Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Top 10 Impacts on Bare Feet in 2009

Since you can't turn on the TV, visit a Web site or read a magazine at this time of year without seeing some recap of the year that was, I thought I'd follow suit, look back and share the top 10 ways that bare feet or going barefooted made an impact in 2009. Some are news items, but others are trends or products. You may not have heard of some of the things on my list. Quite honestly, you may not agree with what I've selected or the order in which I've put them. What's important here is that the list is comprised of 10 ways that bare feet became more pervasive and made a name for themselves this year, not necessarily how the public saw them as a whole -- and not necessarily good.

#10: Al Gauthier's Living Barefoot and Barefoot Moe in the News
Barefooters made some headlines this year and gained prominence on the internet. Al Gauthier used his Web programming and design prowess to develop Living Barefoot, a site that encourages barefooted living, hosts a podcast, provides reviews of minimalist shoes and operates a forum for barefooters to share with each other. Al's site, along with Barefoot Moe's Barefoot in Toronto site, drummed up a lot of requests from Canadian and U.S. news media interested in sharing the barefooters' story. One of the biggest stories was "No Shoes? No Problem!" published in Canada's The Globe and Mail (photo courtesy: The Globe and Mail).

#9: RunTellmanRun
Tellman Knudson (pictured, center), a self-proclaimed geek and CEO of several online marketing companies, has a passion for homeless youth. What's more, he throws himself head-first into anything he does. Put those traits together and you have the perfect recipe for a barefooted cross-country run to raise $100 million. He started out on Sept. 9 in New York and is running unshod to L.A. to drum up awareness and lots of money for homeless youth throughout the United States. There have been some hiccups along the way -- such as a heel injury -- but he's taken it all in stride and is determined to finish what he's started. Meanwhile, he is mentioned daily on Twitter and frequently in news stories for his efforts. Keep up the good run, Tellman!
On the Web: http://www.runtellmanrun.com
Photo from: The Epoch Times

#8: Vibram Fivefingers
The Vibram Fivefingers (VFFs) line of footwear is widely hailed to be just like going barefooted. Although we barefooters might dispute that, VFFs are a wonderful minimalist shoe for those that want to cast aside their restrictive, heavy and uncomfortable footwear. These shoes were released prior to 2009 but really made their splash in society this year. They've been featured in the U.S. on national TV programming such as NBC's Today and the syndicated Dr. Oz show. Popular tech site Wired.com even did a review of them in July, but they gained widespread fame due to word of mouth, captivated stares from the public and a big mention in a certain book about running. More on that later. The VFFs even have fan sites devoted to them, the most well known of them being Justin Owings' BirthdayShoes.com.
VFFs on the Web: http://www.vibramfivefingers.com

#7: DiCaprio Goes Barefooted After His Sneakers are Stolen
I'm a little embarrassed to say that this story even made my list and came in at #7. But alas, many throughout the world heard about this back in June. It turns out that actor Leonardo DiCaprio, star of several blockbuster films including Titanic, was the victim of theft after refusing to take a photo with some American fans. He was about to enter a temple and refused the photo because posted signs prohibited photography in that area. After he entered the temple sans shoes, the fans grabbed his footwear and split. The New York Post, The Insider and numerous other tabloid media outlets worldwide quoted one source who said, "The poor guy had to leave the place barefoot." I say, "Ain't nothing wrong with that."

#6: Bare Your Soles for a Cause
2009 was a big year for going barefooted to help the world's impoverished. The idea behind these movements was to bring awareness to and accept donations for those throughout the world who have no shoes, are fighting poverty or have HIV/AIDS. The band Hanson partnered with Toms Shoes to stage numerous barefooted walks and a whole day encouraging supporters to go barefooted. Together, they've been very successful in bringing help to people throughout the world. Churches throughout the U.S. also joined together this year in donating shoes as part of the Soles4Souls charity. Parishoners were encouraged to donate the shoes they wore on "Barefoot Sunday" (June 7) and leave barefooted, giving them a sense of what it's like to live life without shoes. Bilaal Rajan (pictured), a 13-year old boy from Toronto, even went barefooted for a week during his "Barefoot Challenge" in April to bring awareness to children living in poverty throughout the world. Since beginning his charity work when he was four -- yes, four -- years old, Rajan has raised millions of dollars. His "Barefoot Challenge" will be an annual event falling during Volunteer Week each April.
On the Web: Take the Walk Web site (Hanson and Toms Shoes)
Photo from: Global Arab Network

#5: The "Barefoot Bandit"
The aforementioned Leo DiCaprio starred in the film Catch Me If You Can, but that kind of real-life scenario is playing out in the northwest United States. Colton Harris-Moore, an 18-year old with a penchant for stealing airplanes for joy-flights, has been eluding law enforcement in the state of Washington for months. He's known by many as the "Barefoot Bandit" or "Barefoot Burglar," because he reportedly once kicked off his shoes in the woods to flee from police and often goes barefooted to avoid detection via shoeprints. Barely a legal adult, Colton started his life of crime early, stealing a bicycle when he was eight. He's graduated up a couple of notches and is believed to have stolen at least three aircraft and committed nearly 100 burglaries over the last year -- not just in Washington, but also Idaho and southern Canada.
More info: AFP article
Photo: AP

#4: Barefooted Baby Booted from Burger King
The home of flame-broiled burgers had some 'splainin' to do in August when one of their restaurants in St. Louis, Missouri, forced a shod mother and her unshod six-month-old to leave. The reason? The baby was breaking the rule requiring shoes in the restaurant. Never mind the fact that the baby couldn't walk yet. Jennifer Frederich was required to get the food "to go" because the manager said that the baby's socked feet were a health code violation (which it's not). What's more, the employee also threatened to call the police when she questioned the policy. In the end, Burger King made right by Frederich by offering her an apology and free food, saying employees took the No Shoes, No Service policy too far.
More info: Fox News article

#3: "Barefoot and Crazy" in the "Summertime"
Ah, the staples of summer: Drinkin' beers, swimmin' in the pond, makin' out and doin' it all barefoot! Well, singer Jack Ingram wrapped all that up into a catchy country song called "Barefoot and Crazy" and released it to the world in 2009. It became an huge hit, getting all the way up to number 10 on the Billboard Country chart. Listening to the song makes a person think back to their younger years while, at the same time, providing a driving rhythm worth driving to. Standing right next to Ingram's song is Kenny Chesney's "Summertime." Its chorus starts off with "And it's two bare feet on the dashboard. Young love in an old Ford..."That song made it all the way to number one on the Billboard Country chart, but it gets mentioned second in this space because it wasn't called "Two Bare Feet on the Dashboard." Tough break.

#2: Tiger was "Barefoot and Snoring"
No, my faithful reader, not even here can you escape the evil clutches of the Tiger Woods scandal. I'll try to make this brief: Right after the pro golfer had his unfortunate -- ahem -- "accident" in late November, he was found in the street by his neighbor, Jarius Adams, "unconscious, barefoot and snoring." Ah, now it all makes sense! Listen Tiger, like first starting anything barefooted, you can't just drive barefooted without a little acclimation period first. Now look what happened. Too much, too soon. You should have stayed in bed...with your wife. (moving right along...)
Photo from: Sacramento Scoop

#1: Born to Run and Barefoot Running
NOTHING made bigger waves for bare feet this year than Christopher McDougall's smash hit book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. This story about the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico, who can run great distances in simple sandals, opened the floodgates of people interested in trying out running sans shoes. McDougall has made numerous national media appearances promoting the book and barefooted running, including the ever-popular Daily Show on Comedy Central:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Christopher McDougall
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

While it's hard to say how many more people are trying barefooted running, the story has certainly opened a new and fresh conversation in the running community. Barefoot Ted, who is a prominent "character" in the book, has reported to the Living Barefoot Show podcast that interest in his business of training barefooted runners has increased dramatically. Adoption of my #8 item listed above, Vibram Fivefingers, skyrocketed following the book's mention of the product. Time will tell if this book began a long-term trend of barefooted running or simply introduced a "fad" that will soon die down. Either way, it was a good thing for bare feet and allows folks like me to participate in the conversation about how barefooted living can be such a good thing.
On the Web: Born to Run

Who knows what the year 2010 will mean for bare feet. Who knows if we barefooters can make a dent in many of the hardened stereotypes and misconceptions about going unshod. All I know is that I'm looking forward to the warmer weather and I'm going to do what I can to open people's eyes and unlock their feet to new possibilities. Thanks for reading and I welcome your comments below.

Have a Happy New Year!,

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bootfoot and Ungrounded

Somehow or other I managed to tweak my left foot at home the other day. I was walking around barefooted -- like I always do at home -- and noticed a burning, tight feel in the arch of my foot. It's continued to bother me when I flex my foot a lot, so I made the difficult decision to wear "normal" shoes to work today. More specifically, I'm wearing boots.

The footwear du jour.

(Aside: You should know that I otherwise exclusively wear minimalist footwear if I'm not barefooted. Away from work they're Vibram Fivefingers. At work I wear one of my two pairs of Terra Plana VivoBarefoot shoes.)

My reasoning was that I figured the stiffer shoes would essentially "cast" my feet, allowing me to walk around without so much flexion and movement. Hopefully that rest will help my foot return to normal sooner. After all, isn't that essentially what doctors are going for when the prescribe a brace for an injured joint?

I've noticed some interesting things today while wearing shoes more typical of the general populace. These are things I've experienced before, but since I haven't worn normal shoes in about 3 1/2 months I've forgotten a lot of this. Having greater sensation in minimalist shoes, the following observations are also made more apparent:

I was right. They're like casts.
Man, my feet sure aren't moving much. It's really amazing what a difference minimalist shoes and going barefooted make. I'm so used to my feet flexing and moving about that I forgot how restrictive regular shoes can be.

Boots are heavy!
I don't know how much these American Eagle Outfitters boots weigh, but I can tell you that it's a whole lot more than my minimalist shoes. Each step while wearing these takes a little more effort on the part of my legs.

I feel like I'm walking above the floor.
This is a weird sensation. I'd gotten so used to feeling the floor beneath my feet and minimalist shoes that having a much thicker heel really amplifies the distance between the floor and our feet. That said, a similar sensation is that...

I can tell I'm taller with these on.
It's really quite interesting, but even about 1 1/2" of extra height is noticeable. Door knobs, various buttons and other things around me are a little bit lower than normal. I bet this is nothing new for many women who wear heels after wearing flats for a while.

I can feel my feet slanting forward.
Just the little decline from the back to the front of these boots is apparent. I feel my feet pointing downward slightly and my ankle is at a different angle than I'm used to. While it's certainly nothing like what women would experience wearing heels, it's a bit strange not to have my feet parallel with the floor.

I feel so bad for everybody else.
This kind of sucks. After going exclusively barefooted or minimalist footwear for more than three months now, I have rediscovered the hell that most people put their feet through every day of their lives. I wouldn't want to do this everyday and hopefully this is the only day I'll do this. This reminds why I need to keep pressing on with the good news of going barefooted.

Please, do yourself a favor and take your shoes off if you don't need them on. Flex your feet for a little while and let them be what they are supposed to be: unrestricted and happy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Faith and My Feet

The holiday season is solidly in effect and people of various faith movements are celebrating. Whether it's Christmas, Chanukah or other holidays, this is a time of reflection and celebration. I thought it would be fitting during this time to share something that I've thusfar kept under wraps: my faith.

Since this blog is about bare feet, I want to share how my faith and belief in God and His son Jesus Christ has affected my decision to be a barefooter. I'm not trying to actively recruit or evangelize for Christianity. I've never been a fan of shoving religion down others' throats, especially when the context in which they come to me isn't related to religion. If you want to engage in a stirring religious debate, that's not what I'm here for today.

I've written in this space previously that on natural ground coverings (grass, flowers, etc.), I prefer to only go barefooted. It's a matter of respect for the earth, but I also see it as a respect for God's creation. Likewise, I have come to believe that I can be more connected to the earth and nature by touching it directly. Because God created all living things, this is also a way to further connect with Him.

In a different light, going barefooted is generally a sign of my respect for the body God gave me. You might have noticed in the heading of this blog that I write "Enjoy the feet that the good Lord gave you!" By distorting and restricting my feet in shoes, I am making the decision to restrict that which God gave me. He designed my feet a certain way, however they aren't allowed to function in that way while wearing most shoes. This, I believe, is an affront to the Lord.

As a parent, I enjoy seeing my children enjoy playing. I love seeing my two-year old daughter stretch, twist and twirl her body when she's dancing. In much the same way, I'd bet that God takes pleasure in seeing His creation live up to its full potential. He probably thinks it's really cool when we allow our feet to sense everything on which they tread, breathe in the open air and flex in all the many ways that the 52 bones in them allow.

But there are those who would disagree with me. I often hear the rebuttal, "Even Jesus wore sandals," when I mention that I go barefooted into church.

While that's supposed to be a lighthearted criticism of barefooting, I don't believe it's well thought out. You have to remember the times in which Jesus lived. There weren't a lot of grassy lawns in the places He traveled. The roads were very rocky and dirty. Modern sewer systems consisted of trenches along the side of the roadways. People didn't bathe or shower daily like we usually do. It was VERY filthy. That's part of the reason that the story of Jesus washing His disciples' feet was so significant. Their feet were filthy. The fact that He was willing to humble himself in order to make their feet clean meant a lot. The times we live in, in comparison, are much cleaner and more sanitary.

I actually don't have a problem going to church barefooted and I think that God would welcome it. After all, it's scriptural! In Exodus 3:5 and Acts 7:33, Moses had just seen the burning bush. It appeared to be on fire with the Holy Spirit yet it was not consumed. God told Moses to take off his footwear because Moses was on holy ground. The Lord wanted Moses to connect with the earth of Mount Sinai, a holy place.

While we don't all have holy mountains nearby nowadays, we do have our churches and synagogues. We think of them as holy places where we can worship God and learn about Him. As a believer and a barefooter, I think going barefooted into church is completely appropriate. That is where God is, and standing or kneeling before Him with bare feet is a sign of respect for my body and His scripture.

All that said, there will always be some who disagree with me and feel it's disrespectful to go barefooted in church. They say it goes against the idea of wearing your "Sunday best" and offends other parishioners. For the reasons mentioned above I don't share those feelings and I honestly am not concerned about offending other parishioners. I'm there to worship the Lord, not please everyone else. Being concerned about such things is tantamount to being concerned what other customers in Walmart feel about me shopping barefooted. That's NOT what we're there for! If my fellow worshipers are distracted by my feet then they have things to work out with the Lord.

How I worship and am blessed by God is about the spirit with which I come to the Lord instead of the clothing on my body. He will accept, bless and forgive me no matter what. God doesn't care what I wear to church, and He especially doesn't care if I wear shoes. That is why I can't be judgmental of someone who comes in tattered clothing and a less than fresh smell. They are there because their heart has brought them there and God will bless them for that.

I don't intend to stop going barefooted at church anytime soon. I have been blessed, so far, that no one has taken enough offense to approach me. I hope that my friends in Christ will always recognize the spirit with which I come before the Lord: Ready to worship Him and receive His spirit.

Happy Holidays! And really: Enjoy the feet that the good Lord gave you!

I welcome your comments below.

Photo of Jesus washing feet from Barry Dean 4 Christ
Photo of homeless man from New-Think

Saturday, December 12, 2009

'Man v. Wild' Host Wears VivoBarefoot on 'Conan'

Bear Grylls, host of the Discovery Channel's "Man v. Wild" was spotted Friday evening wearing Terra Plana's VivoBarefoot minimalist shoes on NBC's "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien." His brown suede Aqua-style shoes coordinated well with his blue jeans and brown shirt. No mention was made of the shoes during the show.

Grylls (second from left) looks on as Conan speaks to singer Tony Bennett.

Since Grylls embraces nature as a profession, Terra Plana's "green" approach to shoe construction would likely be appealing to him. Being a survivalist takes a good deal of efficiency and critical thinking, so it's fair to see why Grylls would wear minimalist shoes. The Aquas are a stylish take on sneakers while providing a very thin sole and wide toe box which allow for a more barefooted feel.

Grylls stands to greet singer Tony Bennett.

The brown suede VivoBarefoot Aquas as pictured on Terra Plana's Web site.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I Don't Think Those Foot Gloves Are Normal

I've realized something recently that signals a sea change for me as a barefooter. You have to realize that, as much as I tout going barefooted as a great thing, I wore shoes for a LONG time before I became a barefooter. Since I decided to pursue an unshod lifestyle, going barefooted has been a treat. I've loved doing it whenever I could but it always felt different in some way. My mind and my feet had been so used to shoes for so long that the sensations and freedom of barefooting seemed abnormal, no matter how much I liked it.

Think about the concept of wearing winter gloves. We're so used to our hands being bare that covering them when it's cold out is different. We can still generally use our hands and the gloves serve a purpose, but there are many moments when we realize that our hands are gloved. Grabbing a particular object or touching a particular button on the dashboard makes us think, ever so briefly, "Hmm, gloves." Later, when we get back inside and warm up, the gloves come off.

Where bare hands are the norm for so many people, so are covered and/or shod feet. For so many of us, it is normal to put on shoes for our daily living. We might go barefooted around the house sometimes, but we generally put on shoes in the morning when we leave home and keep them on until late into the evening. Sure, there are times when we remove our shoes for specific activities. People who do yoga often go barefooted. You see few people walking around a swimming pool with shoes on -- though many wear flip flops to and from the facility. Almost no one wears footwear into the shower, especially at home. But wearing shoes is generally normal for most of us.

My perception of what's normal for my feet has shifted 180 degrees. Just as it is normal for so many to wear shoes, it is normal for me to not wear shoes. It's now different to wear shoes, like wearing gloves on my feet. The key thing is that I don't notice it anymore when I'm barefooted.

Anymore, it's all the same to me.

I get lots of reminders when I have shoes on. There are so many moments throughout the workday -- I'm required to wear shoes to work -- that I think to myself, "Hmm, shoes," because I try to flex my foot or toes and they are confined. If I must wear flip flops into a store or restaurant I am constantly reminded that my walking gait is altered.

The thing that really signaled this shift to footwear feeling odd was how I now feel wearing my Vibram FiveFinger Sprints (VFFs). Not too long ago, I was quite satisfied wearing them as an alternative to going totally unshod. I even blogged/tweeted/mentioned to others that they felt like a "second skin." One day I realized that, as much as I like VFFs compared to normal shoes, I still feel so shod with them on. They aren't second skins anymore. They've become toe shoes with an emphasis on "shoes." This is no knock on Vibram Fivefingers in the least. I still love them and they serve a wonderful purpose when necessary, but they now live in a category with winter gloves called "Different."

This shift in what's "normal" is so marked that it is no longer second nature for me to throw on shoes when leaving the house. Depending on where we're going, I may simply ask myself if I'll need any footwear more than the backup flip flops underneath the driver's seat of each of our vehicles.

Even with winter settling in I will only wear closed-toed shoes outside if it's cold enough (right now, that means less than about 28F/-2C), otherwise the flip flops will do. The bare feet can tolerate those temps for the short time going in and out of stores and other places. My philosophy: Just as my hands sometimes need warm coverings to combat the cold, so will my feet and that's okay. But if I can generally go without gloves, my feet don't need anything on them either. In fact, I'm finding as winter progresses that my bare feet are able to handle colder temperatures than my bare hands.

That can't be normal. Or can it?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I Am (Now) a Barefooted Runner!

If you've read anything here or know anything about me, you could easily say that I love to go barefooted. The sensation of grass underfoot. The cool floors in the local Walmart. It's awesome! There has been one "hitch in my giddy-up," however. That's barefooted running.

The heart has been willing but the mind has been weak. Each time I've gotten ready to go out there totally unshod there have been so many excuses not to.

It's too cold.

My feet hurt on the asphalt.

I don't run as fast barefooted.




Now a lot of times I've sucked it up and gone out there unshod. The runs have been pretty good but my feet end up feeling sore and roughened up afterward. I've doubted whether I can keep it up or if I should just resign myself to the fact that I'll be a runner who sticks to Vibram FiveFingers.

After a couple of months of that thinking, I have managed to make a positive turn. I've decided that if so many others can run barefooted exclusively, why can't I? I really do prefer it more. I really do feel like my feet hold up just fine.

So I've decided to be an exclusively barefooted runner. To use a cliche', it feels right on so many levels: physically, mentally and spiritually.

I welcome you to follow my progress on DailyMile.com where I am, surprisingly, BarefootMichael. For quick updates of my latest run, check out the DailyMile widget in the column on the right side of this blog.

Thanks for reading. If you're a fellow DailyMiler, I'd love to be friends with you. Just send me a request on that site. I welcome anyone's comments or questions below.

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