he had run barefoot, he replied, “I wanted the world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism."
As for me, I still run with shoes, but the barefoot people of the world have a strong argument. Before I judge these ‘crazy’ barefoot activists, I’m open to running a mile in their shoes. Maybe Byers will give us all a lesson on how to begin this barefoot journey.
The Malibu International Marathon is giving the top three barefoot finishers a special award. Some may suggest a pair of shoes.
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