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Barefoot Running Blisters: Interpreting My Pattern and the Importance of the Flexor Hallucis Brevis?

Ever since running with my friends Mark Cucuzzella and Blaise Dubois out in Colorado a few weeks ago, I have been giving another go at a bit of barefoot running. Mark is now running a solid percentage of his weekly his miles fully barefoot (see video below), whereas Blaise supplements his regular training with small amounts of barefooting here and there.

Like most of what I do when it comes to running, my main reason for trying a bit more barefooting is simply to see what happens – yet another of my little experiments on myself to satisfy my curiosity. I like pushing my limits and seeing what my body can do, and quite honestly I’ve been enjoying the little bit that I have done so far.

When I was out in Colorado, I ran a mile fully barefoot on the Boulder Canyon trail, and it felt great. My feet handled it fine, with the exception of small blisters that started to form on the soft skin at the base of my big toe. Since returning, I’ve continued to end runs a few times a week with a bit of barefoot walking or running, always on asphalt sidewalks. Yesterday, I was running in Vivobarefoot Neos for a five miler, and about a mile into the run the insole on the right side started to scrunch up under my big toe, and over the next few miles I couldn’t seem to keep it flat. It was irritating the skin just behind the pad of my big toe. I stopped about a mile from home and figured I’d go the rest of the way barefoot. Unfortunately, the insole rubbing had done some damage in the same spot as where I had developed the (healed) blister in Colorado (see second photo below).


Note the blister at the base of my big toe. The red, irritated part further anterior is because I stupidly pulled the dead skin off too far.


Yuck. The real damage done to my big toe here was a loose, bunched up shoe insole moreso than barefoot running.

Anyway, blisters are a part of acclimating to barefoot running (just as they were when I started running high mileage in shoes – I have the calluses on the inside of the balls of my feet to show for it!). By and large, my feet have done great, and the only blisters of any consequence that I have developed were in this spot on each big toe. I’m barefoot most of the time at home during the summer, so my soles seem to be pretty well adapted to the condition. This got me to thinking – aside from the obvious point that I was running without shoes on asphalt, why did I get blisters in this particular location during my runs? My curiosity as an anatomy prof with an interest in running mechanics was piqued.

A few weeks ago I posted a link to an article by Jay Dicharry from the UVA Speed Lab where he discussed factors that are important for making a safe transition into barefoot or minimalist running. One of those was the the ability to isolate the flexor hallucis brevis muscle during stance phase of running (see photo at left). Here’s what Jay wrote about this:

“A key factor that distinguishes humans from primates is our medial longitudinal arch. This arch is actively stabilized by the flexor hallucis brevis (FHB). While standing, try to drive the big toe (1st MTP) into the ground (plantar flexion) while slightly elevating (dorsiflexing) the lesser toes. Make sure not to roll the ankle in or out. This test enables screening of muscles inside the foot that stabilize the arch. The FHB can be easily distinguished from the longus (FHL), as the FHL crosses another joint in your big toe (1st IP joint), resulting in your big toe curling. Spend some time getting to know your foot. Aim to drive the big toe down while lifting the little toes (without curling the big toe!), and lift the big toe up while driving the little toes down. It’s the best way to work on coordination of muscles that actively stabilize the foot in stance. It’s your foot – control it! If you can do this, it’s a sign that you can keep the rear foot stable on the forefoot when the body sees the greatest amount of pronation (which is just slightly after midstance and AFTER the heel is off of the ground by the way. Midstance is when forces are highest throughout the body- about 2.5x’s your body weight. You need the internal strength to be able to respond to these forces to keep things in alignment.”

Flexor Hallucis BrevisThe flexor hallucis brevis (FHB) muscle that Jay is referring to is an intrinsic foot muscle (meaning that it originates and inserts within the foot) that functions to flex the big toe downward (see red muscle in photo at left  – image via Wikipedia and Gray’s anatomy). It attaches to two small bones called sesamoids, and then continues to attach to the base of the proximal phalanx of the big toe (put simply, it attaches to the base of the big toe and helps to drive it into the ground during stance). The flexor hallucis longus (FHL), on the other hand, is an extrinsic foot muscle (meaning that it originates outside of the foot) that attaches to the fibula in the lower leg and inserts on the bone at the tip of the big toe. As a result, the FHL curls the big toe as it flexes it.

Given Jay’s thoughts on the importance of the FHB to stability during stance phase of running, my hypothesis would be that this muscle is partly responsible for my developing blisters in this particular location. Contraction of the FHB holds the big toe in a very stable position against the ground during stance by forcing the base of the big toe downward, and as I push off I suspect the FHL begins to pull the big toe back a bit, creating friction leading to the blister. My guess would be that if the FHL was playing the only role here (e.g., if my FHB was weak), then my blistering would be located further forward on my big toe, as I have seen in other images posted online, but just guessing wildly at this (and please, point out the error of my ways if I’m totally off on this!). I have no intention of injecting Botox to paralyze my flexor hallucis brevis, but it would be cool to see what would happen!

In a nutshell, I think this is telling me that my big toe is doing exactly what it should be doing while I run (i.e., stabilizing during stance), and that my skin in that spot just needs to toughen up a bit.  Incidentally, I can feel the tenderness under this spot during single leg balancing, but it alleviates if I attempt to curl my big toe while keeping it flat on the ground. All of this makes me suspect a the combined role of the FHB and the FHL here in causing the pressure that creates the ground friction needed to cause blistering under my toe (the abductor hallucis could also be involved, but let’s keep this simple for now…).

Anyway, the take home message is to not forget that you do have muscles in your feet, and they can be doing important jobs when you run. Couple this with shoe induced deformities like some cases of hallux valgus (inward bending of the big toe), and feet/toes adapted to sitting on stiff shoe soles, and you can see how it might take some to adapt to something less (or nothing) underfoot.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. Not sure if this is related but I ended up getting pretty bad tendinitis in my FHL after running my first double digit run in my VFF Bikilas.  My Bikilas are one size too small and are pretty tight in the toe pockets especially for my big toes.  The tight toe pocket really restricts the raising and my big toe and thus irritated the FHL to the point that I could not raise my big toe with out sharp pain.  Very interesting how all the muscles of your feet and legs play such an intricate role in running.  If any of them become sore or irritated it makes it nearly impossible to run.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Theo – yes, that’s my big problem with Vibrams – they restrict toe movement, particularly if the fit is a bit tight. I think the FHL would be particularly impacted since curling toes can be very hard in VFFs.

  2. Good writing Pete, I run maybe 40% barefoot, and for a while, the acclimation was a bit tough, getting blisters behind my big toe.  Don’t worry, you’ll get leather soles on your feet in no time. Found this on Hoka’s website (they make overstuffed pillowshoes): “LevitatingBy using an EVA 30% softer and increasing its total volume to 2.5 times that of a typical trail running shoe, we allow for more cushioning than any other shoe on the market today, dissipating up to 80% of the shock associated with heal striking when running.” –… This makes me wonder why it took so long for us to realize our “heal”[sic] strikes were a bad thing; they even admit that heel striking causes shock. My favorite part, theo7272, about running barefoot, is that whenever I have a small ache or soreness, running barefoot somehow subconsciously fixes my stride, and I’m pain free after each run.  I recomend taking your shoes off the very second you feel any sort of pain.  Even my TPVB Ultras will alter my stride ever so subtly.

  3. Whotrustedus says:

    Great video!

    I’m grateful for this post and others that focus on actual barefoot running.   I’m also trying to add some barefoot miles to my routine and i appreciate any & all insights.    I’m sure i need to strengthen both my FHB & FHL. 

    (People ask me when I’m running why I’m running in my barefeet.  I just tell them that there is really no good reason.  I just want to.  it simplifies the conversation and gets me down the road sooner!)  

  4. I just looked at some pictures of people with hallux valgus, yuck!

    One question Pete: how straight is a big toe supposed to be if its growth has not been influenced by shoes?

  5. Mark Cucuzzella says:


    This is an insightful post as always. Taught a clinic at a HS XC camp today and none of the runners could do the toe drill well….but they learned it.
    We just posted a nice piece which debunks lots of myths on transitioning and outlines safe barefoot progression.  Steven Sashen from Invisible Shoes wrote the piece
    Thanks for sharing the video too.  it was fun barefooting and sharing a beer with you in Boulder.
    Put some Duct Tape on the big toe while the skin heals.  it will heal with more callous…this is the progression

    • Pete Larson says:


      I read Steve’s post last night. My take is that he presents one way to make the transition. It may in fact be the most effective way, but the reality is that a lot of people will not run barefoot on a hard surface for reasons of fear, lack of suitable places to run, and/or social stigma. As such, I think it’s important to also consider a more careful step-down approach in shoes. Barefoot may be one endpoint, and if that is the goal, then Steve’s approach is great. But, some runner’s may be doing fine and want just a bit less shoe, so a different endpoint may necessitate a different approach.

      Sent from my iPad

      • Mark Cucuzzella says:

        agree completely.  the 200 yard rule is the practice drill.  most just want to run healthy.  we have many runners completely happy in a durable and flat shoe like a Newton Isaac and have no desire to run barefoot.  in our teaching clinics we do 50-100 meters barefoot to have them feel the landing.  i encourage runners to play barefoot with their kids in the back yard.

        • Pete and Mark C,
          Thank you for this article, and comment thread…tons if great info. My question is whether it not proper running form includes the toe(s) being down at mid stance, thus assisting in toe-off? I notice I run with my toes dorsiflexed, and use the balls of my feet during push off, not my toes at all. But i alsi thought we shouldnt push off with our toes? That being said, I’ve also had lots of experience with medial shin splints, and ‘gait experts’ say that it’s due to me having late stage pronation. Makes me ponder. Toes up or down?

          • Pete Larson says:

            Toes dorsiflex prior to contact, possibly to get out of the way in a lot of people. Then they come down and the big toe helps to stabilize the foot during stance and push off. If you don’t use the toes my suspicion is you are really heavily loading the metatarsals and this makes me worry about stress fracture risk.
            Sent from my iPad

  6. Mark Mearing-Smith says:

    Like, I am sure, everyone else as I was reading this article I tried to do lift my small toes while keeping my big toes on the ground. Impossible for me. I can’t isolate my big toe at all. I’m not really surprised as that every time I’ve been to a running shop I’ve always bought what they suggested (motion stability shoes) seeing that I over pronate, and never thinking that the muscles in my feet might need developing as well. At least there is something very specific I can work on.

    • Pete Larson says:


      Can you balance on one leg for thirty seconds while barefoot? If you read Jay’s article he has a lot more info on this, plus some tips on strengthening.

      Sent from my iPad

  7. Robert Osfield says:

    Great to here that you are trying barefoot running again.  I recall your first few experiments with barefoot running you didn’t like handling the small stones underfoot, but make no mention of this recent mention of barefoot.  Are you now less aware of the small debri on the run?

    My barefoot progression has come about as far as yours.  I have noticed my soles of my feet were rather warm by the end of 1 mile run, my big toes do seem to by under more friction stress than the rest of my foot.  I had assumed that this friction issue was down to my foot still moving on landing, but perhaps it’s during stance that is contributing too.  

    Handling smaller tones underfoot is something that six months ago I found quite debilitating but now my reactions seems faster so that I seem able to avoid the worst of the discomfort.  I’m barefoot most of the day now and walking on stony ground is easier so I’d guess my skin has toughened up as well – although it doesn’t feel rough or callused.

    Unfortunately, a couple of weeks back, I strained my Achilles on a 13 mile tempo run, so I’m on the bike and only managing very short runs once a week.  I haven’t ran barefoot during this period, but perhaps I should.  Is there any suggestion of use of barefoot during injury recovery?

    • Pete Larson says:

      Not sure on an Achilles strain. You work the Achilles harder when barefoot. I assume this was an acute injury, and that you’re not dealing with chronic Achilles tendinosis?
      Sent from my iPad

      • Robert Osfield says:

        This is an acute case, it appeared unexpectedly – I had a few calf aches while out on my run, but the last three miles my Achilles started to ache, it also was sore at the back/underneath my ankle on the outside.  I haven’t had this type of discomfort before, and there wasn’t any warning I picked up on prior to the last three miles of my run.  

        The days after the run I couldn’t walk comfortably, with time late on stance and when toeing off the sore point.  Curiously walking on my toes the Achilles didn’t hurt, so it looks to be related to the angle as much as the actual load itself.

        Fast forward three weeks and I can walk without any discomfort, and I can push it on the bike without problem.  Running is still uncomfortable so I’m not in hurry to get back to upping the mileage yet.  Eight weeks till my next marathon so I’m hoping this caution will pay off.

        On the topic of running barefoot, I do wonder if my footwear might be a bit of pressure on the Achilles so might irritate it a bit when running.  Going barefoot might help if this is the case.  One other reason to do barefoot right now might simply to keep my mileage and speed down.

        Of course it might simply that I need to lay off from running entirely for a couple more weeks as the injury seems to be very slow at recovery so far.

        Thanks for the article and your thoughts.

        • Pete Larson says:

          A stiff heel counter in a shoe can irritate the Achilles near it’s insertion – what shoes were you wearing when you hurt it?

          • Robert Osfield says:

            I was running in my Road-X 233’s.  I’ve had them for four months now, but as I do most of my runs of trails and off trail I tend use my trail shoes (Roclite 295’s) most of the time.  The heel counter isn’t any more noticeable in Road-X vs Roclite.  I hadn’t had any Achilles problems when wearing any shoes, and no hints of problems with the Road-X’s, always just felt like slippers to me.

            The heel drop is a few mill less in the Road-X, but then I also do occasional runs in my plimsoles (zero drop) and cheap pair of walking sandles (4mm drop) and barefoot (zero drop ;-), and am barefoot most of the day,  so I wouldn’t have though the heel drop should have been an issue.  I’ve learnt to adjust my planter flexion on landing according to my footware so I don’t think my landing changes too much with the footware.  The ankle joint angle will be a little different mid to late stance though with the different heel drop so I guess this might stress the bone/Achilles junction a bit more.

            When I was out on the run my calves were a little tight, but not much different than I’m used too.  I had done a pretty full on fell race in the week before the injury and quite a lot of hill/off trail training before it, so the risk of an overuse injury would have been higher.  However, the rest of my body seemed be to toughening up in response the training and race.  To injury myself on a benign trail run was rather a surprise after all the abuse that I had put my body through and outwardly seemed to be handling.

            I wish I could pinpoint what caused the actual injury, if only to know how to pick up the early warning signs and back off sooner.  Perhaps it was just a case of general overuse – with my calves getting stronger and resilient so able to put more load on the Achilles., but the the lower blood flow to the Achilles it just wasn’t keeping up with the adaptations in the rest of my body.

        • Pete Larson says:

          Definitely let that heal! Don’t want to put your marathon at risk. It is true that sometimes a stiff heel counter can irritate the Achilles, but would seem to be more likely when in plantarflexion.

    • Also, running barefoot will not allow a layer of numbing (shoes) to get in the way of what you feel.  

      • Robert Osfield says:

        I think the greater sensory feedback can works two ways – one it’ll help me balance better and tune my form, but… also it could swamp me with so many strong sensations from my soles of my feet that that the Achilles will seem a non issue in comparison…

  8. Andrew W. Lischuk says:

    Really great thoughts Pete, and thanks for posting the video of Mark doing the running drills.  I will definitely need to incorporate some of those into my training as I have had significant difficulty elevating my cadence beyond 160 to 164 per minute and have been wondering if leg length/height have anything to do with it.  At 6’4 I’m usually one of the taller runners in most races.  Would love to see you do some slow motion video of Mark’s barefoot running if you haven’t already.
    The duct tape suggestion is a good one. We used to use a product called Moleskin(R) when I was an athletic trainer which has a similar adhesive to duct tape with a more felt like backing, but more expensive. Duct tape worked just as well.  We even used it for warts.  Ahhhh the wonders of duct tape.

    • Robert Osfield says:

      I don’t think you need to worry too much about your cadence as I believe that the underlying advantages of a higher cadence is lowering joint loads as these are related to the maximum joint angles on stance.  The higher cadence you run at the less the vertical motion and the lower the maximum joint angles required to accommodate that vertical motion, so lower joint loads.  

      As you are a taller then for the same angles of joints and limbs your stride will be longer, and with it your cadence will be lower for the same joint angles.  If you were to match the cadence of shorter runners then while your stride length might be the same but all the joint angles will be lower so you’ll be using a different running form – lower impact which is nice, but potentially higher metabolic cost which is bad.

      I haven’t yet done the maths to work out the relationship between height, cadence and joint angles so I can’t saw what the exact relationship should be, but as a quite stab we could assume that it’s proportional to your height.  If we assume linear relationship this then a 5 9″ runner at a cadence of 180 will be equivalent to a 6 4″ runner at a cadence of 163. Which just so happens to be where you are at already 😉

      If you do still feel you want to up your cadence a bit then minimizing the weight of your shoes will be important, also work on recovering the leg from toe to landing as quickly as possible – lifting the foot towards the buttock will help reduce the rotational inertia of the leg making it easier to pull forward.  Also work on you hip extension as this has a significant effect on recovering the leg quickly and efficiently. 

      Finally running barefoot, as this has helped me up my cadence as I find it instictive to try and get the foot back into landing position as quickly as possible to protect my feet.

      • Andrew W. Lischuk says:


        Thanks so much for the reply, it sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into the mechanics.  I’m glad to hear that my “stride equivalent” is that of a more typical size adult. I have also noticed that trying to attain a 170-180 cadence does come at a metabolic cost to my body as my heart rate usually mimics my cadence at that range and I tire out quickly.  I naturally just fall into a 160 cadence no matter my pace when I am not paying attention to it.
        I greatly appreciate the advice on trying to raise my foot up more.  I have been actively working at this.  Also, my hip extension is something I really need to improve as I sit at work for at least ten hours a day, working sometimes up to 17hr shifts, and I have lost a significant amount of flexibility there.  Again, thanks.

        • Robert Osfield says:

          From my experience increasing cadence takes quite a while to become natural and efficient.  Over the last two years my cadence has increased, now a cadence that felt forced an inefficient before now feels comfortable and efficient. 

          I think it’s probably a combination of my muscles and tendons becoming stronger and stiffer, and my brain tuning the muscle activation to be less wasteful at the higher cadence.

          So be patient, but don’t worry about chasing a cadence that is artificially high.

        • Pete Larson says:

          Following on what Robert said, because you are tall, and presumably have longer than typical legs, shoe weight may have a greater impact on you. Moment of inertia is a function of mass and the square of the distance the mass is located from the point of rotation. If you consider your knee to be the point of rotation, the distance from knee to shoe squared would be considerably larger in you than in a shorter person, and would thus amplify the effect of a heavier shoe (Robert might be more adept at explaining this than I as he is an engineer).

          Regarding cadence, I’m about 5’9 and a half, and my cadence is about 182-183 at comfortable pace. Maybe Robert is right on!

      • Pete Larson says:

        Robert – this is exactly why I don’t think 180 cadence is a magic number that all runners need to shoot for. We are a variable species, and that will impact things like an individual’s cadence.

  9. Another great post, Pete.  Thanks.  The blisters you showed are exactly like the ones I get from time to time.  For me, they have a lot to do with pushing off (forward) before lifting my foot off the ground.  I have found that if I bend my knees a bit more and work on lifting my foot off the ground as much as possible, I don’t seem to get the hot spots on my big toes.  The problem is that it causes me to run slower.

    Have you noticed any changes in your speed or perceived effort to maintain a given pace when running barefoot?  I seem to be a bit slower barefoot and in my huaraches than in something more built up like the Kinvaras.  Also, I find it seems to take more effort to get to and maintain a pace.   I now prefer the feeling of barefoot or huaraches and am having to change my focus from trying to get faster (which I did for my first few years of running) to working on form, running for the fun of it, and staying comfortable.  Hopefully the speed will come back with further barefoot running and I will be able to start increasing my pace again. 

    I know you have said in the past that you are not a huarache guy, but have you given them any further thought now that you are doing more barefoot running?  I’m not a huarache evangelist or anything, but I find them to be as close to barefoot as you can get.  They are also really easy to carry on a barefoot run if the terrain gets to be too much.

    • Pete Larson says:


      My last two barefoot runs were a half mile at 6:30min/mil pace and full mile probably at 7:00-7:30 min/mile pace, so pretty solid clip. If I could be guaranteed a stretch of asphalt free of debris, I think I can run just as fast barefoot, but not as far just yet due to friction issues. Shoes let you be more reckless, which can have both pros and cons when it comes to speed.
      I have a pair of Vivobarefoot Achilles sandals that I need to try running outside in. My biggest problem with running sandals is that I hate getting stuff stuck between my foot and the shoe sole – I like a more traditionally styled shoe.


  10. I guess none of use had the influence to convince you to give this barefoot thing a real go but glad someone did :).  If you really want to see the differences, then do what I did which was ditch all running shoes for 90 days as I went 100% barefoot for 3 months and it was life changing.  I’m back to running in light racing shoes and I use barefoot as a supplement but the 90 day experiment improved my running exponentially.


  11. christopher chisholm says:


    I’ve got a question about mark’s form in the video.  I notice his feet come way up in the back, like he’s almost kicking himself in the butt.  I’ve noticed that most serious minimal/barefoot runners do this.  However, when I try to focus on adopting a more minimal running form- that is, faster cadence, software landing, more upright position, all while wearing fairly minimal shoes like the saucony hattori- I notice my feet don’t do that.  I feel more like I’m shuffling along.

    I wonder if maybe that’s because I’m running slower?  I tend to run somewhere between 8-9min/mile when i’m more out of shape or doing a long slow run.  When I try to do real short runs down the road with a form like the  one shown, I feel like I can get close, but I’m running at probably a 6-6.5min/mile pace, which I’m not in good enough shape currently to sustain for any real time.

    I realize this may be way too complex and personal a question to give a good answer to, but I’m just wondering what the form of seasoned runners are that are running very slowly compared to what we see in this video.


    • Mark Cucuzzella says:


      this is a great question with a simple answer….passive elastic recoil initiated from hip extension. the faster the running, the more hip extension…and like a hinge the recoil intiated by the hips peels the heel back against the buttucks like a hinge.  Imagine you are swinging a hinge and holding at the top.  Move it quickly and it folds up. at slow paces the heel does not peel up. Watch a Kenyan in their easy warm-up.  Heel recoil is not happening. At higher speeds….yes.

      So NO active lifting of the heel when you are running.  In ABCD drills , yes do some active lifting to create the range of motion.  These are drills to create mobility and stability to support natural running.


      • christopher chisholm says:

        Thanks for the answer Mark!  It’s very helpful to know, and it makes sense picturing that.  


  12. Paul the running shoe man says:

    Hi Pete, this is the first time I have visited your site. Iam very impressed and will look forward to reading more. I also like the look of your running partner, Jack. Thanks

  13. Alex Beecher says:

    Somewhat inspired by this post (but mostly Daniel’s Running Formula), I decided to go completely bare for this Saturday’s 5k, rather than opt for Vibrams or Trail Gloves. The race was held on a well-manicured golf course, and only had one small stretch of gravel, so this wasn’t too bold a choice. Still, I developed a couple blood blisters, and my foot/calf soreness is much more pronounced than I expected. It really is a different experience than running in even the most minimal of shoes. Not an unpleasant one, of course, just different.

  14. John Davis says:

    Sorry, but all the fancy videos in the world can’t convince me that running barefoot on rough trails or paved roads is anything but insane.  It is slower and more dangerous, both in terms of acute injury and overuse injury.  And this is coming from a guy who has done many, many high volume workouts barefoot–on grass, however.  I have a loop near my house where I’ve done 12x900m in under 3min plenty of times with no shoes.  But no matter how pristine your form is, you’ll never run your best without shoes on a rough or paved surface.  Try to sprint on asphalt and you’ll quickly understand why–some amount of cushioning is mandatory for performance.  Whether this comes from the ground (like on grass) or from shoes is not quite so important.

    Also the bit in the video about “the harder the surface and the less between your foot and the ground, the softer the landing” is just not true.  Impact forces are the same regardless of surface, given the same footstrike style and stride frequency.  In fact, softer surfaces actually REDUCE the loading rate–the change in impact over time.  The New York Times ran an article claiming mostly the same thing a while ago; I posted an article to my blog refuting it: http://runningwritings.blogspo

    I stick to the grass or a soft track to get all the benefits and none of the drawbacks of running barefoot.  Interesting stuff from the UVA Speed Lab, though.


    • Pete Larson says:


      Neither Mark nor I race barefoot, and barefoot running makes up less than 5% of my mileage (probably less). However, your suggestion that barefoot running on paved roads is insane seems a bit extreme to me. Mark has run under a 2:35 marathon for something like 23 of the last 25 years, and recently indicated to me that he is running a large percentage of his miles barefoot in this manner. Clearly it’s working for him, as well as many others. Should he stop?

      Ask any habitual barefoot runner and they will tell you that their preferred surface to run on is smooth asphalt that is free of debris. Debris, friction, and temperature are the biggest obstacles to running barefoot for most people, not surface hardness. If I could be guaranteed a debris-free stretch of smooth asphalt, I could probably run a mile just as fast as I could in shoes. However, such a surface is unlikely, so I do wear shoes for a hard workout, and take them off for my cooldown.

      I read your post that you linked, and it is very well written an researched. I agree with almost everything that you wrote. But, the thing you also need to consider is that humans are quite variable. We vary in our anatomy and physiology both due to genetics and our environment. The latter would include past footwear use, training methods employed, surfaces typically run on, etc. Thus, thinking in terms of something like the zone of optimal
      stiffness, that might be a bit different for each person. I run almost all
      of my miles on roads, and I can tell you that it would be a lot easier for
      me to go out and run 13 miles on a road right now than it would be to do so
      on a trail. Does that mean roads are a better surface? No, it just means
      that they work better for me at this point in time because that is the
      surface my body is more adapted to. I have ultrarunning friends who can’t
      bear the thought of running a road marathon. So, making blanket
      generalizations is always dangerous, and scientific studies have their
      limitations, one of which is that they are often very poor at telling any
      given individual what is best for them.

      So, before you claim that something is insane, consider that what might be
      insane to you might be beneficial for someone else who is adapted in a
      different way than you are.

      Keep up your excellent writing!


      • Thanks for the feedback, Pete and Mark.   Perhaps “insane” is a bit harsh, but it certainly seems insane to me—good point about the zone of optimal stiffness, though.  It’s very possible that some people are quite capable of handling the impact from a very hard surface like pavement or asphalt.  Not me, though!

        With regards to Mark’s comment about studies on habitually barefoot runners—there sure aren’t a lot of those around! It’s hard enough to find subjects for shod studies, much less studies of barefoot runners.  Perhaps you could test whether becoming adapted to barefoot running lowers peak loading rates using a longitudinal-type approach.  So, take a sample of say 50 (shod) recreational runners.  At the outset of the study, measure various gait parameters of each runner’s stride in shoes and barefoot.  Then over the course of several weeks or months, introduce barefoot running into their schedules, and re-evaluate the same gait parameters to see if they change. 

        Regardless, though, no matter how soft you land, peak pressures on the foot will always be higher on a hard surface than a soft one.  Since the body attempts to reduce peak plantar pressures (hence why even novice barefoot runners immediately adopt flatter foot placement and shorter strides when they shed their shoes), I am inclined to believe that high plantar pressures are a bad thing.


    • Mark Cucuzzella says:


      Thank you for the detailed post and like Pete the beauty is we are all N’s of 1. A few thoughts (1) most studies performed on “barefoot” are not in habitually barefoot runners…so they do land with higher loading rates. (2) Barefoot on pavement teaches intrinsic foot control of the entire kinetic chain..this translates to healthy running with and without shoes on all surfaces (3) you are faster barefoot on grass on minimal shoe on road…you can go reckless (4) foot gets incredibly strong and resilient with barefoot on road (5) it is a blast. 
      Like you say…there is no ultimate truth. do what feels right but experiment and grow .

      I ran Boston this year in Newton shoes 2:37.  the next day was stiff and a little sore.  went an hour completely barefoot on road ….this was complete reset and all soreness gone.  the thought of putting shoes on that day seemd toxic in some way that i cannot explain.  the barefoot soothed and healed.


  15. EDB is even involved. Every little muscle in the foot plays a crucial role in healthy gait. There’s no better way to optimize their use strength than by taking them out of the coffins and going minimal.

  16. Peggy4msu says:

    I like the information on the FHB. Thank you.

  17. I had swelling under the feet in June 2017 and no reason could be found, except we found a change in the RA Factor after excluding everything else. It has been a year. I no longer feel I am standing on the water. Yet I see big broken blister skin under the heels, especially the right foot. How can I keep me safe from the antigens and such problems.

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