I was one of those people who did exactly what Chris McDougall hoped people wouldn’t do: after reading Born to Run, I a) signed up for a trail marathon that was happening 8 days from the day I signed up, and b) switched to barefoot shoes. (Sorry, Chris.)
The marathon was fun but also the worst. But the barefoot shoes… Well, I’ll say I lucked out in a BIG way because my feet and body adapted to them fantastically. I have no idea why. But Peter didn’t have the same experience, so we’ve come up with a list of tips for how to transition to a more barefoot life.
Find great shoes
Barefoot shoes are honestly usually pretty f-ing ugly. But if you’ve followed me for a while, you know I freaking love Vivo Barefoot for both my running shoes and my daily living ones. They have men’s and women’s, tons of styles, and while they aren’t super cheap, they will last forever and they actually look really good.
Start with walking
Our personal favorite—walk a lot. Most people want to live regular life in regular shoes and run barefoot but really, you should do the opposite to start. Ease in by doing more walking/daily life in barefoot shoes, and then slowly start shifting to running. Give your body a chance to get used to the barefoot thing with a lower impact set of activities!
Strengthen and stretch your feet
Over at MapMyRun, Peter and I put together a whole article on ways to strengthen your feet. Don’t skip this step, because trust me, you’re going to have ALL THE FEELS as you start going barefoot. So, spend 2-3 minutes each day focusing on some easy foot strengthening moves that you can do while you watch TV.
Short runs first
The big mistake people (ahem me) make with shifting to barefoot is starting with running versus walking, and doing HUGE runs barefoot. Your calves will be PISSED. Short, short runs at first, and only after you’ve walked in your barefoot shoes for a couple of weeks. (I live in my Otillo sneakers from Vivo Barefoot.)
Accept what they aren’t going to be great for
Even some of the people who work at Vivo admit that they occasionally do their longer runs in shoes with a bit more body to them. For huge distances, they may not be ideal. And let’s be honest, while Vivo makes some gorgeous shoes, like the sweeeeet Ryder Boot, there are those very rare occasions when I want to wear heels to an event. So, I do.
Not working? Try Zero-Drop or low-profile instead
There are a lot of lower profile and zero-drop options available now, and those are what I use for super long runs or for trails that I know are going to be so rocky and sharp that I run the risk of hurting my foot that way.
Remember, you don’t have to be 100%
Seriously. Start small, and don’t feel like it has to be all or nothing. Some people might advocate for that, but you know what? I love wearing heels on occasion. I like doing my longer pavement runs with a little more padding. And I don’t think you need to Kondo your gear closet and get rid of your amazing winter Salomons and invest in 10 pairs of barefoot shoes right away. Give it some time, and don’t sweat it if you want to wear your old Birkenstocks sometimes.