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January 17, 2012

Run Barefoot, Run Healthy: Book Review and Giveaway

One indicator that the barefoot revolution has attained some significant critical mass over the past few years is that minor factions are beginning to develop. Like any grassroots movement, as this one grows and expands, there are bound to be some differences of opinion on the nuances and complexities of a full-fledged paradigm shift. (And if you don’t believe me, look at the Occupy movement, whose most outspoken proponents can’t seem to agree on much of anything.)

Today’s review and giveaway touches on a few of those issues; more specifically, I’ll point out some examples of areas where I have a difference of opinion with author Ashish Murharji. That’s not to say his book isn't worth reading – only that you should read it for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

The book in question is Run Barefoot Run Healthy: Less Pain More Gain For Runners Over 30, and it’s essentially a question-and-answer compilation on a variety of topics related to barefoot running. Murharji – who also goes by the moniker “Unshod Ashish” – is a longtime runner who dealt with chronic injuries over a twenty-year period before finally kicking off his shoes in frustration and realizing that virtually all of the problems he had ultimately disappeared. His experience is representative of a great many runners who have found that the first step toward wellness was to ditch their traditional footwear.

Ashish now runs up to 70 barefoot miles per week, and runs marathons on a regular basis without any of the injuries that used to hamper him. His book discusses the biomechanics that explain such a transformation, and it also draws heavily upon anecdotal reports from several other barefoot runners who have found success without shoes. The book references dozens of research papers, but also makes some assertions that are based as much on anecdotes as they are on scientific analysis. For example, he points out that elite runner Haile Gebrselassie grew up running barefoot, and implies that he only wears shoes today because he’s paid endorsement money to do so, and that his shoes were the cause of injuries Geb faced later in his career.

Another point of contention I have is Ashish’s position on minimalist footwear. In response to a question about Vibrams, he notes that his cousin and next door neighbor both suffered stress fractures in them, then cites an article which points out that shoes interfere with sensory feedback of the feet. He remains fairly absolute in his assertion that barefoot is always the best option for running, which for my own purposes I’ve found completely untrue. I’ll happily trade a little bit of sensory feedback for protection from the discomfort of gravel, burrs, dried oak leaves, thorny grass, lava rock, or countless other potential hazards I find on the trail, especially since the biomechanic advantages of minimal footwear are the same as going barefoot.

One more issue is that Ashish tends to play up the inevitability and severity of running-related injuries in shod runners while minimizing the very real and often extensive problems that new barefoot runners can encounter. At one point he even states that blistered toes don’t happen to barefoot runners, but later clarifies that to say blisters can happen if you’re practicing bad form. From my own experiences, both anecdotally and as a physical therapist, I’d reply that novice barefoot runners are equally likely to get injured as novice shod runners, and that people can enjoy many long and fruitful years of running in either traditional or minimalist footwear.

As you might have guessed, my overall impression of Ashish’s book is that it tends to be a little overzealous in its defense of purely barefoot running above all else, but that’s the nice thing about where the barefoot movement is today: we don’t all have to agree on everything to learn and benefit from each other’s point of view. There’s a lot of good instructive material in Run Barefoot, Run Healthy, and it would be especially helpful if you happen to be bothered by chronic injuries from regular shoes and are just starting to consider going barefoot.

Run Barefoot, Run Healthy is available for purchase from Amazon.com, but Ashish has agreed to provide one signed copy to a reader selected randomly from the comments below.  However, I’m adding one new wrinkle to the ground rules on this contest for a couple of reasons …

1) There’s a perception in the barefoot community that females are significantly underrepresented in comparison to men (I’m not sure whether this is actually true, but the notion is out there), and …

2) I had two contests last week that featured prizes only for men.

You can see where this is headed then: I’m making this giveaway contest open only to the ladies. Obviously, the more women we get onboard this movement, the better it will be for all of us. So if you have double X-chromosomes, leave a comment below to enter, and I’ll announce the winner this Saturday, January 21.

Thanks very much to Ashish Mukharji for providing this book for review, and good luck to everybody!

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Unshod A,  1/17/12, 11:50 PM  

Dang it - wrong chromosomes. Love the book, though - it makes me laugh out loud. (And I wrote it.)

Lucid Moon Studio 1/18/12, 5:12 AM  

Yay, I should have better odds now! I would be interested in this book. I have not tried barefoot running, but have definitely battled my share of injuries, so I wouldn't mind learning more. I agree with you that I don't think the answer is at either end of the spectrum, but rather somewhere in the middle. Thanks for the review and giveaway!

Anna 1/18/12, 5:42 AM  

Hooray for something for the ladies :)

Jay DeBoer 1/18/12, 6:06 AM  

Free stuff? Love it.

Ftprntz 1/18/12, 6:33 AM  

Living in Wisconsin as I do, there's alot more to the "just go barefoot" issue that needs to be dealt with. But yes, I'd love to read this book! Sarah

Emily 1/18/12, 6:35 AM  

I have two Xs :)

Michael Shane Helton 1/18/12, 6:46 AM  

I am definitely a proponent of barefoot running; but I have a standing offer to any of the purists to come run barefoot in the mountains with me and see how it goes.

Looks like a worthwhile read though so I may pick it up. There was an Unshod Ashish in the beginning days of the Runner's World barefoot forums...probably the same guy.

P.S. - No XX's

Kate 1/18/12, 7:10 AM  

I've got the right chromosomes. I'd be interested to see what he says in his book about those of us who live where there is snow on the ground ~1/2 the year. I've been a barefoot/minimalist running for ~2.5 years. I started out completely barefoot and did LOVE that. However, once fall came, I did not love numb feet and quickly discovered the benefits of 5 fingers.
steeplechaser29 (at) yahoo (dot) com

PB Junkie,  1/18/12, 7:37 AM  

Woohoo, free stuff! I would be very interested to see what Unshod Ashish has to say. I'm running in VFFs and love them. I'm definitely open to hearing other opinions.

Cherylrunner 1/18/12, 7:50 AM  

Yet another book about running barefoot. Love to read! thanks for the ladies only! Cheryl

Nicole Smith 1/18/12, 8:38 AM  

I love barefoot running, but use minimalist shoes too. Running makes me feel like a kid who wants to go outside and play again, all day!
Reading as much as you can about barefoot running is essential to figure out what your body needs to stay healthy and running. Thanks for the giveaway!

Jen Small 1/18/12, 10:42 AM  

Very good review-and I appreciate your perspective as a newbie.
I've been very happy in my minimals and my VFF's, not sure I'll go completely bare-

Female!! yay

Kate 1/18/12, 11:05 AM  

Thanks for the review :) and the women's givaway!

Caroline 1/18/12, 11:45 AM  

Thanks for the opportunity!

Olga 1/18/12, 12:56 PM  

I don't really want a book as I won't be doing barefoot running any time soon, but that also can give one of the reasons there are fewer representation of female in this population of runners: why exactly would I want ugly callused feet with embedded dirt into skin?

njschout 1/18/12, 1:02 PM  

Would be an interesting Read. Thanks for the opportunity

Sara 1/18/12, 3:20 PM  

Very interesting. I've run in minimalist trail shoes and found them extremely comfortable, but haven't gone very far in them yet. I'd love to try barefoot running - especially on the beach!

Lisa 1/18/12, 5:52 PM  

Yay, a girls-only contest! Thanks!

Gretchen 1/19/12, 6:09 AM  

Just another reason it's great being a lady! I started running a little over a year ago, and started off minimalist with some barefoot mixed in. I hate heels and the usual tortuous fit of ladies shoes, so it just seemed natural to me.

Thanks for the review!

Rudy Baylor 1/19/12, 6:21 AM  

This books looks interesting. I'm new to barefoot running, actually. In fact, I just finished reading Born to Run book which I found it very informative. I've also heard about barefoot running shoes. They have the capability to mimic barefoot running. You can check out at this link - http://barefootrunningshoes.org

Frankay 1/19/12, 7:38 AM  

Woop woop, let's hear it for the ladies! Thanks for the review.

Jeni 1/19/12, 9:00 AM  

I am very interested in the minimalist shoes and I am currently trying to find a good pair. So glad I have cone across your blog, thanks for the info! Jeni

Cecilia,  1/19/12, 10:40 AM  

I always abhorred running and avoided it at all costs, preferring to ride a bike or jump rope in preparation for martial art competitions.
A year ago I purchased my first pair of vibram five fingers and have become OBSESSED with running since then. And as a nerd I also obsessively read anything and everything about it. This book is now on the list.
Living in New York City, I have seen people running barefoot through the streets, but, for me, I prefer to have something between me and the grime and disease holding pavement!
However, when I go home to the west coast I don't hesitate to leave the shoes behind when I go for a trail run. It's the best feeling ever!

Sharon 1/19/12, 7:00 PM  

Double-X in the hizzouse! I'm married to a barefoot ultrarunner, and I'd love to be able bone up on the subject (ha! I said "bone"!) with the thought of possibly joining him for a run sometime.

brenda r.,  1/19/12, 7:40 PM  

my son has been trying to get me into this, i'll try this book first...

Kotoula01 1/19/12, 11:30 PM  

Um yeah. I just ran an 18k in minus 30 with snow drifts past my shins in some places. I wear thick wool socks and Deep Sea Walkers scuba shoes. They have great ground feel and allow me to keep running despite the harsh climate I'm Calgary Canada.

Tess 1/20/12, 6:20 AM  

I would really like to read this! I end up mostly running in min. shoes for practical reasons (like the cold!), but have a feeling that running barefoot helps my form.

myotisfriend 1/20/12, 8:23 AM  

Hi, I have been living in barefoot shoes since learning about barefoot running through the book: BORN TO RUN. I've been waiting for these my whole life! Have not tried barefoot running yet but I bet this book would help me!

Ziomek Family Blog 1/20/12, 11:19 AM  

Count me in Please Doralee

My Heart 1/20/12, 3:59 PM  

Thanks for the giveaway!

Kelley 1/21/12, 3:37 PM  

Sounds like an interesting book! Thanks for the female giveaway!

Kelly Magner 1/24/12, 1:00 PM  

Good Review. I've got the right chromosome combo and I've been running barefoot for 3 years and 2 with my RunAmoc's.

Cynthia 1/25/12, 1:11 AM  

This sounds interesting. I've just finished reading Born to Run by Christopher Mcdougall. It's a very informative book on barefoot. I'm definitely going to buy this book once it's available in our local book store. Thanks!


Cat 1/25/12, 5:33 AM  

I am a new convert to barefoot running. After being a die-hard Asics fan for many years I discovered that over the years I had increased my mileage enough (6-10 miles a day, 5-6 days a week) that I needed to replace my running shoes every 6-8 weeks as evidenced by the various pains in my body that would suddenly develop. After much research and skepticism (and pain as I continued to run in my worn out Asics) I finally decided to take the plunge and bought some Merrell Pace Gloves hoping I hadn't just wasted $100. I didn't. The day before they arrived in the mail I ran in a lot of pain because my dogs are bonkers and do things like chew holes in the walls without a run. Much to my surprise I ran 8 miles the first day out with zero pain! My dogs and I are trail runners and I wish they made these for them so I didn't have to stop and pull prickers out of their feet so often! @Olga: you are right on the money, lmao! I am not wasting all the money I spend on pedicures and for my boyfriend ugly feet are a deal breaker! Haha gotta keep these babies protected :-) As I said though I'm only a couple of weeks into this thing and would love to learn more!

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