Archive for January, 2010

Running Scared — Part 2

Continuing on from the previous entry, the other statement came from Roadrunner Sports. This was an email that went out to its customers, saying

I care about your health and well-being. That’s why when I hear headlines talking about the supposed benefits of “Barefoot Running” . . . I can’t stay quiet!

Don’t blindly follow the latest trend. This barefoot running thing is a major injury waiting to happen. Roads and trails are littered with pea size rocks just waiting to take a big bite our of your feet and leave you sidelined for weeks.

Ever walked on a beach or sidewalk and seen glass shards by the dozens? Don’t step on those if you plan on running in your future.

Look, there are some great shoes to help you run “Minimalist.” Just try the Nike Free or LunarGlide. But, barefoot? Yikes! Look out below!

This is ignorance masquerading as knowledge. I doubt the person who wrote it (“Chief Runner” Michael Gotfredson) has any experience even trying barefoot running. All he sees it as is a “latest trend” without examining it carefully (as the Brooks Running folks have started to do). Otherwise, he just wouldn’t have made some of the silly statements he made.

Pea-sized rocks take big bites out of your feet? Barefoot runners have never heard of such a thing. How the heck would such pebbles do such a thing, anyways. Yes, it is true, particularly for new barefoot runners, that gravel and the like can be a bit uncomfortable. But what they teach is to run more softly (and they thicken up the soles for next time).

And I don’t know where he goes to find glass shards by the dozens. Barefoot runners watch where they are going, and they rarely see such horrific dangers. Of course, if they did did see such a danger, there is a special technique they’ve developed to deal with it: They run around it. Even then, the dangers of glass are greatly exaggerated. As mentioned here before, skin does not puncture easily — it slices. As long as you are placing your foot down and not sliding, it is extremely difficult to injure it with glass.

The real-life experiences of barefoot runners contradict Roadrunner’s speculations.

When the data contradicts one’s speculations, the mark of reason is to discard the speculation.

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Well, not really. Despite all the media coverage about barefoot running lately, I doubt that more than just a small percentage of folks are really going to take it up. And many of them have been seduced by the idea that shoes like Vibram Five Fingers are “barefoot”. Pfft.

But recently, two shoe companies have spoken out about barefoot running, and neither one has really covered itself in glory. Today, we’ll discuss the first one.

The CEO of Brooks Running recently wrote an open letter about barefoot running. His point seems to be that the vast majority of people cannot run barefoot, and that only “mechanically blessed” individuals can do it safely. I’d like to focus on one of his statements:

At one end of the spectrum, we know there are runners who lack foot strength leading to severe pronation. They may strike heavily and need a great deal of support to run injury- and pain-free.

The Society for Barefoot Living contends that the reason most of these folks lack foot strength is because they wear shoes. Samuel Shulman’s study, “Survey in China and India of Feet That Have Never Worn Shoes” showed that the perennially barefoot just don’t have the sorts of problems that the shod worry about. Like any other part of the body, the foot strengthens with use and exercise. Of course, one does need to make sure not to overdo it at first.

Pronation just doesn’t seem to be much of a problem among the barefoot. That’s because their feet have not atrophied and because, when they are not held tightly within a shoe, the muscles, bones, and ligaments are free to move in a fashion that strengthens them and puts them to their proper use.

Regarding striking heavily, we just saw the results of the study of barefoot versus shod footstrikes. People wearing shoes strike heavily because they can. When they do that barefoot, they very quickly learn to run better in such a way to minimize those transient forces.

However, the Brooks Running letter is still pretty open-minded. It includes a link to some robust discussion within the company about barefoot running, and they ask for more opinions from their customers. They are willing to learn.

However, there is one statement in that discussion that reveals a certain (unsurprising) bias. They make the statement

Currently, there is no conclusive evidence demonstrating barefoot/minimalist running reduces injury or that running in running shoes causes injury in every runner.

Now, that statement could just as easily be written as

Currently, there is no conclusive evidence demonstrating running in running shoes reduces injury or that barefoot/minimalist running causes injury in every runner.

The sort of study being talked about just has not been done. There are some hints that barefoot running reduces stress on the joints, but there has not been a careful study comparing injury rates (and what sorts of injuries) of running barefoot versus running shod. However, neither of the above renderings of that statement is unbiased.

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There is a new paper out in Nature about barefoot running which examines foot strike patterns versus shod running. The article is Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners from lead investigator Daniel Lieberman of Harvard. There is also a “News and Views” article by William Jungers commenting on it: Biomechanics: Barefoot running strikes back. Already, the Los Angeles Times has an article about the story: Study on evolution of running finds going barefoot good for the sole, better for the heels.

What Dr. Lieberman and his co-researchers did was compare the foot strikes of five different groups: “(1) habitually shod athletes from the USA; (2) athletes from the Rift Valley Province of Kenya (famed for endurance running), most of whom grew up barefoot but now wear cushioned shoes when running; and (3) US runners who grew up shod but now habitually run barefoot or in minimal footwear. We also compared adolescents from two schools in the Rift Valley Province: one group (4) who have never worn shoes; and another group (5) who have been habitually shod most of their lives.”

Here’s what they found out. Almost everybody who runs in shoes strikes with the heel. Almost everybody who has experience with running barefoot does more front-foot striking or mid-foot striking (though, when looking at the data, the word “striking” really only appears to apply when rear-foot striking). When you strike with the heel, it sets up a strong transient force, with a very sharp increase in loading and a high peak. When barefoot, that transient force is mostly missing. You can see the difference in his figure 1 (a portion of which is included below):

If you try to heel-strike while barefoot, the transient is even quicker and higher, because there is not all that shoe cushioning. So, if you try to run barefoot that way, you very quickly learn that front-foot or mid-foot striking is the way to go. And that is also what Dr. Lieberman found. Folks who regularly run shod automatically heel-strike. In fact, the raised heel of running shoes actually encourage hitting with the heel first, since the ankle has to be flexed that much more to try to land on the mid or front of the foot. Folks with any amount of experience running barefoot automatically switch to a mid- or front-foot strike.

You can see that in action in the following two photos, from Jungers’ article. Both of the Kenyan youths pictured grew up barefooted, but started wearing shoes fairly recently. You can see the front-foot landing for the barefooted youth, and the heel-strike landing for the shod youth.

As Dr. Lieberman puts it in his article:

Differences between [rear-foot strike] and [front-foot strike] running make sense from an evolutionary perspective. If endurance running was an important behaviour before the invention of modern shoes, then natural selection is expected to have operated to lower the risk of injury and discomfort when barefoot or in minimal footwear. Most shod runners today land on their heels almost exclusively. In contrast, runners who cannot or prefer not to use cushioned shoes with elevated heels often avoid [rear-foot strike] landings and thus experience lower impact transients than do most shod runners today, even on very stiff surfaces.

“Very stiff surfaces” refers to surfaces such as asphalt and concrete:

As a result, we found no significant differences in rates or magnitudes of impact loading in barefoot runners on hard surfaces relative to cushioned surfaces.

Dr. Lieberman ends up by noting that

Evidence that barefoot and minimally shod runners avoid [rear-foot] strikes with high-impact collisions may have public health implications. The average runner strikes the ground 600 times per kilometre, making runners prone to repetitive stress injuries. The incidence of such injuries has remained considerable for 30 years despite technological advancements that providemore cushioning and motion control in shoes designed for heel–toe running. Although cushioned, high-heeled running shoes are comfortable, they limit proprioception and make it easier for runners to land on their heels. Furthermore, many running shoes have arch supports and stiffened soles that may lead to weaker foot muscles, reducing arch strength. This weakness contributes to excessive pronation and places greater demands on the plantar fascia, which may cause plantar fasciitis. Although there are anecdotal reports of reduced injuries in barefoot populations, controlled prospective studies are needed to test the hypothesis that individuals who do not predominantly RFS either barefoot or in minimal footwear, as the foot apparently evolved to do, have reduced injury rates.

While there are still no decent studies that compare injury rates between shod and barefoot runners, every study like the one above should certainly make the public (and officials) more amenable to recognizing barefoot running.

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Resisting Social Pressure

One of the troubles many barefooters have is the reaction of society. There are all sorts of subtle and not-so-subtle ways that people let us know that we are not living up to expectations. Also, as social beings, it is built into our genes (to some extent) to respond to that pressure. That pressure is important to all of us getting along. It is part of being social animals. In some sense, it helps develop and maintain our sense of what is right and wrong.

However, that social pressure works indiscriminately, hitting the useful as well as the mere conventional. We are all aware of teens obsessing about the latest fad of the day. And we are aware that those who resist it are labeled “nerds” or “Goths”, or whatever, and put under intense pressure to be just like everybody else. Yet, it is so often the unconventional that leads to everyday progress.

Barefooting is actually a way to resist some of that unreasonable social pressure. It’s a good way to train ourselves to analytically look at what we do and why, and to help ensure that there are actually good reasons for our behaviors.

This is not a new concept. Back in Roman times, Cato the Younger was well known for going barefoot along the streets of Rome. Here is how it was put by Plutarch in his “Lives”:

Καθόλου δὲ τοῖς βίοις καὶ τοῖς ἐπιτηδεύμασιν ὁ Κάτων τὴν ἐναντίαν ὁδὸν οἰόμενος δεῖν βαδίζειν ὡς οὖσι φαύλοις καὶ μεγάλης δεομένοις μεταβολῆς, ἐπεὶ πορφύραν ἑώρα τὴν κατακόρως ἐρυθρὰν καὶ ὀξεῖαν ἀγαπωμένην, αὐτὸς ἐφόρει τὴν μέλαιναν. πολλάκις δ’ ἀνυπόδητος καὶ ἀχίτων εἰς τὸ δημόσιον προῄει μετ’ ἄριστον, οὐ δόξαν ἐκ ταύτης τῆς καινότητος θηρώμενος, ἀλλὰ ἐθίζων ἑαυτὸν ἐπὶ τοῖς αἰσχροῖς αἰσχύνεσθαι μόνοις, τῶν δὲ ἄλλων ἀδόξων καταφρονεῖν.


Being dissatisfied with them, Cato would deliberately go against the grain of the attitudes of his times. For instance, when a particularly bright hue of purple became all the rage, he would instead wear the darkest shade possible. Also, he would often go out about the streets barefoot and without his tunic. He was not looking for notoriety by doing so, but was teaching himself to be ashamed of only that which is truly shameful, and to ignore popular opinion otherwise.

So, if you would like to go barefoot more, but are really concerned about what others might think, you can take some advice from Cato.

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A Rant We Can Believe In

Barefoot Ken Bob is An Angry Barefooter. Oh, he’s not really angry, but he has some really good observations:

This is simple logic…

IF your foot is covered and If you believe you are barefoot – Then, you have been made a fool!

Even a bigger fool, if you paid money for the footwear believing they actually are “barefoot” shoes!

IF you sell me footwear, and IF you have convinced me to believe that I’m barefoot while wearing the footwear- Then you have made me a fool!

I’m not saying anyone or everyone needs to be barefoot all the time (heaven forbid, that that should happen, or that peace breaks out around the world). I’m just saying, Don’t be made a fool, and don’t try to make me a fool!”

When I talk about Running Barefoot, or Barefoot Running, or Walking Barefoot, or Barefoot Walking, or being Barefoot – I actually, truly, mean that the feet are bare, without shoes, footwear, not even socks. I try to be clear and accurate about this. And a few years ago, people actually understood clearly and accurately that I meant “barefoot”.

Go read the rest of it here.

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So, What’s the Point?

In the comments, “Beach Bum” points us to an article from 1984 in the Eugene, OR Register-Guard, in which Cape May, NJ was starting to crack down on their ordinance requiring shoes on their Boardwalk after 7 p.m.

That article is in the August 16, 1984 Eugene Register-Guard (Oregon), “Baring feet against the law in this town”.

Google’s “Related articles” link provides a slightly longer version of the story from the Palm Beach Post (Florida), “Barefoot in the Dark”. Here’s what the Palm Beach article says:

CAPE MAY, N.J. (AP) — If you thought Palm Beach made things tough by forbidding joggers from running topless through town, just listen to this.

In Cape May, a Victorian relic by the sea, few people would ever think of walking or jogging while wearing shoes. Bottomless, at least where feet are concerned, is the only way to go. But now those feet had better be clad in “proper footwear” after 7 p.m. on the boardwalk and promenade.

It’s the law, and enforcement is being stepped up.

“That’s what summer is for, walking barefoot,” protested 13-year-old Tara Sherretta of Cape May as she and two friends walked along the promenade without shoes.

Older residents and merchants selling sandals seem to be taking the issue in stride. But most of them agree with youngsters that the 13-year-old ordinance runs counter to the resort spirit.

“The kids are scared to death they’re going to get locked up or something,” said gift shop cashier Hannah Lemmon, pointing to empty bins that once contained sandals.

The concern in this town of charming homes, inns and ubiquitous wicker furniture stems from a $125 fine that Municipal Judge Martin Way handed out last week for the first summons issued under the city’s barefoot law.

Police Chief Harry Stotz said he instructed his 24 officers to strictly enforce the law this summer.

He said the increased enforcement is not a result of lingering Victorian prudishness, but rather the fear of lawsuits against the city if someone strolling in the dark was injured by a piece of glass, burning cigarette or a splinter from the boardwalk.

At dusk Tuesday, a barefoot Caroline Agnelli, 17, of East Hartford, Conn., ducked behind a passer-by so two police officers making their rounds couldn’t see she was barefoot.

“You can go into any place here barefoot. But you can’t walk on the boardwalk. That’s really weird, especially at a beach town,” said Miss Agnelli as she strolled the promenade, a 12-foot-wide strip of asphalt parallel to the beach. The boardwalk is two wooden structures that just like piers off the promenade and toward the water.

A hearing on the only other summons ever issued for such a violation was postponed yesterday for one week after the defendant said he could not make the court date.

The law says people on public streets and in public places after 7 p.m. must wear “usual dress” rather than bathing suits. It adds: “With reference to the boardwalk and promenade, usual dress includes proper footwear.”

One interesting part of the story is the reference to the Palm Beach ordinance making it illegal to be in town without wearing a shirt. This ordinance was finally declared unconstitutional, in 1987, in DeWeese v. Palm Beach.

Another interesting part is the excuse that the Police Chief uses. As usual, it’s just a mass of ignorance and contradictions. In New Jersey in the summertime, the sun doesn’t set until 8:30 p.m., so the reference to the dark “after 7 p.m.” makes is horribly over-inclusive. But the reference to “proper footwear” makes it quite clear: it is merely a dress code. Besides, I’ve never seen a city being sued by a barefoot person because they stepped on a cigarette butt in the dark. That’s just excuse-making.

In fact, here is the whole ordinance, found at the website of the City of Cape May:

§373-31. Bathing suits prohibited during certain hours.

No person, either male or female, shall be attired in a bathing suit, trunks or other than usual dress on any public street or in any public place, after 7:00 p.m. and prior to 7:00 a.m. With reference to the boardwalk or promenade, usual dress includes appropriate footwear.

Again, it is clear that it is only a dress code, imposed by an arm of the state, against its citizens. I doubt it would hold up in court, but it appears that nobody has challenged it.

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Grand Rapids News Story

Here’s a cute story done by a Grand Rapids, MI, local news station. It’s about barefoot running and some barefoot running clinics put on by Jason Robillard.

It does seem a bit odd that one would require clinics on how to run barefoot (take off your shoes!), but there is more to it than that. Don’t forget that feet that are used to being encased in shoes do not have the muscle, tendon, or ligament support or strength of those who regularly go barefoot. There can also be issues of technique. If you try to use the same sort of heel-striking that you can get away with shod you won’t last very long.

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Dumb Law — Unconstitutional

I managed to get a copy of the court opinion referred to in that Plain Dealer article. It’s an interesting combination of disdain that somebody would challenge a law that the judge saw as so trivial (love the little lecture!) with recognition of the limitations of government.


Curran v. City of Youngstown

This day this cause came on to be heard on the Petition of the plaintiff, MRS. TERRIE CURRAN, against the CITY OF YOUNGSTOWN and the Council of said City, praying for a Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief. The Petition alleges that on Sept. 4, 1968m the City Council of Youngstown passed Ordinance No. 78254 requiring that all persons over six years of age wear footwear in certain prescribed areas of the City of Youngstown, and, further, providing for penalties in the event of any violation of the ordinance.

The plaintiff swears, under oath, that she intends to walk and appear in the areas in the City prescribed by the ordinance without footwear. She further alleges that the wearing of footwear in the prescribed areas violates her constitutional right of privacy, and deprives her of liberty without due process of law.

The Plaintiff asks the Court to declare the ordinance unconstitutional, and to enjoin its enforcement.

The bible in Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, proclaims:

    “For everything there is a season, and a
    time for every matter under heaven: * * *
    a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;”

The Court is of the opinion that this is a time when it should speak, and speak distinctly.

This case was filed for only one purpose, and that is, for notoriety, and not to protect any fundamental legal principles of law or the Constitution.

Although the pronouncement of the Court may be construed as obiter dictum, what I say in this Opinion must be said.

The plaintiff in this case is an English instructor at Youngstown State University. It would seem to the Court that included in the profession of teaching is not only instruction in the subject matter, but also instruction in good manners, The obligations of a teacher are to teach, to correct, and to give good example. Adequate competence in the subject matter is not sufficient.

It has been said that where good example is not given, instruction lacks a soul.

    “Manners adorn knowledge and smooth its
    way through the world.”
    (The Earl of Chesterfield.)

In fact, manners, morals, character, and dignity have an ethical significance which has the force of law.

This Court is convinced that the plaintiff will not sustain the respect of her students or maintain the dignity of her profession by walking down the main thoroughfare of this community in her bare feet. If the plaintiff feels that being deprived of her right to walk on the main thoroughfares of this community in her bare feet is an infringement of her liberty, her vision of her duties as a teacher is myopic.

This Court believes that the students’ lack of good manners, and their lack of respect for teachers are among the basic causes of the disturbances on college campuses which plague our land.

In a country involved in such events as the Vietnam War, taxes, student riots, and crime, which require the concentrated attention and service of all of us, it would appear that the Council of the City of Youngstown could spend its time more profitably than in passing ordinances prohibiting people from walking on the main thoroughfares in their bare feet.

This Court suggests to the Civil Liberties Union and its erudite counsel that their time could also be more profitably spent in teaching the preservation of our heritage of freedom, and respect for law which insures that freedom, rather than spend hours in research and preparation of a legal tome to prevent a school teacher from being deprived of her claimed right to walk down the main thoroughfare of this City in her bare feet. It should always be remembered that rights carry with them obligations.

Coming now to the issue in this case as to whether or not the ordinance in question is constitutional, it is quite obvious that it is not.

It quite patently violates the provisions of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution, because it involves the right of privacy which is no less important than any other right carefully and particularly reserved to the people. (Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479.) (Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319.) (Breen v. Kahl, 37 L.W. 2506.)

The Court further finds that the ordinance is unconstitutional because it violates the settled constitutional doctrine that a state’s police power can be properly exercised only where there is a reasonable relationship to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare, which does not exist in this case. (West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379.)

The Court further finds that the ordinance is not a bill of attainder.

In disposing of this case, the Court can find no better language than to interpolate the words of John Greenleaf Whittier in his poem, The Barefoot Boy:

    “Blessings on thee, barefoot girl.”

Therefore, the Court preserves this English instructor’s constitutional right to walk barefoot down Federal Street, and declares the ordinance unconstitutional.

Plaintiff’s attorney shall furnish a Journal Entry in accordance with the above findings.

Sidney Rigelhaupt, Judge

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Dumb Laws

There are quite a few websites that purport to list a bunch of “dumb laws.” A couple of examples include dumblaws.com, idiotlaws.com, and this. Not surprisingly, barefootedness comes up occasionally.

Two of the ones that make many of the lists are “A city ordinance states that a person cannot go barefoot without first obtaining a special five-dollar permit” (somewhere in Texas) and “In the hippy-dippy late ’60s, Youngstown, Ohio, briefly had a law making it illegal to walk barefoot through town.”

It is good to take these lists with a block of salt. As wikipedia points out, “Some of the purported ‘dumb laws’ have no basis in reality, or are an exaggeration of real laws. For example a reasonable law about preservations of rare cactus species may be presented as humorous statement that ‘There is a possible 25 years in prison for cutting down a cactus.'” I’ve found much the same, myself. In the Ohio section, there is usually one that says, “It is illegal to fish for whales on Sunday.” Well, of course, the Ohio statutes make no reference to whales. Instead, what the law said was, “No person shall hunt a wild bird or wild quadruped, except coyotes, fox, groundhogs, or migratory waterfowl . . . on Sunday.” That is, almost all hunting was banned on Sundays. Of course, whales are quadrupeds, so taking them on a Sunday was banned just as much as taking a deer on a Sunday. That law was repealed in 1998.

So call me suspicious of the other barefooting laws.

We do know that back in 1969 a (minor) attempt was made in San Francisco to ban bare feet. The following story was in the April 3, 1969 issue of the San Francisco Chronical (p. 3):

        Footloose in San Francisco

John Greenleaf Whittier’s “barefoot boy with cheek of tan” could not be ruled off San Francisco streets for failing to have the proper footgear, according to City Attorney Thomas M. O’Connor.

He informed the Board of Supervisors yesterday that the city cannot outlaw bare feet unless it can prove they are a threat to the public health.

“Unless the proposed legislation can be justified as protecting the general public from disease or injury,” said O’Connor, “legislation designed solely to protect that portion of the populace who desire to roam the streets barefooted cannot be justified as a legitimate exercise of the police power.

If the city can produce medical evidence that bare feet are a hazard to the public health, it can possibly draft a law prohibiting them.

“If the [supervisors] committee wishes to pursue the subject,” said the city attorney gently, “it should consult with competent medical authority.”

The issue had been brought to the Board by an alarmed citizen who urged them to outlaw bare feet for the protection of the walker.

O’Connor pointed out that no law could be adopted to protect barefooted persons from the dangers of street and sidewalk, but only to protect the general public from disease or injury.

However, some recent research of mine has turned up information of the Youngstown, Ohio, ordinance. It actually did exist, and it was declared unconstitutional in a court case. Here’s the story from the April 22, 1969 Cleveland Plain Dealer (p. 18A):

Youngstown Council Chided

        Barefoot Law Gets Boot

YOUNGSTOWN — This city’s barefoot ordinance was ruled illegal yesterday by Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Sidney Rigerhaupt who took verbal aim at a university teacher who initiated the case, the Civil Liberties Union and Youngstown City Council.

Mrs. Terrie Curran, an English and communications instructor at Youngstown State University, filed the suit. Judge Rigelhaupt devoted several pages of his opinion to Mrs. Curran’s attitude, the “wasted efforts of the Civil Liberties Union” and the futility of the city ordinance outlawing barefoot pedestrians downtown.

NEVERTHELESS, Judge Rigelhaupt declared unconstitutional the barefoot ordinance of Sept. 4, 1968. The judge said the ordinance violated the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution because it involves the right of privacy, “which is no less important than any other right carefully and particularly reserved to the people.”

The ordinance provided that no one over 6 years’ old would be allowed downtown in bare feet.

“In a country involved in such events as the Vietnam war, taxes, student riots and crime, which require the constant attention and service of all of us, it would appear that the council of the city of Youngstown could spend its time more profitably than in passing ordinances prohibiting people from walking downtown in their bare feet,” the judge said.

More later.

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Another Poem

As long as we are on a poem kick, here’s another one. I actually like this one a bit more than the previous one.

By the way, I’m not claiming that these poems are great literature. But they are kind of fun.

This one is from 1907, written by Edwin L. Sabin:

        The Barefoot Trail

Out of the dear front gate it ran,
Into the sun and dew and tan;
Traversed the dusty, peaceful street
Arched by maples, in mem’ry sweet;
Crossed the pasture with clover lush;
Entered the copse, where trilled the thrush;
Rambled, loitered, and played—and then
Turned to mother and home again.

Street, and pasture and hill and vale—
Such was the course of the Barefoot Trail;
Pausing and veering for this and that—
Now for a game of one-old-cat,
Now for a rollicking butterfly,
Now for a nest hung just too high,
Now for a brookside haunt—and then
Back to mother and home again.

Never a sun for this trail too hot,
Never a nook that knew it not;
Twisting and turning from scene to scene,
It checkered the realm of the gold and green.
Passenger—courier boyhood, slim;
Passport—whistle and tattered brim;
Province—to beckon afar, and then
To lead to mother and home again.

Many a secret and many a tale
Ours who followed the Barefoot Trail;
Wonders witnessed and marvels heard;
Kinship of squirrel and hare and bird,
The shortest route to the swimming-hole,
The finny spoil of the swaying pole,
Care-free triumphs and joys—and then,
Best—the “mother and home again.”

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A Poem

In one of the comments, Martin asked about whether kids used to go barefoot because they liked it or because they were poor.

As part of my answer, I mentioned that there were poems from back then about kids loving to go barefoot. Here is one of them, from 1903, written by Burges Johnson:

        Goin’ Barefoot

It’s more fun goin’ barefoot than anythin’
    I know.
There ain’t a single nother thing that helps
    yer feelin’s so.
Some days I stay in Muvver’s room a get-
    tin’ in her way;
An’ when I’ve bothered her so much she sez,
    “Oh, run an’ play!”
I say, “Kin I go barefoot?” En she say,
    “If y’ choose”–
Nen I alwuz wanter holler when I’m pullin’
    off my shoes!

It’s fun a-goin’ barefoot when yer playin’
    any game,–
‘Cause robbers would be noisy an’ Indians
    awful tame
Unless they had their shoes off when they
    crep’ up in th’ night,
An’ folks can’t know they’re comin’ till they
    get right close in sight!
An’ I’m surely goin’ barefoot every day when
    I get old,
An’ haven’t got a nurse to say I’ll catch my
    death o’ cold!

An’ if yer goin’ barefoot, yer want t’ go out-
Y’ can’t stretch out an’ dig yer heels in
    stupid hard-wood floors
Like you kin dig ’em in th’ dirt! An’
    where th’ long grass grows,
The blades feel kinder tickley and cool be-
    tween yer toes.
So when I’m pullin’ off my shoes I’m
    mighty ‘fraid I’ll cough,–
‘Cause then I know Ma’d stop me ‘fore I
    got my stockin’s off!

If y’ often go round barefoot there’s lot o’
    things to know,–
Of how t’ curl yer feet on stones so they
    won’t hurt y’ so,–
An’ when th’ grass is stickley an’ pricks
    y’ at a touch,
Jes plunk yer feet down solid an’ it don’t
    hurt half so much.
I lose my hat mos’ every day. I wish I did
    my shoes,–
Er else I wisht I was so poor I hadn’t none
    to lose!

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The news media is picking up the results of a new study showing that running shoes are worse on your knees than running barefoot. The stories also mention that even high-heeled shoes are better (though, in all fairness, this is a bit of comparing apples to oranges).

The L.A. Times story is here. They had done a story back in October featuring Barefoot Ken Saxton of RunningBarefoot.org, so the writer of the new article wasn’t too surprised by the study results.

The Daily Telegraph also has a story. In this article is it made clear that the study showed that running in running shoes is worse than walking in high heels.

The lead author of the study, Dr. D. Casey Kerrigan, has been doing these sorts of studies for a long time. “Knee osteoarthritis and high-heeled shoes” and “Women’s shoes and knee osteoarthritis” are the two studies she was involved with that showed the effect of high heels on walking.

The new study, The Effect of Running Shoes on Lower Extremity Joint Torques”, shows that knee varus torques and knee flexion torques are about 40% higher in running shoes than barefoot, and hip internal (or medial) rotation torques are about 50% higher. It was published in the journal of The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: PM&R, Volume 1, Issue 12, Pages 1058-1063 (December 2009).

The knee varus torque refers to the left/right forces on the knee as you run or walk. The knee flexion torque refers to the front back motion. These sorts of stresses on the knee bones and cartilage are implicated in osteoarthritis of the knee. The hip medial rotation refers to rotation of the thigh about the hip.

The study itself ends with a rather odd sentence:

The use of athletic footwear in running as a means to protect the foot from acute injury and the potentially debilitating effect of switching to barefoot running on foot health excludes such an alternative.

Huh? This statement appears to be without foundation, and just perpetuates the usual fears about going barefoot. I’m not even sure what they mean by “acute injury”, but I can guess that they mean something like stepping on glass. That is extremely rare, and even more rarely “acute”. In fact, most of the “acute” foot injuries are bloody blisters, caused by shoes, not going barefoot. It is also not clear what they are thinking about barefoot running having a “potentially debilitating effect” on “foot health”. What is telling, though, is that this statement does not have any citations associated with it (as they did with their other remarks that actually were based upon other studies).

Oh, and the recommendation of the study? Come up with new footwear designs. That is, after all, what Kerrigan’s company, JKM Technologies, does. I’m sure that didn’t affect the results of the study, but it does show a certain blindness towards a possibly more effective (and cheaper) solution: running barefoot.

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Bare Feet and Kids from Long Ago

In addition to shoes really not being very good for kids’ feet, there is also a very long tradition of kids going barefoot. Additionally, kids can often go barefoot in places that adults are frowned upon if they do it. It’s as if at a certain age, a cute kid’s foot turns into . . . um . . . something unreasonable(?).

I do a lot of hiking, including various guided hikes at various local or state parks, usually in southeastern Ohio, which is right on the edge of Appalachia. On these hikes, invariably, an older couple, in their early- to mid-seventies, will say to me, “You know, when we were kids, we would go barefoot all summer long. And we used to be able to run on gravel without even thinking about it.” And then they conclude with, “But I could never do that today.”

Well, they probably could. It would just take a bit of conditioning.

But a lot of kids really did go barefoot all summer long (or even longer) and they did just fine doing so. Some kids even went to school barefoot, as can be seen from some historical photos. Here’s one (via the Ohio Historical Society) from a Greene County, Ohio school (near Dayton, Ohio), taken around 1910:

Greene County Schoolyard, 1910

Quite a few barefoot kids can be see in the schoolyard. The Ohio Historical Society has a few other similar photos at another school, here, and here.

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