I've been engaging in an experiment in shoelessness since about the beginning of September. My impetus for this was a variety of small things that built up over time:
- Over the summer, I ran a couple miles around three times per week, and found it pretty ridiculous that even with this moderate amount of running my right knee would ache afterwards.
- Friends of mine have been experimenting with thin-soled shoes such as Five Fingers since last winter or so.
- This book.
- Articles like this one, and this site among other places on the Internet.
In the end I became pretty convinced that not wearing shoes if you don't have to is just plain superior to wearing them, so I decided to give it a try.
At first I felt somewhat self-conscious going barefoot, as it's not exactly the norm around town. But after a few weeks it just felt natural. People notice, but not all that many actually say anything about it. And now walking brings the added variety of sun-warmed tile floors and dew-damp grass. Even gravel is just another interesting texture. Sharp objects have been a mythical problem that I just haven't encountered. You gain a sort of sixth-sense for not stepping on things you shouldn't step on while paying a minimum of attention.
Right now I generally cycle to campus every day in a pair of old beat-up Crocs and then leave them clipped to my bike with my helmet. Metal petals are pretty sharp on bare feet; I've been meaning to see if some modifications will make the pedals more bare foot friendly but just haven't gotten around to it yet. Plastic pedals tend to be okay, if not the most comfortable things in the world. Cycling with sandals also means that I have backup in the rare case of some belligerant shop owner (though I haven't actually ever been asked to leave a store).
For running, I settled on wearing some FiveFingers KSOs. I tried going actually barefoot a couple times, but found running on city surfaces, even by the Charles River, to be extremely abrasive. Perhaps I am just not hardcore enough! The FiveFingers were a bit uncomfortable at first--my smallest toes tended to hurt while wearing them, and the tip of my second-longest left toe got a minor blister the first time I wore them. After wearing them four or five times, though, those problems went away and I'm pretty pleased with them overall. Running is fun again, and I no longer fear that every time I go out I'm harming my knees.
In the beginning, I tried really hard to have a proper barefoot gait, without a hard heel landing. For a while this meant I was actually trying to land on the ball of my foot, which I don't think was the right thing. What feels right and comfortable for me now is a nearly flat-footed landing with a soft heel strike that rolls into the rest of the stride. But I don't really think about it at all; I just move forward and it works itself out.
The next challenge will be figuring out the best way to tackle getting around when it gets cold out. But I'll burn that bridge when what I'm doing now gets uncomfortable.