The Rapidian

Running Bares: Three Shoe-Free Runners

Underwriting support from:
Stephanie and Andy Grosvenor, post-Bayshore Marathon 2010

Stephanie and Andy Grosvenor, post-Bayshore Marathon 2010

Jill Eggers and her English Pointers

Jill Eggers and her English Pointers

Darlene Orterry

Darlene Orterry

Taking up barefoot running is quite personal. The reasons people come to it are varied - people explore running barefoot to overcome injuries; others like the idea of improving their running style and form; others like the feel of their feet on the earth.

Lebanese-American poet and writer Kahlil Gibran wrote, "Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair." Barefoot runners often cite the pleasure of this connection as motivation for running without shoes.

Jill Eggers, an art professor at Grand Valley State University has been running barefoot for several years, and is self-taught.  "I like running in the woods--the feeling of being completely at one with the natural world, the feeling of effortlessness in movement--that's why I like barefoot running. I love the feeling of mud beneath my feet, too. I didn't really need to know how to learn it (barefoot running) or get used to it.  I would just do it one day and then wear shoes the next day if my feet felt a little tender.  The soft trails of a pine forest are really different than gravel on the side of the road, " said Eggers. Last summer she was hiking in the Porcupine Mountains and would take day long hikes and run in her bare feet.  "It felt wonderful. The terrain was perfect--spongy old growth forest trails and the beaches of Lake Superior.  Since then I have done most of my running barefoot, except in the winter when there is a lot of snow on the ground," said Eggers.  

Andy Grosvenor, staff member for the Metro Health Grand Rapids Marathon came to barefoot running due to a variety of injuries, but also finds a connection to the earth an unexpected benefit of the practice. "Being barefoot against the earth is literally a grounding experience.  Maybe it's all in my brain, but I think there is something to the idea we can be physically grounded to our planet. The physics, actually, makes sense, as we carry many charges though our bodies. Bare feet on the ground dissipate electrical charge.  Another idea is the spiritual connection to our planet.  One can feel how our planet is inter-connected with one's feet on the ground. This sounds a bit out there but once you have had your toes in the mud on a forest trail, you will know what I'm talking about," said Grosvenor. He has been running barefoot for about seven months.

Darlene Orterry, who works in IS and is a webmaster for a school district, suffered a major injury playing soccer and believed her 20 years of recreational running were coming to an end. “I had a bad indoor soccer accident about two and a half years ago. I broke my ankle and leg in three places,” said Orterry. Further complications led to additional surgeries and she risked losing her leg. After a week in the hospital, four surgeries and three months of physical therapy she was advised not to run. “It was a pretty big blow to me. Although I don't race, running was a favorite activity and stress reliever for me. I started researching barefoot/minimalist shoe running and read some great, inspiring stories on how there were less injuries, when running barefoot.  I read a story about Michael Sandler who wrote the book, ‘Barefoot Running’ he was in a situation where he, too, was not supposed to be able to run again after a bad accident yet was easily running 20 miles barefoot," said Orterry.  She began running (in shoes) ignoring doctor's orders.  "But it became too painful so I figured I had nothing to lose by giving barefoot running a try." So far, it seems to be working for her. "A couple of weeks ago I ran three miles barefoot and that was an accomplishment. I do most trail running barefoot along with barefoot hikes and walks. I am now running four to five times a week,  which I was never able to do after my accident with running shoes," said Orterry.

Eggers also came to barefoot running by happenstance. "Several years ago I started doing some of my runs barefoot, especially in the spring when the snow first melted and I wanted to be in contact with the earth again," said Eggers who has been running for 20 years.  "I also ran barefoot on the Lake Michigan shore when I could. I really  wasn't aware there was a movement or other people were doing it until this past winter when I heard about and enrolled in Jason Robillard's clinic. I kept kind of quiet about my barefoot running before that as I just figured others would think of it as an eccentricity, " she said. Currently Eggers is suffering from a stress fracture in her foot. She is not ready to blame barefoot running. Women, in particular can be vulnerable to this type of injury and it is not uncommon among athletes. "I don't know if my stress fracture is from barefoot running.  About a month or so ago my feet were really starting to hurt so I started wearing shoes again. Overall I probably was doing too much barefoot running for my age and the condition of my feet.   My doctor said conditioning and age are a significant factor in a stress fracture. I will have to run in shoes for a while after the foot is healed and just do barefoot once in a while.  It doesn't change my love for it but it does make me want to be a little more attentive to how I can do it safely, so I can still be running 20 years from now," said Eggers. Her near-term plans are to run some trail races in the UP as soon as she is able.

Grosvenor, who has been running for 10 years has one leg that is slightly shorter than the other and has always had to compensate with orthotics and a heel lift in his running shoes. After meeting Robillard and attending a local event with Scott Jurek, who is featured prominently in the book,  Born to Run, Grosvenor was intrigued, but unsure. "I was pretty skeptical at first, especially with my leg length difference, but I gave it a try," he said. For the first month, he ran with and without shoes, but found it to be too difficult. "There are two completely different styles to running barefoot and running with shoes. I couldn't do both," he said. For nearly seven months he has been running barefoot and has found it agrees with him. He ran the 5K at the 5/3 River Bank run barefoot and then slipped on his Vibram Five Fingers (a foot cover or minimalist shoe designed for athletes) and ran the 25k. In late May, he ran the Bayshore marathon in the Five Fingers. It was his longest race without shoes. More recently he ran 32 training miles barefoot. He feels that he recovers from long runs and races faster because of the more relaxed body form that comes from running barefoot. Running barefoot has helped accomplish this. "I have a more natural running style now. I run more on the front part of my foot and less on the heel. My feet are stronger than they've ever been, they look different. Not pretty, but strong," said Grosvenor. He is currently training for a 50 mile trail race that takes place at the end of August and he's wants to complete it in his bare feet. "Not sure if my feet are ready for it, but I'll try."

This is the last in a three part series about barefoot running.

Part I: Running Bare: The Shoe-Free Phenomenon

Part II: The Basics of Barefoot Running 

Recently on WAMU and NPR's The Diane Rehm Show an editor from Runner's World, a podiatrist and a barefoot running author discussed the topic of barefoot running.
Jason Robillard will host a barefoot running at Schuler Books and Music's 28th Street location on Tuesday August 17 at 7 PM.





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Thank you for covering this topic so very well, Roberta!  It was a lot of fun talking with you, and I'm excited to share the articles with friends and family...

Thanks for being an enthusiastic interviewee. The West Michigan barefoot running community has been knowledgeable and fun to work with.