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One of the founding members of The Barefoot Runners Society wants to set the record straight.
Jason Robillard, a founding member of The Barefoot Runners Society, wants to set the record straight. For the author of “The Barefoot Running Book,” running sans shoes is about fixing form, not amassing followers.
“The barefoot running movement is sometimes perceived as a group of fanatical zealots bent on convincing the masses to burn their shoes,” Robillard said. “For those of us who have been at this for awhile, we understand that the majority of the running population has little or no interest in running barefoot. We are interested in teaching people how to run with good form.”
Robillard isn’t alone in his belief that barefoot running can encourage proper running form, which in turn can help lessen the likelihood of injuries. Dr. Neil Feldman, a podiatrist and marathoner in Worcester, Mass., said that running barefoot is incentive to get off your heels, thus reducing loading forces that create a jarring effect throughout the body, and is a way to stop forward momentum.
“When barefoot, you will land on the ball of your foot, which will encourage a more efficient stride, with the foot spending less time on the ground with each step,” Feldman said. “This can also have a beneficial effect on leg turnover and run cadence.”
In 2006, Robillard launched Barefootrunninguniversity.com as a means of documenting his own transition to barefoot running. Now one of the biggest online sources of barefoot running information, his website is a hub for everything that has to do with wearing nothing or next to nothing on your feet, including educational articles, clinic listings and a forum dedicated to the discussion of all things related to barefoot running or minimalist footwear.
Robillard, who has competed sans shoes in races ranging from 5K to 100 miles, began dabbling in barefoot running in 1992 and started pursuing it more seriously in 2005. Through self-experimentation, he found that running without shoes increased his awareness of his surroundings and forced him to run with good form. It also helped reduce instances of annoying injuries while increasing his enjoyment of running.
“There are barefoot runners who will be overly excited about barefoot running. In almost every case, these are runners who experienced a long history of injuries and failed treatments,” Robillard said. “Part of my goal as an educator is to fully explain why barefoot running reduces injuries.”
Robillard plans to take his show on the road this summer. He has teamed up with footwear manufacturer Merrell, which makes a line of minimalist shoes, as an ambassador for the education and enjoyment of barefoot and minimalist running.
Bill Hartford, owner of South Boston Running Emporium, a specialty running store in South Boston, Mass., sees a big benefit in these types of educational initiatives. He believes that while barefoot running and minimalist footwear is all the rage right now, without a widespread educational effort, there will only be an increase in running injuries.
“These kinds of campaigns need to happen before people start buying minimalist shoes off the wall,” Hartford said. “As a shop owner, it’s a hassle to educate everyone who comes through the door, but without education first, people are going to get injured.”
While traveling across the country, Robillard will meet with people in the running and outdoor industries to spread the word about the benefits of barefoot running. Robillard will also post videos and informative articles on Merrell’s new barefoot running website, Merrell.com/barefoot.
This article first appeared in the May issue of Competitor Magazine.