Barefoot Ralphie

I have gotten better at my running, but I am still slow. I expect this to be the case since I started late in my life. If I hear a heckle from a young runner like "keep going gramps" as I weakling my way along a path, I treat it as a compliment. However, I made no emotional preparations for the geriatric heckler.

I started barefoot running during the winter months. I went to the municipal fitness center as I lacked any conditioning for being barefoot in the snow. On my third day at the track, I passed a group of of walkers pushing beyond their 70s. I heard one of the women say, "you forgot your shoes." It was certainly a harmless comment. The next time I went past them it was the other one saying, "you know, that just stupid." They exited before I finished my run which was a good thing given how quickly they jumped from recognition of a novelty to straight condemnation.

A few days later, I would be running past another, slightly younger group; one was about my age. He usually runs on the track. Today he walked with a slight limp. Maybe it was a running injury, maybe not. From him I received, "you're going hurt your feet." I found it odd that he was ready to tell me, a person his age, but with far more mobility, that I was injuring myself. Based on the statistics, he most likely knows many others who run fully shod and fully injured. I finished before they exited the track, uninjured and smiling.

I ran again two days later and received my personal favorite heckle: "That's a good way to get Athlete's Foot." I realized in that instant that I had become Ralphie from the classic holiday movie, A Christmas Story. The hecklers were hitting me with responses equal to Ralphie's BB gun request.


Maybe I watched too much of the TBS Christmas Day movie marathon. But if I had been on the track wearing a some ridiculous looking, neon shoe with eight extra inches of width in my sole and a Select Comfort Sleep Number air mattress for the insole, others on the track would have said admired the cutting edge gear. They would do this even though we all know from our own experience that none of this prevents injuries. All runners know this by simply running with expensive shoes and getting continually injured. Yet, it's only when I go au-naturale that I get told that I'll get injured or worse, I'll get Athlete's Foot.

I have only had athletes foot once. It wasn't from running or exercising at all. It was when I was doing work requiring me to be standing for ten hours a day in hard soled leather dress shoes. My feet were sweating the whole time. I got my skin eating fungus about six months into the standing. It felt just fine provided I could tear off my toes wtih my fingernails.

I used various creams and sprays which helped ease the discomfort, but I fixed the problem by removing my shoes and socks and letting the air through. I hung around in bare feet for three hours or more after a good foot wash. Since that time I have been very particular about well ventilated shoes with a preference for sandals. I mostly enjoy being barefoot.

Now that I think about it, even though I am very new to barefoot running, I am no stranger to being barefoot in general.

I spent nearly very hour of every day at a swimming pool as a youth. I swam competitively from the age of ten and worked as a life-guard in my teens. All my friends were swimmers. We hung-out at the pool nearly every day. I spent more time without shoes than with. I have been told my whole life that public showers are a high risk place for getting athletes foot. Yet, In the ten plus years of virtually living barefoot at that pool, I never got it nor can I think of any of us who did.

The reason is that while being barefoot makes you more open to picking it up, being barefoot doesn't make a good environment for foot fungi to grow. To really get the itching, burning feeling only a Athlete's Foot can give, you need more than a microscopic contact with the fungus. You need to give it a warm, moist, place with limited sun. Therefore, what you really need to get athletes foot are shoes and socks.

Go and enjoy at least a few hours a day barefoot (note: feet in warm and moist air found under blankets don't count) and you'll be fine. Run barefoot in the sun with UV rays on your feet and the fungus doesn't stand a chance. Claims of getting it by running barefoot are old dude's tales.

The same can be said about barefoot related injuries. Claims of injuries directly related to running barefoot are simply not supported by published findings in scientific literature. I also know that after giving up the shoes, my heels and knees recovered. Injury claims are just another example of the classic mother-BB Gun-block.


It's strange that exercising in a way that doesn't require thousands or even hundreds of dollars in gear brings these comments out of people. We once exercised without Nike, Reebok, Nautlilus, or Bowflex informercials. That time isn't ancient history; it's not even 50 years ago. The people heckling me lived during that time. How often did they go to the doctor for Plantar Fasciitis back then? Did they sit around on the corner in their flat soled uncushioned boots or arch-free sneakers from the Montgomery Ward catalog waiting for the right shoe before they could go running in the fields and streets? Was Athlete's Foot or IT Band Syndrome indemic back then?

The more I run barefoot the more love running. The more I run barefoot, more my running pain vanishes. The more I think about it, the more ridiculous I feel for not doing it before especially given my barefoot history. The more ridiculous I feel, the more I think I will buy flip-flops and BB-Guns for the grandkids.


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