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January 26, 2010

Brooks CEO Jim Weber on Barefoot Running

In the preface to a Monterey Herald article posted here last August, I wondered aloud whether barefoot running would ever be considered mainstream. While I still find it unlikely that a barefoot revolution will completely overtake the sport, one thing is becoming clear: the notion is certainly closer to mainstream acceptance now than it has ever been.

It seems that not a week goes by anymore without some newspaper or magazine discussing the great shod/unshod debate. Thankfully, most of these articles appear to be trending away from the “these people are crazy!” angle, and presenting the rationale for both points of view – usually with anecdotal support from one or more vocal proponents on either side. (See a good example here from the February 2010 issue of Runner's World.)

The most recent skirmish takes place in a particularly interesting venue: on the website of a major running shoe manufacturer, in response to an open letter written by its Chief Executive Officer. Brooks President and CEO Jim Weber has offered his company’s official position in the public dialogue on barefoot running, and invited readers to enter the discussion, which has made for a very active comments board over the past two days. (Predictably, the Runner’s World Barefoot Forum has moved into battle position on its own website, and the discussion there is an interesting read as well – link is below.)

Brooks CEO Jim Weber

As you’d expect, there’s inherent bias – some of it acknowledged, some not – from the standpoint of a shoe company CEO, but maybe not as much as you’d think. The larger message may be that the CEO of Brooks is actually willing to engage in an ongoing dialogue about the merits of barefoot running, and that the company is actively listening to what its current and potential customers have to say on the matter.

It’s an implicit validation that maybe this whole movement isn’t so crazy after all – and hopefully, it may lead to footwear developments that embrace the benefits of barefoot running rather than callously dismissing them. Ideally, Brooks and other companies would do what ECCO VP David Halter discussed with me several months ago, and just create a separate category of minimalist or "natural" footwear in its product line right alongside stability shoes or cushioned trainers.

There’s obviously no “correct” position on this issue, and I’ve already shown my cards in regards to my own involvement in the barefoot running movement – so rather than trying to preach right or wrong to anybody, I prefer to sit back and watch the feathers fly in these situations. You can do the same, or feel free to weigh in with your own opinion, in one of the discussions linked below.

Brooks Blog: Barefoot Running: An Open Letter from Brooks CEO Jim Weber

Runner’s World Barefoot Forum: response to Brooks CEO letter


And finally ... since the Grammys are coming up, and since I've been waiting a while for a decent reason to show this pic: Ladies and Gentlemen ...

... Taylor Swift - a barefooter!


Anne 1/27/10, 6:10 AM  

I agree that it's cool that the CEO is encouraging a discussion on this. And I think more discussions will follow as the side effects of barefoot running start to surface and the pendulum begins to swing back to center again. Meanwhile, other vendors can keep trying to catch up with Vibram on marketshare.

Anonymous,  1/27/10, 6:17 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Dude 1/27/10, 9:09 AM  

Apparently the newest edition of Trail Runner magazine has some big article on the barefoot thing too. If nothing else, the topic is getting a lot of press right now.

Rainmaker 1/27/10, 4:51 PM  

Appreciate the link to his letter, made for an interesting read. Oh, and so did the pic. :)

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) 2/10/10, 10:14 PM  

This can't be why Taylor Swift songs keep playing over and over in my head during races.....

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