A barefoot flunky?

I posted a while back that I was hoping to give barefooting a try. I am almost two years removed from a nasty bout of plantar fasciitis that left me sidelined from running for six full months. After that was fixed, my podiatrist had me move into orthotics and gave me a strict order not to go barefoot. Ever.

So I followed his advice and all went well until late last August when I started having PF in the opposite foot. Hmmm, that doesn’t make sense if I’m doing everything right, does it? But I continued on until I started reading all the buzz about barefooting. People like Barefoot AngieB and Barefoot Josh have inspired me to give it a go. They both love barefooting and seem to have a lot of joy in their running.

My first steps have been trying to walk around the house an hour or so sans shoes/orthotics. I’ve done some foot strengthening exercises, because that seems wise after my feet have been housed for so long and are likely quite weak as a result. The bummer is, however, that my PF (in my “good” foot) has kicked into high gear while doing this.

For now, I’ve gone back to my old ways of orthotics/shoes to try to get it to calm down. It has, but it’s still there, lingering ever so slightly. My hope is that I can get it to go away entirely, and then try fresh again. I’m also due some new running shoes, so I’m hoping that perhaps a try at shoes that are more minimal can help serve as an entry to barefooting as well (although I know most barefooters look at this as hooey!).

I’m not throwing in the towel on barefooting, but I do feel like I need to proceed cautiously. There’s the side of me that says if it ain’t broken, why fix it? A little PF isn’t broken, IMHO, but anything that causes it to flare up big time, and potentially take me back to the sidelines, is scary. So that’s where I am for now.

Would love to hear some opinions on this take–Josh, have at it!

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  1. Meg says

    You know I"ve been tempted to try BF running but my pf is like a little bug that rears it's little head every other training period or so. I've learned to have it worked on, ice it and roll it out and then it goes into hiding. I can keep moving forward with no pain eventually, so I don't think I could or should try BF running at this point. I also have orthotics and this helps my pf stay at bay, I know it could be much worse. It has been in the past. I'm not a flunky since I haven't even tried it but I must say I'm cautious and suspicious with my "issues."

  2. ModernMom says

    I'm still working on the running in shoes thing:) I'm pretty good at the walking around the house with a glass of wine in my hand and all bare foot all the time thing! Hope your feet feel better soon!

  3. Viper says

    Let me first say that I've been lucky not to have foot issues. But when I started trying barefooting and less shoe, my arches would be a little sore–like any other sore muscle. Would the PF feel like that? Maybe you were doing too much too soon?

  4. NY Wolve says

    Barefotting sounds crazy to me, but that is me. Over at the Science of Sport blog, the two authors deal with it extensively. I mean like 5 posts, with questions answered. (If you haven't been there before the link is on my blog somewhere.) It is actually a fascinating site and great discussion.

    I think the summary is that the jury is still out. But if you want the benefits, the best way to do it is to convert totally — shoeless all the time. Of course I can't do that, so I will be a shoe clod for rest of my life and running career.

  5. KC (my 140 point 6 mile journey) says

    have you tried the vibram 5 fingers? maybe that would be an easier transition versus going barfoot right away especially w/your history of pf. kind of a happy medium to get your feet ready. I've had a few friends try running in the vibram's and they said it takes some getting used to. another friend overdid running in the vibram's and ended up w/a stress fracture in his anterior tibialis. take it super slow to build up.

  6. Jeff - DangleTheCarrot says

    You read so much about the BF running nowadays it is only normal to want to try it out. i've looked at the VFF but have passed on purchasing them. If you decide to start make sure to let us all know because I'd love to follow your progress (-:

  7. Barefoot AngieB says

    I think the only right thing to do is to listen to your body and do what feels best. Maybe a minimal shoe is the way to go. Lots and lots of people transition successfully to barefoot using a minimal shoe.
    It is scary and it doesn't help that sometimes things seem to get worse before they get better and how do you know when its one of those times really.
    Lots of other things might come up and its hard to decipher whether or not its a real injury or just unused muscles and tendons being worked. I have not ever had the problems that you have so I don't know how I would handle it but
    What ever you choose, take it slow and be honest with yourself.

  8. ajh says

    I have PF come up somewhat periodically. I do the ice thing and also went to the chiropractor who helped with it a lot. I was also told not to go without shoes which I did for awhile but now do all the time. I would probably back off the barefoot try too. I would rather have a little PF and be able to run than be in bad shape and unable to run. Good luck.

  9. southofthecliff says

    This is going to be a long one. Sorry in advance. Also, in my efforts to be succinct I may come off as being critical; I promise that's not my intention. So here it goes.

    Upfront, remember I'm not a foot doctor; I went to acting college (so I could maybe play one on TV), and couldn't even do that very well. Your podiatrist is either a deviant jerk to condemn you to a life of shoes, or (s)he saw something seriously messed up about your feet. Assuming it's the latter, changing ANYTHING with your feet is probably going to mean pain.

    That said, it is still broke if you're experiencing PF symptoms in the other foot with shoes on.

    A few things make me go hmmm:
    You mention foot exercises. Back when you asked for suggestions, I gave you a few but mentioned they were probably uneccessary. Yes, foot strength helps, but running barefoot isn't about muscles. It's about relaxing. Landing and keeping your body upright is done by the calves, quads, and glutes, ie, some of the biggest muscles in the human body. NOT your feet. My feet don't hurt NOT because they're super tough or strong, but because I don't use them for muscle jobs. If I were to teach you to draw, you wouldn't prepare by doing finger exercises. The muscles in the feet should be relaxed (not limp, just an absence of tension), like and artist fingers holding a brush. That way, they're free to do what they do best: feel things.

    Which brings me to a second hmmm. You don't mention anything about what it felt like. For that matter, you don't mention what you actually did. Did you just walk around the house and do foot exercises? Did you actually try running? Not talking about what it felt like to walk around barefoot for the first time in years suggests to me that you don't think it's worth mentioning, that it's not important. Actually, ALL of your focus should be on how the ground feels beneath your feet. How the ground feels is what tells the big muscles what to do. Maybe all that trying to get your feet strong is what caused the PF flair up. But of course I would say that…

    Running barefoot is not an exercise, or a cure. It's not a shoe, that is advertised to "fix" you. It's not a push up that you do and you just get stronger. It's a way to learn how to run efficiently and fluidly. But just being barefoot doesn't mean presto you're good to go. You have to approach it like a detective, finding ways to move that don't hurt the feet. No matter how awkard. Most people experience a dramatic change in how they run.

    If you do want to give it a go again, be sure to read up ken bob's site:

    Also, I would strongly recommend NOT using any minimalist footwear until you've gotten the hang of actually being barefoot first. If you already have foot issues, it's that much more important to feel the ground for instant feedback. VFFs take away the sense of touch. Why handicap yourself?

    In conclusion, I won't judge one way or the other. Life offers many paths, and if this is one you choose not to go down, that's totally cool. It's a big change, one that might be too painful to try to learn. You're a very athletic person, and you're competitive in your sport. You want to get your PRs as fast as they can be. Now might not be the best time. I'll keep reading your blog and making stupid jokes in the comment section no matter what.

    Enjoy the run,


  10. Cynthia O'H says

    The thought of barefoot running scares the daylights out of me. I'd be too worried about causing a stress facture; I love the comfort of my running shoes.

  11. Jill says

    I'm worried I'd step on a piece of glass and end up with stitches, I don't think I could ever do it. But to each their own and what works for one may not for another. Do what feels right and what your doctor suggests, they do really know what they're talking about (sometimes :) ). Hope your foot feels better soon!

  12. Haselsmasher (Jim Haselmaier) says

    What is the situation with your running form? Heel striker? For me the keys were, first, calming down the PF. To accomplish this I had to virtually eliminate attempting to run (it was causing me to not run at all) and wear my shoes/orthotics full time. Then, second, I changed my for form just for day-to-day walking. Think Chi walking or Pose walking. I needed to move in my daily life in a less stressful way. Then I started the weaning process. The really really tricky part is finding that balance between letting the foot move more while not significantly reinjuring the PF. Good luck. It's really hard!

  13. misszippy says

    Thanks for all the feedback, everyone. Josh–let me address some of the points you brought up. I only walked around the house/out into the driveway BF; nothing beyond that. I did it for about an hour or so at a time. It felt good while doing it, which is one of the tricky things about PF I've discovered. It's usually not until later in the day, or the next, when you know you've kicked it up. It's not a matter of feeling muscles that haven't been used, it's PF, unfortunately. Also, I'm pretty sure that I subconsciously walk in a not-so-natural way b/c I am trying not to irritate the PF. So I probably need to be much more aware of how I am walking next time I give it a go. I do like your advice on how to proceed. Jim–I agree, I think I need to get this flare up under control first. It's already much better after a week or so now of doing all the things I do to keep it in check. Running is fine with it–doesn't seem to have any negative affects. So in sum–I'm not throwing in the towel at this point, but will give it a break before trying again, then try a bit differently next time around.

  14. Adam Culp (Crazy Floridian) says

    Have you thought about the minimalistic shoes out there? I tried a pair of Nike Free 3.0 and loved them. I started slowly by using them on my shorter 3 and 4 mile runs, then graduated to longer ones. (some go for the more support of the Nike Free 5.0, and then work their way to the 3.0 after since it has even less support)

    I have not had a problem with my PF after that, but unfortunately I cannot find another pair of 3.0's anywhere so I am back to full shoes. I keep my eyes open though, and Nike promises me to get me a new pair soon.

  15. Adam Culp (Crazy Floridian) says

    On another note, in order to keep my PF at bay I am now using Nike Zoom Triax 13's while I cannot find a pair of Free 3.0 available. I have been happy with them so far.

    Nike says that the Triax are made for PF sufferers.

  16. AppleC says

    I agree with Adam – how about trying those Nike Free's?
    I walk around all the time barefoot but I wouldn't even consider running barefoot. I like cushioning when I run. As for any other time – it's all natural – no sock or shoe. :)

  17. southofthecliff says

    One of the main points of difference within the barefoot running community is regarding minimalist shoes and "transitioning." So for the record, I am firmly in the camp that believes running in minimalist shoes BEFORE learning how to run barefoot is more hazardous than running in cushioned running shoes. The shoes (or lack thereof) don't matter. It's the form.

    If you think it would hurt to run barefoot, then you're probably hurting yourself in shoes. If you like cushioning, you're stomping. You're stomping because your feet can't feel the ground. So you stomp harder. So you add more cushioning. So you stomp even harder. Pretty soon, runners will be running on stilts of cushioned rubber. I can't wait, because my chances of winning races will increase dramatically.

  18. The Happy Runner says

    Sorry about the PF kicking in.
    I have no advice about bf running, though. I have a rotten bunion and the thought of running bf, forcing that toe to flex, scares me.

    I'll be interested to see how the whole thing works out for you.

  19. Viper says

    I have to agree with BFJ. I didn't transition, but I run mostly in minimal shoes now. I used what I learned from my limited experience running barefoot (11 miles last year) and started transitioning that form to how I run in shoes. Things like trying to run quietly and with a softer landing on the forefoot. It has also started to carry over to my walking. I noticed yesterday when I stepped off a curb that my toes darted downward to feel for the ground again. In the past, I would have stomped down with my heel.

  20. Julie says

    I totally get the whole barefoot running thing:) I know that there is something to it…I am just afraid of getting hurt:) When I was a little girl I ran around barefoot all of the time and I really like it! Good luck to you!!

  21. running mom says

    I just tried running barefoot on my treadmill! It actually instantly made all my foot pain go away. It was more barefoot jogging though…
    I did some intervals today and laced up the shoes.
    I'll probably continue to do an easy run or two barefoot a week. I really did notice my feet "loosening up" like Josh talked about, especially the second day. I don't really think I could get up the nerve to run outside barefoot.

  22. Kristin says

    Interesting reading everyone else's comments on this. As you know i have my own PF battle raging right now. I think some of the things that have helped me are running on my mid-foot consciously for about the past month and not heel striking so much, stretching with a calf board daily, and not over-wearing the orthotics. Good luck, girl!