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How to Survive Barefoot Running: Take It Slow

An increase in running injuries caused by barefoot running is a reminder to make the switch from shoes gradually.

Die-hard barefoot runners swear by the method, claiming that running the way our ancestors did can prevent the injuries that afflict 30 to 70 percent of runners.

Shedding your running shoes, though, won’t protect you from pulled calf muscles, Achilles tendinitis, and metatarsal stress fractures, especially if you switch too quickly to running barefoot.

It’s true that humans and their ancestors have been running and walking barefoot for millions of years. There are also people in the world—such as in Africa—who still run without shoes.

Transitioning to barefoot or minimalist running, though, requires retraining your body to a radically different form. Running shoes give you a longer stride, with a tendency to land on the heel. Barefoot running, however, is the opposite, with a shorter stride and a mid- or forefoot landing.

Without the support of running shoes, overstriding or striking on the heel can put extra pressure on the calf and foot muscles, as well as increase the impact on the heel bone. If done too quickly, you are likely to be laid up, sometimes for months.

If you are still anxious to make the leap to barefoot running, you are better off taking small hops instead. Start by walking barefoot, and run less than a quarter of a mile every other day in the beginning. Gradually increase the distance.

Most of all, listen to your body. If your bones or joints hurt, stop running. Keep in mind that you’ve probably been wearing shoes since your very first steps in baby shoes. The change to barefoot running may take months.

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