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SHARON GEKOSKI-KIMMEL / Staff Photographer
Jason Kilderry (right) shows a pair of shoes to customer Ronnie Lee at the Running Place in Newtown Square, where he works part time. Kilderry, a running coach, endorses the practice of running barefoot - in small doses.
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Well Being: Running barefoot has not-so-obvious hazards

Part of the appeal of running is its simplicity. Alas, that very quality seems to foster the urge to complicate. Hence the profusion of overengineered running shoes and sophisticated training schemes.

So the publication last year of Born to Run, Christopher McDougall's rollicking best seller that makes the case for running barefoot and argues that high-tech running shoes may be causing more harm than good, was welcomed by many who believe that less is more.

Across the land, thousands have shed their Nikes and Asics and begun jogging and running unshod. Their hope is that it will cure their arthritic woes and elevate their stamina to that of the Tarahumara, a tribe of Mexican endurance prodigies capable of running 100 miles and more a day with nothing more than pads of leather strapped to their feet.

Jason Kilderry began running in bare feet three years ago, well before it became a fad. A running coach with a deep interest in exercise science, he endorses the practice - in small doses.

"It strengthens the intrinsic muscles of the feet," says Kilderry. "It has long been recommended by physical therapists as rehab exercise - but not as a training tool."

Kilderry, 28, of Roxborough, coaches Fast Tracks, a running club whose members tackle distances ranging from 5K to ultra races. He also tries to improve the performance of runners and triathletes through his business, ETA Coach (ETA = Endurance Training Achievement). He calls barefoot running "a stimulus plan for podiatrists, orthopedists, and physical therapists."

The reason: Barefoot running subjects the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the lower legs and feet to enormous stress, Kilderry says.

Too many folks are running barefoot without preparing adequately and without giving their bodies time to adapt, Kilderry laments. Worse, they are running shoeless on concrete and macadam instead of surfaces that are natural and forgiving.

The result: inflammation of the Achilles' tendon and the plantar fascia, the cord of connective tissue that runs along the sole; and stress fractures in the metatarsal bones of the feet and the part of the leg where shin splints normally occur.

Kilderry sells running shoes part-time at the Running Place in Newtown Square and South Jersey Running and Triathlon Co. in Mullica Hill. He believes in their value but also concedes they can cause the muscles and connective tissue of the feet to atrophy. While sprinting across the plains with bare feet may have been ideal for our primitive ancestors, we civilized folk who have been wearing shoes all our lives need artificial protection and support.

At 5-8 and 135 pounds, Kilderry is built like a runner. At Rowan University, he ran cross-country and track, usually in the middle of the pack, partly because he was prone to injury. Looking back, he blames over-training; his body was incapable of 100-mile weeks. "I could have improved exponentially with training that was more quality than quantity," he says.

Training load, Kilderry contends, is the primary cause of injury. Simply put, people do too much too soon.

"Runners injure themselves, not shoes," he says.

Thirteen months ago, Kilderry had a kidney transplant. (Kidney disease runs in the family.) The experience inspired a desire to compete in the World Transplant Games in Sweden in 2011. The 1,500-meter record is 4:26, and Kilderry hopes to break it.

He runs about 20 miles a week, including a small amount of barefoot running. On grass, he runs no more than four 50- to 100-yard "striders" at a 5K pace. Besides strengthening the feet, barefoot running makes you conscious of your stride, Kilderry says. (About one in eight runners overstrides, landing harder on the heels, he says. Barefoot runners tend to strike midfoot.) It also quickens leg turnover, reducing contact and impact time.

Thinking of going bare? Kilderry offers this advice: Begin by walking, always on grass, with something protective on your feet, such as Vibram FiveFingers, a glove-like foot pad. After a couple of weeks, try running, increasing the distance each week, from 50 yards to 75 to 100.

"The body can adapt to almost anything over time," Kilderry says. To reduce stress and avoid injury, "it's better to take baby steps than huge leaps."


Contact columnist Art Carey at 215-854-5606 or

Posted 09:49 AM, 06/28/2010
Ever notice this is only a controversy in the US where shoe companies market shoes? Go to Africa where the fastest runners come from and see how many run wearing shoes. They don't even get into soes till some shoe company buys them for them along with an endorcement contract.
Posted 02:57 PM, 06/28/2010
The REAL expert on barefoot running is Dr. Irene Davis, Director of the University of Delaware Running Injury Clinic. I and a number of other people attended a lecture by her at the Great Valley campus of Penn State a couple of weeks ago. I'm surprised the author didn't mention her research as she has been researching barefoot running, in both a laboratory setting as well as in the "field," for quite a while, as opposed to your "coach" who is offering purely anecdotal info. In fact, she's mentioned prominently in Born to Run - the book mentioned in this article. In any case, Dr. Davis' assessment is that for reasons that are evolutionary biological in nature, the human body is BETTER suited to running barefoot than using the fancy $100 - $200 shoes we all run in. I ran cross country for four seasons in high school and had NO injuries and was very competitive. Now, with my fancy running shoes that unnaturally elevate and cushion the heel, forcing me to run with a "heel strike rolling to toes" maneuver, I have injuries every year. I would urge other runners to follow the research being conducted by Dr. Davis down at the U of Delaware. What she DOES say is that the transition to running barefoot cannot be taken lightly and that there is a serious transition process that must be followed. You start with a 1/4 mile run or so, and then slowly work your way up. Also, your stride must completely change from a heel strike first to a mid-foot strike. Done improperly, according to her research, runners will incur the injuries that are listed in this article. So, this IS the proper way to run, but we all need to transition slowly. I think this will be the largest revolution in running since Roger Bannister demonstrated that we could indeed break the 4 minute mile. We ran barefoot (with a thin leather pad protecting the foot bottom) for 2 million years and now the running shoe companies are telling us that our natural biodynamics are wrong?? I don't think so.
Posted 02:59 PM, 06/28/2010
vmsr: If you are used to wearing shoes in everyday life, it stands to reason that if you try to go barefoot all the time or just in your exercise, you are going to have problems. Your feet are used to being more protected. If you are in Africa and you don't wear shoes all the time then your feet and the rest of your body are going to be used to it.
Posted 06:00 PM, 06/28/2010
I have alot of problems with my feet, knees and balance. I have to where special shoes for walking. I used to walk quite a bit and enjoyed the freedom it gave me. Now a series of scary falling incidents is sending me to a rehab specialist. I miss doing walkathons for various causes. Running for me is unfortunately out of the question.
Posted 06:32 PM, 06/28/2010
FlyingLow, I've been running for nearly 20 years and wearing shoes the whole time without any injuries. I also run competitively and even win a few races every year. Do you also realize that people are running much further and much faster than they did in the barefoot days? Therefore, it is likely that what used to work will no longer be the case and that people need to make necessary changes.
Posted 06:33 PM, 06/28/2010
@FlyingLow: It sounds like what you're saying is exactly what Mr. Kilderry is advocating. His only exception is not to run barefoot on concrete or macadam (neither of which are natural surfaces). You couldn't pay me enough to run on those without shoes anyway.
Posted 12:54 PM, 06/29/2010
@catnameddomino: I don't think so. Evolutionarily (100k, 200k, 1 million years ago, etc.), we were running for many miles to catch game as we had to outlast the endurance of animals that were also "built to run." Also, according to Dr. Davis, 80% of ALL runners get injured every year, so you are (lucky for you) an exception. Also, to catch game, you had to run long and, at certain times, extremely fast. I think you owe it to yourself to catch a lecture by Dr. Davis. I just took a look at the Davis Lab at the University of Delaware and didn't see anything specifically about barefoot running - she must not be publishing this new info just yet. So, you might want to read the book - Born To Run by McDougall, where she's mentioned prominently or try to catch one of her lectures. I'm totally convinced that this is the way we should be running. @everydayguy: I wouldn't run on completely bare feet on concrete or macadam either. I'm suggesting that the new crop of shoes (like the Vibram product), which give you a thin layer of cushioning on the bottom of your foot (so you can run on gravel without getting hurt), but with no arch support, are the way to go. I don't even run on concrete with heavily cushioned shoes if I can help it. There's a huge difference in the way concrete feels vs the stuff they use to pave roads. Concrete feels MUCH harder after a number of miles.
Posted 07:27 PM, 07/01/2010
Almost as hazardous as being fat and lazy...

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