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"What are the potential advantages and side effects of running barefoot?"
I have been running for three years now and have participated in several half-marathons. I intend to run my next half-marathon barefoot, as I notice more and more runners doing lately. Training has been intense, though I have only been doing it for about three weeks now. I would like to learn more about the potential advantages this may have for my feet, posture and legs. I have heard that some people simply find this technique much more natural. On the other hand, I am also concerned that I might start experiencing side effects. What can I expect?
You are right that barefoot (or at least minimalist shoe wear) running has become more and more popular of late, in part due to several high profile books and articles by runners and journalists who endorse this technique. It is important, however, to discuss it with your primary care doctor or a sports medicine specialist. The philosophy behind barefoot running is that, for most people with neutral foot anatomy, all of the fancy padding and cushioning that characterizes the modern running shoe is actually counterproductive. This is so, it is claimed, because the excess padding prevents the muscles in the legs from strengthening normally, and because it changes the natural rhythm and nature of the running stride, predisposing to injury. There are no scientific studies which have validated these claims, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence from expert runners which at least lets us know that barefoot running should be safe for many people. The main danger of barefoot running is that of immediate injury to the foot, from stepping on a sharp object like glass or rocks. This can be minimized by running in locations that are clean of debris and trash. Additionally, running on hard surfaces can initially be quite difficult, and many barefoot runners prefer to run in the grass or on the beach. If you have more questions about this issue, you should talk to your primary care doctor or to a sports medicine specialist.
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