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January 28, 2010

Declaration of Dependence

It appears as if I spoke a bit too soon this week.

Just as I was commenting about how the prevailing wisdom on barefoot running from shoe industry executives was becoming one of cautioned acceptance rather than condescending ridicule, the CEO of a major retailer proved me spectacularly wrong.

Mike Golfredson, CEO (and “Chief Runner”) of Road Runner Sports - no, I’m not linking to them, purely out of spite – has taken a stand against barefoot running that, by comparison, makes the Brooks CEO look positively enlightened. The Chief Road Runner recently felt compelled to send the following out to his e-mail subscriber list:

Click to enlarge

I don’t have nearly enough time to go into the remarkable levels of ignorance this declaration demonstrates – and honestly, I can’t figure out which analogy best suits him. Part of me wants to compare him to an ostrich with his head in the sand, and another keeps thinking of some flunky deputy giving us the “Nothing to see here, folks, move along” speech as the house behind him is engulfed in flames. The statement also has a hint fear to it, an “Earth is flat!” kind of desperate insistence in response to ships leaving the shore in search of a wondrous New World.

(And those are just the first few analogies that came to mind. Believe me, there are plenty more.)

I’ve decided to treat this as I would a carnival barker or town crier, and casually disregard Chief Runner Golfredson while continuing on my merry way. If you want a more in-depth breakdown, Running Quest has an interesting analysis of why this fear-mongering is bad not only from a PR standpoint, but a business one. After all, even barefoot runners buy clothes and visors and watches and water packs – but I suspect that many of them will be buying from someplace other than Road Runner Sports for a while.


Rainmaker 1/28/10, 9:38 PM  

I like how you've tagged the post...

What's even weirder about it is the fact that the claims are so short - and so stupid. It's not like he was trying to make a rational arguement and has a side. It was as if he's never heard of any of the data on either side of the issue. Odd.

Gretchen 1/28/10, 10:08 PM  

That is weird. I didn't get one of those emails, but it certainly looks like something that didn't have much thought put into it.
By contrast, barefoot running was on NPR yet again yesterday.
Not exactly big news by our standards, but more evidence that it is becoming more "mainstream acceptable."

ro 1/28/10, 10:39 PM  

Call me Mr-Dumb-and-Narrow-Mminded if you must, but I think he's simply voicing some sensible caveats on the barefoot trend. I ran track barefoot YEARS ago (yes, Miss Budd did make me wonder if it was the way to go...) and I scamperd back to shoes v. fast and have never had cause to regret my choice. More to the point, I'm still running injury-free 15 years later.

Hey, if people want to shred their feet, take months to 'toughen them up' or risk all manner of infection, then feel free. Like I care. Just don't dump on someone who bluntly makes a couple of honest and obvious observations on this trend.

Anne 1/29/10, 6:10 AM  

I'm intrigued from a marketing/PR standpoint. I can tell you that there must have been plenty of deliberation before this was sent out because RRS knew there would be a backlash. I wonder if this now falls under the "no publicity is worse than bad publicity" mantra.

barefootrunner 1/29/10, 6:44 AM  

Its funny 'cause its true!

stronger 1/29/10, 7:45 AM  

Three cheers!

Perhaps chief runner has never shed his shoes. I mean, it never crossed my mind that I might step in glass or on a rock...thanks for stating the obvious, chief.

If the letter was so well thought out, it would have been more along then lines of "Hey, barefoot running isn't for everyone, but if you want browse our selection of minimalist footware to keep your feet protected while still feeling some of the benefits of a more minimalistic approach, click to ___ section!"

shel 1/29/10, 8:29 AM  

i completely disagree with anne. i think the fact is, that they DIDN'T think about this email at all before sending it out. in fact, i am convinced that this schmo unilaterally sent it without the consent of his marketing team. what group of educated marketing gurus would allow their president to dig himself such a deep and ridiculous hole? unless they want to lose customers... then, by all means send out whatever short sighted, immature rants you want to hundreds of thousands of customers!

RD Jim 1/29/10, 9:33 AM  

I think the RRS email was a missed opportunity. Why take sides? Sure, warn people of the obvious and then sell them some $150 slippers to run in! He must have got a payoff from Asics because their minimalist shoe is behind schedule.
I'm ready to start shedding some bulk out of my trail shoes, but I'm not kidding myself that I'll every try to run totally barefoot. My dogs are too tender for that and I don't ever see the Adirondack trails getting any easier. Heck, I'm bloodied after a normal run -I don't need to add foot lacerations to that.

Notleh,  1/29/10, 9:50 AM  

This article saddened me.

I spent money at Road Runner Sports because they have a wide selection of running and outdoor gear. However, Mike G, the Chief Running Tool, has single-handedly convinced me to move my business elsewhere.

I run with shoes and barefoot; but even if I was completely barefoot I buy thousands of dollars worth of gear every year.

As a consumer, I want intelligent, informed opinions to help steer my purchasing choices. I have no time for people or companies who are so myopic in view or attempt to use fear as a weapon.

mariko 1/29/10, 11:11 AM  

I got one of those e-mails, and I found it to be extremely obnoxious. I haven't purchased anything from Road Runner Sports in a long time. For some reason I had felt they had sort of become the Walmart of running stores, anyway (oh, that makes me sound so snotty). Anyway, the e-mail just solidified my somewhat irrational aversion to RRS. Keep up the fight, yo!

steve 1/29/10, 12:47 PM  

I am a former VIP customer of theirs who unsubscribed from their email list when I got that message. And I'm not even a barefoot runner!

Notleh,  1/29/10, 2:03 PM  

Just as a comparison, here is a letter that recently went out from a respected running shoe store (Marathon Sports) which I believe presents an educated, experienced, well balanced point of view on the barefoot running debate.


Donald 1/29/10, 2:54 PM  

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Notleh: Great timing - I saw that today as well, and had the exact same thought. That's a company approaching the issue in a responsible, thoughtful way.

Spokane Al 1/29/10, 7:20 PM  


I came across the following study concerning barefoot running that might be of interest to you.


It seems that perhaps both the adament pros and cons of barefoot running are a bit premature?

ro 1/29/10, 8:08 PM  

Nice study reference, Al. It appears their analysis of this research is both objective and informative, though I'd be interested to know the total number of study participants.

As they noted, "Pose" and other efforts to formulate a perfect running stride are doomed to failure, simply 'cos we're all unique. Similarly, to suggest that barefoot running will be of any practical use to anything other than a tiny percentage of the running population is somewhat disingenuous. Sure, it can be fun in certain environment. Even liberating. Sure, it may assist those with some biomechanical difficulties. But when I start seeing net-based 'experts' a la 'Barefoot Ted' advocating trail running barefoot and operating barefoot running coaching classes, I shake my head in despair. Can you say 'The Emperors new clothes"?

Most of us had worked out years ago that all we really needed was lightweight running shoes which protected us from sharp, muddy, smelly things and let our foot sort out the stresses of running for itself. It's not necessary to throw out the baby with the dirty bathwater.

Three weeks ago in Laos I had a guy hobble into a clinic I was working with a pretty nasty foot injury. He'd been running barefoot in Vang Vieng, as American tourists are wont to do on their drunken holidays. I was almost minded to refuse to treat. He did, however, receive appropriate treatment - using medication which was procured to support the local population deal with injuries which weren't self inflicted. Frankly, were I practicing in the States and someone wandered into my consulting room with a foot injury caused by barefoot running I would offer them little other that harsh words.

Sometimes, people are just so silly you wonder how they made it past the first grade.

Rick Gaston 1/29/10, 10:10 PM  

Well Donald, he can't really support barefoot running and be the CEO of Road Runner Sports. Of course if wouldn't have been better if he didn't say anything at all. Frankly I've never ordered anything from Road Runner Sports, I've always found them to be more expensive especially when you factor in shipping.

This was forwarded by a list member in our triathlon club. Even if you don't have the time to read it all the images are fascinating. You probably came across this already but just in case you haven't.


Donald 1/29/10, 10:53 PM  

Rick and Al - Boy, the Lieberman study is making the rounds, huh? I think I've seen it in about 10 different places today. That's great to see, and hopefully we'll have more following in those (bare) footsteps. Thanks for linking it here.

As I've said, there's no perfect answer to this debate that will satisfy everyone, but the fact that a discussion even exists is great news in my book.

Aaron 1/30/10, 2:06 PM  

Well said, what a completely self-serving and false email. He will certainly lose business for that. Those kind of foolish and uninformed comments by a CEO surely don't shed good light on his company.

mweston 2/2/10, 2:02 PM  

I'm on their list after making a couple of purchases, but I didn't get this e-mail. But it has been making the rounds, and it certainly makes me think he's more of an idiot than I would have expected.

John 2/3/10, 11:36 AM  

It dawned on me the other day that the current style of athletic shoe will big think cushioned heels has only really been around for 30 years or so, and so quickly it has become entrenched to the point that many people can't imagine not using them. Maybe in another 30 years people will feel the same way about going barefoot.

Kelton 2/5/10, 5:45 PM  

Blanket statements will always be met with backlash. Surprising that a CEO was the one making the statement. Now it's something that will always be in the back of my head if I were to ever be purchasing running attire online.

That said, buying in person at a store is always better! oops, blanket statement.

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