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Monday, October 10, 2011

It's time for a paradigm shift...

So there's been a lot of great discussion on both sides of the barefoot running certication issue since I last posted on the topic (if you haven't read my prior masterpiece of persuasive writing on the topic, you can find it here).  A lot of chatter on other blogs, in forums, and on social media.  I don't want to rehash that debate.  If you missed it, here's a short summary.  Immediately after my post,  Jason Robillard wrote somewhat of a reply here.  Then Barefoot Josh weighed in with his point of view here

I want to put the debate in context, and ask a larger question.  As we go back and forth on the issue, I am reminded of something that Amby Burfoot said during the Merrell Barefoot Roundtable in NYC a few weeks ago.  He said something to the extent of, "What you're debating really doen't matter.  Runners are 3% of the general population." 

Way to blow my freaking mind Amby!  But it's true.  Runners are a ridiculously small portion of the population, and barefoot runners even less.  We're debating the equivalent of Star Wars versus Star Trek.  As smart as we are, all that debate is only going to affect a thousand people at most. 

I don't want it to be that way.  I want all the knowledge that I have to be relevant and interesting to more than a handful of my friends.  So what's a local barefoot superhero to do?  How about shake things up?  I'm good at that.

For starters, let's look at the reason why we're a super-minority of the running community.  I think it has a lot to do with the way we barefooters state our case.  We've made the debate very much a battle of barefoot versus shoes.  And it's been that way since the first shot was fired and we called out Nike.  We divided and alienated ourselves from the majority of runners right from the start.  Then we expected them to come running in droves when we showed them all this great science to support our position.

What we've been doing is to set ourselves apart from the larger community, and looking at what we do as something to aspire to.  The problem is that most of the running community is fine doing what they are doing.  We're not relevant to them.  We're sitting on the sidelines of the larger running community and picking off the occasional oddball. 

That might be fine for some of you, but I for one am tired of it.  I'm tired of being the weird guy.  I'm tired of being just a small subsection of the running community.  I'm tired of picking off a few stray runners who have the courage to think for themselves.  As my friend Kate Kift said in a recent blog post, I don't want to be identified only as a "barefoot runner".  I really just want to "run".

I'd rather start talking about what unites us instead of divides us as a running community.  So here's the biggest reason why I like the VIVOBAREFOOT coaching certification.  I think it puts barefoot running into the proper context for the future. 

Now first of all, I know we've been talking about the pros and cons of barefoot running coaching certification.  That debating is purely hypothetical.  There is no such thing as a barefoot running certification. 

Of course, you wouldn't know that by looking at the marketing materials for the VIVOBAREFOOT coaching cert.  Right on the first page it says in big, bold letters: "Learn to teach the skill of barefoot running".  But ask anyone who's been through the certification, and they'll tell you.  The VIVOBAREFOOT coaching certification is NOT a barefoot running certification.  It is a running FORM certification. 

The focus of the VIVOBAREFOOT cert is not to learn how to barefoot run, or teach others to do so.  The focus is developing better form.  In that regard, it's similar to other certs like POSE, Chi Running, or Evolution.  The difference between this certification and others is its use of barefoot running as the primary tool to achieve good form.  Running barefoot is not the ultimate goal.  Instead, the goal is running with good form regardless of what is on your feet.

I think this clinic is exactly what the barefoot running world needs.  The reason why is summed up nicely in a  quote from my friend Angie Bee:

"What we learned in class and the basis of class for that matter is that BAREFOOT IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO IMPROVE YOUR RUNNING SKILL. Not everyone is going to be a barefoot runner but barefoot running as a tool will make you a better runner if done right. A coach will provide perspective and experience to get there."

Did you see the key words there?  Not "shoes as tools".  Not "barefoot first, then minimal shoes". 

"Barefoot running as a tool."  To acheive what?  Good form.  It's brilliant.  It spins our whole way we look at this barefoot running thing on its head.

Do I really care if people chuck their shoes and go barefoot?  Not really.  I just want them to find a way of running that makes them happy.  I think most people in this community feel the same way.  So let's stop making shoes the enemy folks, and making enemies of most of the running world in the process.  Let's make bad form the enemy.  Bad form is something that unites us rather than divides us.  You'll find a ton of people who like shoes...myself included.  You won't find a whole lot of people who will stand up to support bad form. 

Not that shoes aren't worth fighting too, but maybe it's not the right time yet.  But now that there is a ton of interest in running form from the larger running community, we have a great opportunity to fight bad form.  We have something incredible to offer on the subject.  Barefoot running is hands down the fastest way to learn good form.  We offer the promise of BETTER FORM FAST.  You can take off your shoes, and for the most part be imparted with better form immediately.  Combine that with a couple of good drills to learn how to do it even better (which is what you learn in the VIVOBAREFOOT clinic) and you have yourself something special.

The slogan "shoes as tools" is fine for the barefoot community.  But we need a new a new slogan for the other 99%.  My new slogan for them is "barefoot running as a tool".  

Who's with me?  Again I'd love to hear your thoughts.  You can leave them in the comment section.  Cheers citizens!   


  1. Well done!
    I have to say though that I am more concerned with your Star Trek vs. Star Wars analogy.....

  2. Starwars all the way, obviously. Star Trek is for losers.

  3. I dunno, I think too many runners see barefooters as tools enough as it is.

  4. I still would love to see you all expand further to the benefits of barefoot Functional Fitness. Many of you cross train to prepare for a race.
    I know...some are runners and will always be runners and that is that. But some want good form while running and to be fit and healthy all around at the same time.
    There is a wider audience that could benefit from your knowledge. I'm just saying :)

  5. I agree with you Christian. Great post. I too think we need to be included in the running community rather than a subclass. We shall see how this comes about. One of the first things I tell anyone inquisitive enough to ask about barefooting, is that it's best to start bare to learn the form, then go back to shoes if you want. I'm glad more people are starting to think this way.

  6. Pete, I have a post coming on barefoot weightlifting. I just have to get through this ranting phase first ;)

  7. I can't wait. We all love the ranting though, so don't cut it short. :)

  8. "Personally i dont see it as a all powerfull panacea to correct all woes. But i do believe that it does have its place as a tool in the modern runners box of tricks" - http://kiwi-running.blogspot.com/2011/03/1st-barefoot-experiments.html

    Since march ive been using Barefoot running as a tool to improve my running, much the same as i use interval training, hill sprints, LSR's ... I have neither the patience or the desire to toughen my feet up enough to be able to handle my regular weekly running pensum barefoot, But i allways strive to including some barefoot running in my weekly training.

  9. I 100% agree. I run barefoot and everyone thinks of me as the weird barefoot guy but I don't feel like a barefoot runner even though 1/2 my mileage is barefoot. I think of it as a running form tool. Take the shoes away and you instantly find out what you are doing wrong. Reading you blisters and hotspots can be a little like reading tea leaves but once you take your shoes off you start learning how to run better. I run in shoes, but I learn barefoot.



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