Warning: this article contains images that some readers may find disturbing.
I am enjoying my transition to barefoot running immensely. I am much lighter on my feet and have experienced no knee pain or plantar fasciitis (heel pain) at all since commencing. This is a major breakthrough.
When I first enlisted in the 2013 New York Marathon, put on my expensive runners and hit the pavement, knee and heel pain threatened to terminate my plans. Despite resting, stretching or ice treatment, every time I went out I would experience heel and/or knee pain after just a few kilometres. Lot's of people suggested barefoot or natural running as a potential cure, so I switched over and never looked back.
Running barefoot forces good running form by providing precise sensory feedback when the foot lands on the running surface and encourages a proper forefoot striking pattern. This in turn corrects the entire biomechanics of running.
Problem was my 51 year old shoe-cuddled feet were as soft as rice paper and walking just a few blocks on rough Sydney footpaths was excruciating. So I ordered some Xero huaraches (sandals) and problem solved. These very thin sandals provide protection to the sole with minimal sensory interference. On my first night out with them I clocked up 7 kilometres -- with no pain!
Ultimately I want to run as much as I can completely barefoot, and keep the Xeros for trails and those hot summer afternoons when the footpath feels like a barbecue plate on Australia Day. Gradually I have been increasing my barefoot time and strapping the Xeros on at a point when my feet become tender.
The other day I decided to head out without them on an 8k run. Bad idea. About 4k in and I had a blowout: a blister burst open. I discovered the memorable and unpleasant fact that walking barefoot on any surface with a burst blister is like some sort of medieval torture. Every little stone or blade of grass seems to find its way into the soft, pink, and very sensitive dermis. I limped home with the resolve never to head out without my Xeros again.
Now, every time a run more than about 6 km I tuck my Xeros into the back of my shorts. My spare tyre as it were. They are so light I am barely aware of them. I highly recommend this strategy for those starting out barefoot.
Note: If you would like to order some Xeros, you can do so here. The small affiliate commission will be donated to Amnesty. Everybody wins.