Are my shoes actually causing me more foot problems than they’re preventing?

I have a love/hate relationship with running. Running energizes me and really clears my head. But running has also caused me serious foot problems to the point where I could barely walk. When I go beyond 5-6 miles, I start getting stress injuries in my feet. When I did finally complete a half marathon in 2005, I could barely walk for a week afterwards and it pretty much ended my running season that year. When I asked my doctor for advice, he suggested good running shoes and scaling back my miles. Even after trying several good sets of running shoes, the 5-6 mile limit remains—going beyond that still causes me pain, even if I ramp up slowly.

So for the last couple of years, I just accepted that I have bad feet and that 6k runs are my limit. That’s a bummer because I only start to enjoy running after the first couple of miles are out of the way.

Recently listening to the audio edition of “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall (an excellent book on all accounts), I started thinking again about barefoot running which I started to look into last year but too late in the season to do much with.

The general idea behind barefoot running is that thick padded shoes lead to injury because they let us run in unnatural ways, while not letting our feet build the strength to act like the sophisticated shock absorbers they evolved to be. There’s much more to the argument but there’s no point in rehashing what others have covered in great detail.

I have nothing to lose so I’m going to give this a shot. I’ll use a mix of actual barefoot running outside, combined with Vibram FiveFingers for treadmill and messy outdoor situations. My current running style won’t work barefoot (heel strike is painful without shoes), so I’ll have to change that. I have a short triathlon in April but I’m not sure if I’ll be ready to cut over by then or not.

I’ll keep a journal here through this experiment. My goal is to break through the 5-6 mile barrier without injuries.