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Run Barefoot, Run Healthy: Book Review and Giveaway

Posted Jan 17 2012 12:00am

One indicator that the barefoot revolution has attained some significant critical mass over the past few years is that minor factions are beginning to develop. Like any grassroots movement, as this one grows and expands, there are bound to be some differences of opinion on the nuances and complexities of a full-fledged paradigm shift. (And if you don’t believe me, look at the Occupy movement, whose most outspoken proponents can’t seem to agree on much of anything.)

Today’s review and giveaway touches on a few of those issues; more specifically, I’ll point out some examples of areas where I have a difference of opinion with author Ashish Murharji. That’s not to say his book isn't worth reading – only that you should read it for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

The book in question is , and it’s essentially a question-and-answer compilation on a variety of topics related to barefoot running. Murharji – who also goes by the moniker “Unshod Ashish” – is a longtime runner who dealt with chronic injuries over a twenty-year period before finally kicking off his shoes in frustration and realizing that virtually all of the problems he had ultimately disappeared. His experience is representative of a great many runners who have found that the first step toward wellness was to ditch their traditional footwear.

Ashish now runs up to 70 barefoot miles per week, and runs marathons on a regular basis without any of the injuries that used to hamper him. His book discusses the biomechanics that explain such a transformation, and it also draws heavily upon anecdotal reports from several other barefoot runners who have found success without shoes. The book references dozens of research papers, but also makes some assertions that are based as much on anecdotes as they are on scientific analysis. For example, he points out that elite runner Haile Gebrselassie grew up running barefoot, and implies that he only wears shoes today because he’s paid endorsement money to do so, and that his shoes were the cause of injuries Geb faced later in his career.

Another point of contention I have is Ashish’s position on minimalist footwear. In response to a question about Vibrams, he notes that his cousin and next door neighbor both suffered stress fractures in them, then cites an article which points out that shoes interfere with sensory feedback of the feet. He remains fairly absolute in his assertion that barefoot is always the best option for running, which for my own purposes I’ve found completely untrue. I’ll happily trade a little bit of sensory feedback for protection from the discomfort of gravel, burrs, dried oak leaves, thorny grass, lava rock, or countless other potential hazards I find on the trail, especially since the biomechanic advantages of minimal footwear are the same as going barefoot.

One more issue is that Ashish tends to play up the inevitability and severity of running-related injuries in shod runners while minimizing the very real and often extensive problems that new barefoot runners can encounter. At one point he even states that blistered toes don’t happen to barefoot runners, but later clarifies that to say blisters can happen if you’re practicing bad form. From my own experiences, both anecdotally and as a physical therapist, I’d reply that novice barefoot runners are equally likely to get injured as novice shod runners, and that people can enjoy many long and fruitful years of running in either traditional or minimalist footwear.

As you might have guessed, my overall impression of Ashish’s book is that it tends to be a little overzealous in its defense of purely barefoot running above all else, but that’s the nice thing about where the barefoot movement is today: we don’t all have to agree on everything to learn and benefit from each other’s point of view. There’s a lot of good instructive material in Run Barefoot, Run Healthy, and it would be especially helpful if you happen to be bothered by chronic injuries from regular shoes and are just starting to consider going barefoot.

Run Barefoot, Run Healthy is , but Ashish has agreed to provide one signed copy to a reader selected randomly from the comments below.  However, I’m adding one new wrinkle to the ground rules on this contest for a couple of reasons …

1) There’s a perception in the barefoot community that females are significantly underrepresented in comparison to men (I’m not sure whether this is actually true, but the notion is out there), and …

2) I had two contests last week that featured prizes only for men.

You can see where this is headed then: I’m making this giveaway contest open only to the ladies. Obviously, the more women we get onboard this movement, the better it will be for all of us. So if you have double X-chromosomes, leave a comment below to enter, and I’ll announce the winner this Saturday, January 21.

Thanks very much to Ashish Mukharji for providing this book for review, and good luck to everybody!

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