Thursday, June 30, 2011

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Barefootedness

On the 4th of July each year, the people of the United States of America celebrate Independence Day, the anniversary of the signing of The Declaration of Independence on the same date in 1776. Although an official constitution was not ratified until 11 years later, we Americans generally think of July 4th as the anniversary of our country's founding.

Patriotic toes!
Courtesy: Elizabeth McCullough
Freedom is something we hold dear and do not take lightly in the U.S. Our country was founded on the basic principle of having the rights to say and do as you please (so long as it is within the law). Ask any American and they'll tell you that, for all of our country's flaws, this is still the best place to live in the world. I do believe an extent. Why? Going barefoot in this country is a freedom that many of us do NOT have -- not really.

Americans have a deep relationship with -- even addiction to -- shoes. As much as women complain about how much heels hurt their feet, many would never think of giving them up. For many groups, the shoes they wear are a status symbol among their peers. Like addicts with a drug, most Americans feel like they need shoes. Footwear has become a part of our identities and influences how we feel about ourselves. They've become a prophylactic antibiotic that we've become convinced we will suffer without. The problem is that this country's addiction to shoes has led us to believe in inappropriate distortions and perversions of key biomechanical functions of our bodies.

Even though the Declaration of Independence says each one of us is endowed by our creator with the "unalienable" rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," our shoe-centric society has declared that those rights are at the discretion of others when it comes to our feet. Even though feet are not considered "private" areas of the body and going barefoot would bring no real harm or liability to anyone else, we somehow do not have the liberty to live in the way we feel is best for our own bodies.

There's Just No Justice

Though it's perfectly legal to drive, shop or dine barefoot almost everywhere in this country, the prevailing assumption is that it is illegal. It's all not true! Because these myths are so prevalent, they've percolated down into the collective of social norms so that many people now are convinced that it's wrong to go without shoes. It's widely thought that going barefoot -- that is, making the choice to not wear foreign objects on our bodies -- is unsafe, unhealthy, unhygienic and inappropriate. Because of that, we who prefer to live barefoot are often discriminated against by friends, family, business managers and more.

The scales of "justice" for bare feet.
That "and more" includes discrimination by the courts. Bob Neinast, a barefooter in Ohio, has actually brought suit against public facilities in his state for disallowing his bare feet and has subsequently LOST each one of the cases. The courts ruled that going barefoot is dangerous enough that the facilities have a right to bar their patrons from going without shoes. These rulings have been made without any legal or scientific evidence to back them up. These are obviously judges who carry the same biases against feet as so many others in our country.

It doesn't make sense. Where's the real "justice," here? The Declaration of Independence says I should have these freedoms and the 10th Amendment of The Constitution ultimately leaves all this up to the states "or to the people." No state has made illegal the practice of going barefoot, so I should be in the clear because the right belongs to the people - of which I am one - right?

One could argue that business proprietors also have a right to pursue their own happiness -- a happiness that may come partially from having all their patrons keep their shoes on so that they don't get hurt and the owner doesn't get sued. I wonder, though: Who ultimately gets to decide that a business proprietor's rights supersede my individual right to not wear shoes? What if the establishment is a public institution whose purpose is to serve the people (e.g. a public library, courthouse, city hall, capitol building, etc.)? All of Bob Neinast's lawsuits have rightfully argued that these tax-funded institutions should not be biting the hand that feeds them and have no reason to deny people entry simply because they are without shoes. Likewise, you'd think that most businesses wouldn't take issue with a paying barefoot customer so long as they're not putting others at risk. Does the danger of allowing customers go barefoot really rank worse than losing their money and helping your bottom line?

The Realities of Risk

I've heard all the ill-conceived reasons to deny people the ability to go barefoot into an establishment. There's a widespread belief that walking barefoot inside a store or restaurant is an enormous risk to the feet and has the potential for significant injury. In all actuality, the risks in going barefoot are very low - much lower than other activities, actually, that are allowed by various establishments. There is rarely any broken glass or super infectious disease just laying about, especially the kinds that can cause serious injury.

When you take a close look at what patrons of most establishments are allowed to do, it's surprising that bare feet are what get banned for "safety" reasons. There are no other social norms, legal precedents, or identifiable risk concerns that require the constant restriction or "protection" of ongoing biological systems like those for the feet:
  • Hand Function: Restaurants do not require that diners wear protective gloves when using a fork or steak knife. Diners are expected to be careful and try not to cut themselves. Establishments (except for specific areas of some hospitals) do not require that patrons wear surgical gloves on property to avoid the risks associated with communicable diseases. Individuals take on the risks of being infected when in public places. Library patrons aren't expected to wear gloves to protect against paper cuts when flipping through books. It's expected that they take on those risks.
  • Respiratory Function: Establishments (except for specific areas of some hospitals) do not require that patrons wear protective masks to avoid the risks associated with communicable diseases. A social norm exists that individuals take on the risks of being infected when in public places. Gas stations don't require that customers who fill up their cars wear gas masks to protect against noxious gasoline fumes. Everyone involved understands that the risk of inhaling such things is part of the process.
  • Neck Function: Amusement parks do not require people to wear neck braces on roller coasters or bumper cars. (In fact, I can tell you from my experience working a roller coaster years ago that riders with neck braces would not be allowed) Policies are posted that you take on the risk of injury by riding such things. Car manufacturers do not require that drivers and passengers in their vehicles wear neck protection as part of the safety features in case of a collision. A social norm exists that people take on the risk of being injured if a collision occurs.
  • Hearing: Concert and auto racing venues do not force attendees to wear ear plugs for their own safety even though these events can get to volumes that are dangerous for the hearing. Concert goers and racing fans understand that by participating, they take their hearing into their own...ears.
  • Eyesight: Outdoor venues do not require on sunny days that their guests wear sunglasses for their eyes' protection. People understand that they take responsibility for their own eye health.
Are the risks from going barefoot so much worse than those from the activities above? Is the potential for impaired hand function, lung infection, neck pain, hearing loss and cataracts so much less objectionable than a cut to the foot?

Biology's Best

One natural - but very controversial - biological function has had to be protected by law to prevent discrimination against those who practice it. Even with legal protection, breastfeeding is still looked upon poorly by many in our society. In fact, many mothers hesitate to use their right to breastfeed in public even with the protections afforded by law in almost every state. As I blogged about in June 2010 ("Exposing Another Healthy Taboo"), going barefoot and breastfeeding both have many health benefits and are legal in public, but both also have a prudish stigma attached to them. One is frequently protected by law, but the other is not. Do the health benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the benefits from going barefoot?

The hands and feet are both unique sections of the body that serve important and specific biomechanical functions. Just as a core element of our hands is to feel, grasp, move and use objects, our feet serve a critical function in our ability to stand, feel, balance, walk and climb objects (like stairs, for example). Both hands and feet have a large number of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints and nerve endings that are used to carry out these jobs. Blocking our feet from feeling the ground, a process called exteroception, stifles an important and significant biomechanical system that aids the body in balance and danger avoidance. Reducing foot flexibility by requiring footwear increases the likelihood for tightened soft tissues and foot stiffness.

For each establishment that requires shoes on our feet, it forces the equivalent of gloves on our hands, masks on our faces, braces on our necks, plugs in our ears and shades on our eyes. By denying us - heck anyone - the ability to choose what is best for our own bodies, we are being denied something that was "endowed" to us by our creator - or nature, if you so choose. It's one thing for a person to choose for themselves to wear shoes - that, too, is a liberty afforded in this country - but it's another when a person is denied entry to a business, church or publicly-owned facility only because they prefer to go shoeless.

The Pursuit of Protection

I assert that going barefoot should be legally protected from an establishment's ability to set codes of conduct or attire. We have a natural biomechanical right to go barefoot and take on the risks associated with it. It's an issue of health and personal liberty. Just as laws have been established to protect the biological functions of breastfeeding women and their babies, laws should be put in place to protect the biomechanical functions of bare feet. It's the right thing to do. Realize that dress codes dictating what kind of pants can't be worn or prohibiting certain kinds of hats is not in the same vain as this issue. This is a matter directly related to protecting key systems of the human body.

My fear is that we could see a very appreciable and negative backslide for the barefooting movement if these issues aren't proactively tackled now. Many of my readers may disagree with me, but I believe that the increase in barefoot activity that we're seeing could lead to the tables turning against us. In some ways they already have because of the precedents set in the court decisions mentioned earlier. We don't want court precedents discriminating against barefoot activity to continue, that is for certain.

Going forward, I will begin pursuing the legal and legislative intricacies related to all this. Through my own efforts and the collective backing of The Primalfoot Alliance, we barefooters will hopefully soon be able to see significant positive change in support of the barefoot lifestyle. I don't know where this road will ultimately lead. I hope it doesn't end in disappointment at every curve. With the arguments I've laid out above, I hope to present a solid case to attorneys and legislators that protecting bare feet is the right thing to do. It's a pursuit of happiness that should be protected.

What do you think? Should barefoot activity be protected by law? Am I off base by comparing bare feet to other biomechanical systems of the body or even breastfeeding? What do you think needs to be done in the U.S. to press the issue of greater barefoot acceptance and less discrimination? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Report: The 38th Annual Hospital Hill Run (Half Marathon)

On June 4, 2011, I ran in and completed the half marathon (13.1-mile) course of the 38th Annual Hospital Hill Run (HHR) while totally barefoot. If this race report was made up of only that sentence it would sound kind of impressive but only tell a tiny part of the story. The HHR was a beast of a race that I went into somewhat unprepared and came out of well educated.


Ever since I registered for the race in late 2010 I had the finish line in sight. I had run distances as long as a 10K (6.2 miles) up to then, but the half marathon distance was one I felt that needed to be tackled on my way to my "bucket list" item of completing a full marathon in my lifetime. Though I'd heard and read that HHR is one of the tougher halves in the whole U.S., I decided I was up for the challenge. All I had to do was train smart so as not to get hurt and consistently look toward the prize of crossing that finish line.

Everything was going well with my training until I got a flare-up of tendinitis in my right big toe a few weeks out from HHR. I can only speculate why it happened, but I figure that my form and overdoing it contributed to the problem. It made it somewhat painful to run on but not to the point that I felt I was in any danger. Still, I consulted with my running friends on dailymile and they recommended that I rest it as much as possible. I took their advice -- sort of. I cut back on my running a lot but still worked on getting the long runs in on the weekends. It was only when, lifting my toe upward, I could feel the friction of my soft tissues grinding against each other because of the inflammation that I finally backed off significantly and ramped up my intake of anti-inflammatories. With a week or two left until the race, my toe was back to normal. That said, it ended up that the longest run I'd had prior to the half marathon was an 8.77-mile run two weeks prior. I wondered if that was quite enough.

The Start of the Race

On the morning of the run I had a bowl of Chocolate Cheerios, a banana nut Gowalla bar and a Gatorade Prime drink. I washed it all down with a good helping of water -- or what I thought was. More on that later.

I left the house early in order to arrive and have plenty of time before the 7 a.m. gun. I hadn't even left the parking garage when I heard my first comment about my bare feet. "So are you doing this barefoot?" I replied in the affirmative. "Okay!," the man said. I got to the race area, used a porta-john, donned my fuel belt full of mango-flavored Gatorade (yum!), checked my bag and started warming up with dynamic stretching.

After chatting with some other racers -- including a few familiar faces -- lined up and got ready to race with the huge mass of bodies in the starting chute. I figured I'd finish in about 2 hours, 40 minutes, so I lined up near that pace marker. We were all warm. Not only was there a lot of body heat with us all crammed in shoulder to shoulder, but the temperature at the start of the race was already 78 degrees Fahrenheit. God help us all.

I started out the race at what I thought was a "slow" pace. I'd heard over and over that you don't want to start a race too fast, so I was trying not to. My goal was to average about 12:00 to 12:30-minute miles over the course of the 13.1 miles. About a 1/4 mile in I looked at my Garmin Forerunner 305 and saw that I was running a 10:48 mile! Holy crap! I don't hardly feel like I'm moving at all and I'm running at 10:48? Oh boy. I eased up even more and managed a more manageable pace.

Another piece of advice I'd heard was to not blow through the early aid stations. Stop and hydrate because you'll need it later on. I heeded the advice and took Gatorade and water. "I'll save my personal stash for later," I thought. The miles began to add up and I hydrated on what I thought was a good schedule.

The Walking Begins

Although my goal was to actually run the entire race, I found myself needing to take a walking break at about 5.2 miles in. This was on a hill next to the UMKC campus that raised 132 feet in 0.6 miles. Once to the top I ran for more than another mile.

My wife's picture of me
at the 7-mile mark.
I didn't think that my wife and kids were going to make it out to the race to cheer me on. Our church was holding a Father's Day brunch (two weeks early) that morning and my father-in-law really wanted for my family to be there. Our son also really wanted to see grandpa. So the plan was that my wife and kids would go to that, because the logistics of getting them out to the race and then to the brunch was going to be too difficult. Even so, my wife surprised me by bringing the kids out to cheer me on at about the 7-mile mark. That was a nice surprise and gave me a bit of a mental boost.

I also got to spend some time talking to a fellow runner, Greg Vaughn. Greg's known for carrying an American flag with him on his runs. It's to raise awareness for all the emergency responders who serve our country each and every day. I'd chatted with him at a few previous events, so we knew each other somewhat. Chatting with him helped make some of the walking more tolerable.

Just after the 8-mile marker I noticed that I had some blistering starting on my right big toe. For whatever reason, my gait when barefoot makes that exact spot prone to blistering on my longer runs. I ended up having to put some athletic tape on the pad of the toe to help keep it from getting any worse. It's a strategy that has worked well in the past and also worked well at the HHR. I really need to take a look at what's causing the blistering in the first place, though.

The run/walk intervals continued for a while and became a little more frequent each time. I was hot, I was tired because I'd pushed my early pace a little too much, and I now know that my hydration was messed up.

The Wheels Fall Off

Disappointment started to set in as I realized that the race I wanted to run had fallen out of reach. Not only was I not running the whole race, but the pace groups for 2:40 and 2:45 had passed me. What's more, I noticed that my hands were starting to swell up some. My wedding ring fits me well, so when my fingers swell to the point that I can't take it off then I know there's an issue.

By mile 10, I didn't want
to finish, even if I knew
that I was going to.
I was approaching the Country Club Plaza and the dreaded "Broadway Hill" at the 10-mile marker when I began really feeling like I didn't want to be out there anymore. I was going to finish, but I didn't want to. I was hot. I was tired. My hands were swollen. My stomach had a knot in it and I just wasn't enjoying it anymore. I had been out there for just more than two hours and had managed a 12:52/mi. pace. I had gone a mile longer than I'd ever gone before and I wished I could just quit. But I didn't.

For the next half an hour and almost two miles, I walked. I trudged up the nearly 150 feet of the Broadway hill's incline. At some point along the way I met up with Greg again. I told him about my fingers and he told me that if we were running an ultra the medics would pull me out. Essentially, I'd messed up my hydration by drinking too much Gatorade and not enough water, and he told me that I needed to lay off the Gatorade and just drink water from then on. Drink only water until I could pee again. So I did.

What was interesting was that I never felt lightheaded or stopped sweating. I know that those are tell-tale signs of dehydration, but they never showed up. It seems to me that I was hydrated well enough but just had too much sodium in my system, a condition called hypernatremia. What's interesting is that runners often suffer from the opposite effect of not having enough sodium in their system, hyponatremia. By trying to hydrate well, I overdid it to some extent. I never found the right "cocktail" mixture of water to salt intake.

The Finish Line

The finish line! Greg was
right behind me carrying
his American flag.
Greg and I walked the last hill to the 12.4-mile mark and it was all downhill from there. We went for it. We ran the rest of the way in. After a grueling three miles of personal disappointment, I finished strong. In that last 3/4 of a mile I ran an 11:14/mi. pace...and it felt good to finally cross that finish line. It may have taken me three hours and two minutes, but I FINISHED!

After I'd been given my bottle of water and medal I just about broke down in tears. That was certainly the roughest race I'd ever run. Certainly, it was the longest, but mentally it drained me. Looking back it'd be easy to say that should have pushed myself more. I could have found ways to be more motivated and run more of the areas I walked. Maybe so, but in the moment I felt I was doing well just walking, walking, walking toward that finish line. When I got tired of being out there at the 10-mile marker I could have just thrown in the towel, but I didn't.

All things considered, I'm proud of myself and I learned a lot. I set a goal when it was still cold out to run this race on a warm June morning. I persevered and fulfilled my goal to do the whole race barefoot. I got the same medal that the first-place finisher did. And next time I run Hospital Hill -- or any half marathon -- again, I'll know better about how to pace myself, hydrate properly and push beyond my perceived limits. I'll also have a pretty good chance of setting a new personal record!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Show Your Feet Their Independence on Your Day Without Shoes This Saturday

As Founder and Chief Primalfoot Officer of The Primalfoot Alliance, I've planned a couple of  organized activities in my hometown for Your Day Without Shoes this Saturday, June 11. Supporters and advocates of barefoot activity from around the midwest are welcome to come together to eat, play, enjoy the outdoors and show their barefoot independence in...Independence, Missouri.

The shoeless activities will start at 11:30 a.m. with a picnic (bring your own food) and barefoot time at Waterfall Park behind the Bass Pro Outdoor World on the southwest corner of I-70 and I-470 in Independence. The park is a unique space, set up next to a large man-made lake and with paved trails leading throughout a natural setting. There is also lots of space for kicking a ball around or throwing a frisbee. For kiddos, there's a large playground area set up with a climbing rock and customary jungle gym. The playground surface itself is very barefoot friendly, composed of a rubbery wood-chip-like surface.

Independence Center Mall
After that, we'll make our way to the nearby Independence Center on 39th Street, just east of M-291 highway, a uniquely cavernous shopping mall with stores ranging from Macy's to Radio Shack. While there, we can window shop, make any "necessary" purchases, grab an orange julius from the food court and/or have the kids play in the large play area of the mall.

Participants are then encouraged to continue the day on their own while barefoot. Whether it's shopping or dining elsewhere, taking in a movie or countless other activities, I encourage everyone to bare their soles and continue experiencing the world without shoes for the rest of the day.

I should point out one thing: Some of our plans, whether for this organized event or on our own throughout the rest of the day, may get sidetracked due to discrimination from management or security at the places we go. That's part of the reason for Your Day Without Shoes. We want to begin educating others and advocating for our feet. We want to begin changing the tide away from misinformed policies that keep people from living in a way that they find healthy and comfortable -- and that is perfectly legal.

Make sure to visit to read up on how to make it the best day possible. Print off a bunch of the informational fliers on the Resources page. When people push to make you wear shoes, push back with respectful information that can help others understand that we're not just a bunch of troublesome hippies.

It's Your Day Without Shoes, and the more support we get, the better.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Things That Make You Go Hmm...: The Barefoot Edition

One of the most frustrating things for me as a barefooter is that so many of the claims criticizing barefoot activity are made without the critics giving any thought to what they are actually saying. I know that the following observations are a bit snarky and pointed, but they're worth thinking about:

Lots of people have told me that they successfully went barefoot "all the time" as a kid, playing on rocks and gravel, in dirt, and around all kinds of dangerous things. Then they insinuate that the flat, smooth surfaces of the adult world (e.g. concrete, asphalt, tile, linolium and carpet) are too dangerous for going barefoot.


There's a prevalent thought that going barefoot is terribly unsanitary and can spread disease, yet most diseases are spread through direct contact from our hands to our faces, or from face to face. Still, no one insists that we all wear surgical masks and gloves during the height of flu season and no one polices public restrooms to make sure that we've all properly washed our hands when leaving.


Lots of people think it's "gross" or "disgusting" to go barefoot, but then put shoes on that their feet have sweated in day after day and which act as incubators for problems such as athlete's foot and toe fungus.


Going barefoot in a store is supposedly very unsafe and a high risk for injury, yet high heels -- which put 20,000 women a year into hospital ERs and often have no traction at all on their soles -- are acceptable footwear.


Many people claim that they "hate feet" and can't stand the sight of them, yet they're fine when others wear open-toed shoes. It's only when the small amount of shoe material is removed that the sight of the feet is offensive. The exception: bare feet are rarely hated at the pool.


Countless women have told me that they don't go barefoot because they have "sensitive" feet, yet are willing to wear shoes which cause regular pain and blistering in and on their "sensitive" feet.


Podiatrists and other experts say that there's no evidence to support claims that running barefoot leads to less injury. There is also no evidence to support claims that running with standard cushioned shoes causes less injury, yet they are fine recommending those.


Many people think that going barefoot puts feet at a high risk of injury, yet many people regularly close car doors, use sharp steak knives and scissors, light matches and more without wearing protective gloves.


Naysayers claim that there's loads of broken glass, sharp rocks, nails, and even hypodermic needles strewn about all over the place, yet they can never point out where any of it is when asked.


Though many podiatrists say that our bare feet aren't capable of properly supporting us, countless athletes successfully compete barefoot in gymnastics, martial arts, dance, running and more.


Some people believe it's inappropriate for someone to shop a store barefoot, yet customers are regularly allowed with offensive shirts and tattoos, bad body odor, loud children and more.


A common thought is that bare feet may make business floors excessively dirty. A person who regularly goes barefoot cleans their feet at least once a day. People who wear regularly wear shoes rarely, if ever, clean the soles of their footwear.


You know who -- or what -- is allowed barefoot into a store? Service animals. It may be "no shoes, no service" for people, but guide dogs are allowed on the very same unsafe floors AND they cannot be made by management to wear protective booties, per a blog post I wrote a while back.


Speaking of bare feet being inappropriate, it used to be that women should only wear skirts, children should only speak when spoken to and flip flops were only for the pool or shower room. My, how things change.


Do these things also make you go "Hmm..."? Does it give you a different perspective on bare feet? What would you add to the list? Am I off base with some of them? Please leave your comments in the section below.

Image: graur codrin /

Related from LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails