Saturday, March 20, 2010

Forming an 'Alliance,' Part I: The Vicious Cycle of Shoes & Spinning Our Wheels

I was very proud to announce on Saturday the creation of a special new group called The Primalfoot Alliance. It is the culmination of months of planning, discussion and contemplation. For those of you who'd like to know more, I figured I could share some background on what has brought us to this opportunity.

I've been barefooting in one form or another since Spring 2005, and the entire time I saw a problem: discrimination against feet. While many barefooters throughout the world find immense benefit from living life unshod, they often face intense push-back from those who feel that bare feet have no good reason to touch the ground outside of our own homes. Whether its podiatrists, store management, law enforcement or other authority figures, there's no lack of people who are unwilling to consider going barefoot as an option while in public.

I would consider myself an intellectual guy, so I think about stuff a lot. I've thought about the reasons many people give for being so opposed to feet and they just don't make sense to me. I've run so many things around and around in my head and have found barefooting and wearing primal (minimalist) footwear to make a lot of sense. But then I think about those who don't share my thoughts and I get really disappointed.

Two specific things have been the most disheartening:

First, it continually pains me to read the stories from fellow barefooters who are discriminated against while they go about their daily lives. Having been targeted for going barefoot myself, I understand how others feel when they are told by transit police, library staff or mall security -- to name a few -- to put on shoes or else. Really, once you've experienced such a positive lifestyle and realized that the ground beneath us is generally comfortable and harmless to walk on, the ignorance of others is disappointing. Being singled out for letting your feet be free is also embarrassing and, quite frankly, a little irritating.

Second, I can't help but shake my head in disbelief at how biased people are about two vital parts of their bodies. It is truly amazing how many people really believe they must always wear shoes! Even more disturbing is how podiatrists, sports doctors, shoe companies and other "experts" perpetuate the idea that most of our feet are weak, fragile and need constant support. Their reasoning is that because we have worn shoes all our lives, our feet are not properly formed to support our bodies without assistance, so we must I think of it as a vicious cycle that needs to be broken. A diagram for those more visually inclined:

It all "makes sense" if you approach it from the aspect that shoes are the norm and just one of those things we must use in life. But what if you approach it from the idea that you build up the strength of your feet by making primal feet the norm? Then the diagram may look something like this:

Now I am POSITIVE that any podiatrist or other expert looking at those diagrams would probably take significant issue with them -- especially the second one. "It's not just about strength," they might say. "It's about flexibility, alignment, etc. People who've worn shoes all their lives NEED proper arch support to avoid injury or other biomechanical issues."

I get why you think that. Really. Incidentally, that's not really the point The Primalfoot Alliance is going to be making.

The point is to make an attempt at "Taking our feet back" -- like that motto? -- to how they were supposed to be in the first place. The point is that our feet, from the day we were born, were meant to work a certain way and we all screwed them up with shoes. The point is to challenge the notion that we ever should have put shoes on in the first place because we thought we needed them. The point is to remind people that, when part of your body is strong, it can function better than when it is weak.

Most importantly, the point is getting the public to understand that there is a sizable group of people that appreciate their feet and don't want to wear shoes most of the time...and that's okay. The discrimination needs to end and people need to be able to live on their feet they way they'd like. If we want to go barefoot walking around the mall, using public transit or visiting the library, there's no good reason not to let us do that.

Now, back to how things have come together so far:

I realized last fall that so many barefooters have been spinning their "wheels" and getting nowhere fast. All of the efforts we'd made to argue with management, write letters and make our points were falling on deaf ears. Why? Lack of legitimacy. One person going barefoot in a store and complaining after being told to don shoes has no clout or standing to be accommodated. Management reply time after time with a statement of, "That is our policy and we expect you to follow it." It's so easy for them to squash one barefooter like a bug and move on their way.

I got to thinking: What if barefooters from throughout the world joined together in one unified voice? What if, at the same time, we brought in people who've found benefit from minimalist shoes? We could also have medical experts who understand the benefits of allowing our feet to be feet. Their medical endorsement would add a lot to our cause. Wrap all of that up in a fresh brand with all of that support brought together and then we could have some legitimacy.

Next: Part II: What's in a Name?

What do you think of a group that brings together primalfoot supporters from around the world? Do you think it could be effective in bringing change and helping the public have a greater appreciation and tolerance for feet? Am I just crazy? I welcome your comments below.

Monday, March 15, 2010

18 Questions to Ask Yourself If You are Opposed to People Going Barefoot

If you find yourself offended or turned off by the idea of seeing feet, going barefoot or others going barefoot, honestly ask yourself these questions:

1. All other variables removed (locations, surfaces, shoes, etc.), is there something about human feet that I find objectionable? What is it and why do I feel that way?

2. Do I think of feet to be sweaty, smelly and gross? Why or why not? If so, what makes them that way?

3. Do I believe that feet should be considered a "private" part of our bodies (like genitals & women's breasts)? Why or why not?

4. Would I say that I have "sensitive" feet that keep me from going barefoot? Why or why not? Would I say that I have "sensitive" hands that keep me from going barehanded? Why or why not?

5. Are there times or locations when I believe going barefoot is okay and/or I am more comfortable seeing bare feet? Times/places when not? Where are these places? What changes among them?

6. What are the risks of going barefoot in places where food is sold/served without washing my feet? What are the risks of going into an establishment where food is sold/served without washing my hands?

7. Considering my answers to the last two questions: Would my opinion of going barefoot differ if someone never put on shoes after showering and went out barefoot all day(shopping, eating, etc.)? If so, how would it be different? What if they only wore flip flops?

8. At any given time, which is more likely to be more "dirty?": The sole of a foot or the sole of a shoe? Why?

9. On average, which part of our bodies is more likely to be more exposed to germs and bacteria that can make us ill: hands or feet? Why do I think that?

10. Why do I think that "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" policies went into effect? Why do I think that most women don't wear only skirts? How often do I hear that children should be "seen and not heard?"

11. Why don't people wear gloves most of the time but do wear footwear most of the time?

12. Have I ever injured my foot while barefoot? If so, does that affect how often I go barefoot now? Have I ever injured your hand? If so, does that affect how often I go barehanded now? Are there any differences between these two scenarios and if so, what are they?

13. If we lived in a world where almost everyone went barefoot except for select people, who would they be and why would they wear shoes? How would they be treated? What would they be allowed/disallowed to do with shoes on?

14. Do I believe that very young children (babies & toddlers) should wear shoes? Older children? Adults? How do these answers differ and why?

15. If I never wore shoes in my life up to now, do I think my feet would be different? How?

16. Do I think that wearing shoes on a regular basis affects my feet? How?

17. Do I believe that a strong, healthy heart is important? Why or why not? Do I believe that strong, healthy feet are important? Why or why not?


18. If I was in a bad vehicular accident and both of my feet were amputated, would I miss them? Why or why not?

I welcome your answers to these questions, additional questions or comments below. (By the way, ever notice that Rodin's "The Thinker" is barefoot? I just did. "Fiya Powa!")

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Runners, Repeat After Me: Black Toenails Are BAD.

Here's another good reason to run barefoot: BLACK TOENAILS -- or more specifically, the lack thereof. I do NOT understand how so many shod runners can be okay with parts of their bodies dying and falling off because of running. Some might say, "Oh, it's not a big deal. Who needs toenails anyway?" or "It's only because they're not wearing properly-fitted shoes."

For those not in the know, runners who wear shoes often get bruised toenails from the mechanics of running while shod. The forces inside the shoe cause the nail to eventually bruise, turn black, die and fall off. I've never had it happen, but I've heard it can sometimes be very painful.

Dear reader, toenails dying and falling off are another indicator that shoes may not the best thing for so many runners -- "well-fitting" shoes or not. You shouldn't have to struggle to find just the right shoe to avoid getting black nails. You shouldn't have to compromise parts of your body for a sport. It's WRONG.

And by the way: No, ladies, painting your nailless toes with nail polish isn't a good way to mask it either. That polish usually contains nasty chemicals that should never make contact with your skin.

Interestingly enough, barefoot runners don't get black toenails because there's no shoe to screw up the nails in the first place. Add to that the scientific evidence showing less forces on the body via a forefoot strike and anecdotal evidence of less injury, and barefoot running looks more appealing all the time.

Have you ever gotten black nails from running? Was it with regular shoes or minimalist shoes? What are your thoughts on black nails as a side effect of running shod? I welcome your comments below.


Monday, March 8, 2010

The Return of Nicer Weather and Barefooting

With the dawn of warmer weather and the stress fracture in my left heel almost totally healed, I had a wonderful time going barefoot a lot this past weekend! Highs were in the mid-to-upper 50s (F) Saturday and Sunday, so I took every opportunity I could to kick off my footwear and go bare from the ankle down. Much of it was spent barefoot at home or while driving, but I also had a few chances to walk barefoot while out and about.

My son was to attend a birthday party on Saturday afternoon, so he and I went to Walmart earlier in the day to buy a present and get a few other odds and ends for around our house. At first I wore flip flops into the store. I didn't want to stir up any issues going in because we were on a tight schedule and I honestly wasn't in the mood for a confrontation.

What I discovered was that my left toes were hurting while wearing the flip flops. I can only assume that it was due to my entire left foot being weakened from wearing the walking boot for the good part of six weeks. After unsuccessfully relieving the discomfort by popping one of my toes, I relented and spent the rest of the time in the store barefoot. I kicked off the flops and put them in the cart. The pain in my left toes went away immediately and the rest of the time in the store was quite pleasant.

I did find it reassuring that I had a "good" excuse if I were to be confronted. I would honestly and tactfully tell the person that I am recovering from a broken foot and that my toes were hurting from wearing the flip flops. Without them on I felt much better, so that's how I was going to shop. There were no issues, however.

Who DOESN'T want to play kickball? (from Ghostman on Third blog)

At the birthday party, the kids were playing kickball in the yard so I participated while wearing my Vibram Fivefinger Sprints. Although I wasn't totally barefoot, that was a good time and I learned that my left leg really is quite a lot weaker than before my injury. Just the little bits of running I did to fetch the ball indicated that I really do need PT to fully recover and that I should stick to mostly walking for now.

My wife (@barefootglenda on Twitter) and I went on a date Saturday evening to celebrate our third anniversary. We also managed to find an opportunity to go barefoot together. After wearing shoes while eating dinner and visiting a few stores in the fancy Country Club Plaza shopping district (pictured) in Kansas City, we started walking around. I told her that I really wanted to go barefoot to which she replied with a smile, "If you do it then I will, too." Yes! That was an offer I couldn't refuse. We kicked off our shoes, held hands and walked around for all the world -- or at least pedestrians and shoppers -- to see. It was liberating, refreshing and incredibly romantic. Although her feet did get a bit chilly, she said she enjoyed it and actually liked seeing the expressions on others' faces.

Sunday brought another day of being barefoot or minimally shod. My wife and two girls went to a birthday party in the afternoon, so our nine-year-old son and I spent some time outside at the park. I wore my Fivefingers while we threw around a frisbee and hit the wiffle ball. He eventually wanted to play on the jungle gym, so I kicked off the VFFs and sat down on a bench to hang out. While sitting there, an older lady next to me asked, "Aren't your feet cold?" I replied that they actually felt great and that I like to go barefoot a lot. She told me, "I used to do that when I was younger, but then I grew out of it." I passed that comment aside and we talked about lots of other things until my son was ready to leave.

All in all it was good to herald the return of nicer weather and give my feet a chance to be feet again. After both of them were trapped in a cast boot or "regular" shoes for the good part of two months, they needed it. I did notice some soreness in my left foot at times, which I have to attribute to weakness from weeks of immobility. I can't help but think that the walking around and playing in grassy areas is good therapy in itself to help rebuild the muscles in my feet. I'm looking forward to physical therapy so that I may return to running, but I'm mostly looking forward to having strong, flexible feet again.

Were you able to go barefoot this last weekend? Are you interested in going barefoot more as the weather gets nicer? I welcome your comments below.

Country Club Plaza photo: Fashion Windows

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Q&A: Tips for Beginning Barefoot Runners

If you had 3 rules for beginning barefoot runners, what would they be?

Great question! Thanks for asking.

I know that more "famous" barefoot runners than myself, like Barefoot Ted and Barefoot Ken Bob, have their core tips for starting out running unshod -- and they're great -- but I'd be happy to come up with a few of my own.

So, Barefoot Michael's 3 Top Tips for Starting Out Running Barefoot:

1) Walk Barefoot.
Wait. Did I say that right? Indeed, dear reader, I did. If you have to crawl before you can walk, you've got to walk before you can run. Your feet are likely very accustomed to being encased in shoes, some of which haven't been to friendly to your paws.

I always recommend that you first reintroduce your feet to your head. Walk on surfaces you're not used to in order to get your mind used to all the sensitivity that's built into your soles. You don't just want to start running on a part of your body that's been shielded away from sensation for a long time.

Not only that, but your feet need some time to strengthen up. Walk up and down stairs without shoes. Do some exercises barefoot. Go outside and walk a hilly park barefoot. Reacquaint yourself with your feet before you EVER start running on them.

2) Get Ready to Hurt...For a Little While.
Whether you're a runner now or not, your body is going to take some time to adjust to the different muscles and joints that are used when running barefoot. Start out running barefoot for no more than a couple of minutes. That will be enough to leave your calves sore the next couple of days. That's okay, it always happens. Likewise, the pads of your feet may be a bit raw. That's also normal and the beginning of the process to thicken the soles on your feet. Each time you run barefoot your calves will get a bit less sore and your soles will be a little less rough. Give barefoot running some time and the soreness and pain will go away and leave pleasure in their wake.

3) Don't Think Too Much.
Unless you were trapped in a box your whole childhood, you ran. And when you ran, you likely didn't think about it. Why? You were having fun then, and you can do it again now. My point is this: You already know how to run. What's more, you know how to run barefoot. You just have to get yourself back into the "groove" and let your body do the rest.

Now, something very important to remember is that you CAN still get hurt. Nobody will ever tell you that running barefoot eliminates all possibility of injury. If they do, they're lying to you. Listen to your body. If your "gut" is telling you something's not right and that pain is more than just soreness, rest. If it gets worse, rest more and get it checked out.

Question(s) About Barefooted Living?

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