Barefoot running is up for public debate again. The barefoot running saga that is about to play out for you was initiated by a maniacal neighbor and/or ruthless troll. It started with a Facebook post in a private group called “I Love NE Minneapolis,” which was screenshotted and tweeted by one of its members. Enjoy.

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This post was met with responses ranging from, “Maybe of pair of squirrels could be strapped to your feet…?” to “oh my fucking god. please just go away,” also documented. The barefoot runner then alleged that he reported the group for cyberbullying, naturally.

It was also brought to Twitter’s attention that this runner previously “gained notoriety” for a post about competitive unicycling, which has all the signs of troll behavior. But if he is indeed a barefoot runner looking to protect his precious callused feet, does he have a point? Should you, as a homeowner and member of civilized society, bear the burden of sweeping debris from the sidewalk so his soles can can land safely? Or do you have science’s blessing to tell all barefoot runners to go to hell? Let’s dig in.

This podiatric journey starts with a shoe: Vibram’s FiveFinger running shoe, introduced in 2005. You remember the one:

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That shoe, besides serving as a giant douchebag warning sign, carried the idea that its unique, cushion-less design decreased foot injuries and strengthened muscles. A few years later, a 2009 book called Born to Run touted the story of a Mexican tribe who ran extreme distances in nothing more than flimsy sandals. Scientists started studying the pros and cons of running without shoe support. The barefoot running craze was born.

In 2014, Vibram got itself sued for making its claims without scientific evidence. The company settled and agreed to pay refunds to customers, putting a damper on the outlandish footwear. And as for the science? Like most things trendy and controversial, it’s all over the place.

Dan Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard, made a name in running circles for studying barefoot running. His research showed that runners wearing shoes strike the ground differently—on their heels—than runners in very thin or no shoes, who strike on their forefront or midfoot, and that they experience higher impact force by doing so. Thus, running barefoot or minimal footwear changes a runner’s gait and can soften that impact.

“We hypothesize and there is anecdotal evidence that forefoot or midfoot striking can help avoid and/or mitigate repetitive stress injuries, especially stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and runner’s knee,” Lieberman’s team said on the website. It is of interest to note the research is partly funded by Vibram.

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Barefoot runners also claimed that chunky running shoes pampered feet too much, weakening important foot muscles.

However, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that striking with the forefront was less efficient than striking on the heel, causing forefront strikers to “hit a wall” more quickly in terms of energy. Five studies introduced at the 2013 meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine found no benefits of switching to a barefoot running style. Another 2016 study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface contradicts the claim that running with shoes weakens foot muscles.

And practically speaking, the American Podiatric Medical Association warned in 2014, “Risks of barefoot running include a lack of protection, which may lead to injuries such as puncture wounds, and increased stress on the lower extremities.” As in, the ground is often treacherous, covered in glass, pebbles, acorns, and otherwise.

The inconclusive research piles on, but the takeaway seems to be this: If you are comfortable running as you do now, whether with thick-soled Asics or barely-there Vibrams, don’t try to make a switch. But if you experience pain, which is common as running is a high-impact sport, consider talking to a doctor or trainer about adjusting your running style. To each runner his own.

This all brings us back to the ultimate douchebag neighbor—or diabolical troll—who tried to make everyone care about his bare feet. It’s almost as offensive as taking off socks and shoes on an airplane. You can run however you like in whatever footwear you like, but keep it to yourself. No one wants to hear about your fucking feet.



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