Barefoot Running Goes the Distance

Researchers tell us humans first started wearing shoes 40,000 years ago. One of mankind's great advances. Or was it? CBS national correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.

During the week of the New York City Marathon, Central Park is overrun. But one group stands out by what it stands on: nothing.

"Going barefoot has just made my feet come alive," said Rob Mathews, a Barefoot Runner. "It's unbelievable."

It's a small but growing group that swears that going barefoot, or in the flimsiest of footwear is actually the key to injury-free distance running. They land with their heel.

John Durant heads the New York chapter of the 1,400 member national Barefoot Runners Society.

Barefoot Runners NYC
Barefoot Runners Society

"The foot has been around millions of years," said Durant. "It works."

Chris McDougall will be among a handful of barefooters in Sunday's marathon. McDougall discovered the ancient Tarahumara Tribe in Mexico, which runs 60 miles at a time in tiny sandals or with nothing on their feet.

"The way the Terahumara run is very light, quick, gentle and relaxed, just like any five-year-old who skips off across the playground," said McDougall. "I mimic the way they run and within days the injuries disappear."

His best-selling book, "Born to Run", claims today's padded, cushioned, thick rubber soled shoes actually promote injuries by forcing runners to land on their heels.

Chris McDougall, Author of "Born to Run"

Harvard studies show large shockwaves shoot through a runner's leg during these "heel strikes". Landing on the balls of your feet mean three times less shock.

Harvard: Biomechanics of Foot Strikes

"There really is a new category on the market now," said David Willey, editor of Runner's World.

Willey, editor of Runner's World magazine says the barefoot craze is no longer a fad.

Not with big manufacturers like Nike fighting for a toe-hold in the growing minimalist market.

"The challenge is to market the minimalist shoes in a way that doesn't signal everything that has come in before them is wrong," said Willey.

Is there a secret here? Listening to the converts, I agreed to try on the goofy looking Five Fingers running sock. The real workout was just getting them on.

They felt comfortable, and definitely altered my stride.

But maybe some other time. Come this Sunday, I'm going with some old-fashioned heel striking for the marathon - wanting all the padding and cushioning I can find - for the agony of "de-feet".

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.