What is Barefoot Running? By Ben Turner from Athlete Adventure

Athlete Adventure, Transition -

What is Barefoot Running? By Ben Turner from Athlete Adventure

Barefoot Junkie : "A great read from Ben Turner from Athlete Adventure and his transition to Barefoot Running. After his own reasearch Ben came to us to find out more about Vibram Fivefingers, Barefoot Running and how they may help him with his series of extreme challenges. The follow blog is written entirely by Ben and his own journey into the world of a more natural approach to running and training footwear."

Over to you Ben :


This is part one of a three-part study into the world of barefoot running.  I will be running the 16 Marathons Project barefoot to investigate the theories of barefoot running.  The science behind the benefits of barefoot running is limited and largely anecdotal,  therefore, I aim to research this myself through a culmination of research and internet ‘science’ and my own experiences of 1000 miles of barefoot running to help YOU better understand the FACTS and filter out the nonsense.

Disclaimer.  I am NOT a physiotherapist, nor do I hold a degree in Sports Science.  I investigate certain topics such as barefoot running though the physical testing of Athlete Adventure challenges, academic research from professional and qualified subject matter experts, books, and finally through the improvements I see through clients and friends whom I have helped.

“I was so frustrated with the pain in my shins and ankles that I threw all my trainers out and went for a run barefoot.  I haven’t looked back since.” Athlete Adventure

To date I have run ultra-marathons in military boots, raced the Salomon Glen Coe Sky Race in shoes with carbon fibre reinforcement, bought top-of-the-range mountain running shoes and specifically designed ‘correction’ trainers.  I have altered running styles (including the dreaded jogging) in all types of terrain, from mountains to coastal sands and roads.  But still, I have had a nagging chronic pain in my lower legs.  Sometimes this has been a small niggle that I have been able to work through, and other times it has resulted in my being crippled for days before being able to walk properly, let alone run.


So, What's the problem!?

Well having seen many physios and various diagnoses have been: too much training to soon, pronation, supination, over load of the anterior tibialis (the muscle at the top of the shin), compartment syndrome and shin splints.  This all sound like I should never ever run and hang up the trainers for good, right?

But, through a fit of frustration at spending £££s on a new pair of trainers, I threw all of them to one side and disappeared on a run, barefoot.  Although sharp under foot to start, I found that my running technique changed completely, my foot would hit the floor in a smooth and gentle movement, the front and mid sole of the foot impacted the ground first, with the heel just ‘kissing’ the floor.  My toes would curl and flick my leg forward at the rear of the stride, I would bounce on my legs more and my feet would automatically align parallel to each other.  The key thing… no chronic pain, what so ever.

The analogy that I always keep in mind was mentioned in Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run that basically states: 

If you were to look out the window and see your child playing in the road, and notice there is an oncoming vehicle, you would run straight out to save them.  You wouldn't stop to put on shoes, and that short stint of running would completely differ to the learned running in trainers.

These changes in technique are the same changes that I experienced above, and one cannot help but question why we are the only species on the planet that wears shoes. 

In my training for the 16 Marathons Project, barefoot running definitely sounded like the solution, but I had to find a way of protecting my feet at least a little for the onslaught of 16 marathons in 16 days across every terrain possible throughout the UK.

As I am impatient, I jumped straight into barefoot running without a transition period and hung up my trainers for good, after a week of running everywhere with no shoes, limiting myself to grass running, I was introduced to the Vibram Five Fingers from Barefoot Junkie.  This allowed a layer of protection on the sole of my foot and did not restrict my feet in any way.  I have not looked back since and remain injury free with a much stronger running form and increased efficiency.

There will be a full review of the Vibram Five Fingers to follow after my next training block for the 16 Marathons project*.

What does this mean?

Well I am not saying that everyone should drop their trainers and run barefoot everywhere, if trainers work for you and you have no issues, that’s fantastic and I do not think you should change a thing.  Mo Farah does not run barefoot, nor does the ultra-running legend that is Tom Evans.  But, if you are experiencing problems, pain, or just curious, then it is important to bear in mind the following principles:

  1. Barefoot running takes time to adapt.  YES, this is contrary to the method that I employed myself, but for the vast majority who are used to running in trainers, breaking in slowly with a couple of gentle barefoot runs a week will suffice to start the process safely.
  2. Practice mindful running.  Barefoot running will change the way you run.  It is only natural for the brain to tell the feet to land differently and softer without shoes.  This is down to the feedback from the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of sensors in the feet sending signals to brain about the way the ground feels.  This is the most complex suspension and feedback system ever imaginable and the brain will make tiny alterations to account for different surface types and gradients.  Being mindful of these signals and concentrating on what the brain and feet are telling you is vital.
  3. Build a firm foundation.  Barefoot running is not the answer for everyone.  But exercises such as these will teach you is the art of gentle running.  Gentle running is efficient and smooth and is the key to building your personal running base.



Part 2 of this study will unpack the jargon and myths of barefoot running and help you better understand the thinking behind barefoot running and how you can become a running ninja!

*I am an ambassador of Vibram Five Fingers through Barefoot Junkie.  They have been kind enough to provide me with some of their products to support the 16 Marathons project.  I must stress that I am not paid by the company.  As with UFIT and The Protein Works, I ONLY aim to represent companies to my readers whom I know and trust and would genuinely recommend.


From Barefoot Junkie : Follow Ben on his amazing challenges at Athlete Adventure


  • David Fage

    Vibrams Fivefingers helped me recover from a ‘Lysfranc injury’ – or – ‘mid foot sprain’.
    It is a long story that started around 8 years ago for myself.

    Like Ben I too have the same Disclaimer. “I am NOT a physiotherapist, nor do I hold a degree in Sports Science.”

    If you use a search engine to learn about the problems associated with ‘Lysfranc injury’ and ‘mid foot sprain’ you will soon understand that it is a sport-career-ending, permanent-arthritis-symptom-producing trauma to the foot that stays with these symptoms for life. (Hey readers I sincerely hope that anyone who suffers with a ‘Lysfranc injury’ in using a search engine stumble across this post as it will help them)

    After six years of suffering myself, adorning Vibrams Fivefingers held the key to recovery for me.
    Basically it involved awakening the signal pathways between my brain and my foot. As Ben put it there should be “feedback from the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of sensors in the feet sending signals to brain.” Wearing normal footwear prevents our feet from receiving such sensory information which are vital to the re-schooling of the mind after an injury.
    If your feet are well and good then normal footwear is well and good and in most cases does not cause damage if it fits appropriately. How many woman have deformed toes due to high heels though eh? Anyway without the full range of movement in our feet we cannot feed the correct information to the brain for it to adjust our gait with a view to correction which is exactly what Vibrams Fivefingers did for me. Did they heal my foot? Well Science would say “No” Did they help my brain communicate better with my feet to effect a healing? I say “Yes”

    It was not a straight forward easy fix. It hurt initially. It was an emotional hurdle in part to overcome. Most people would maybe have tried and then given up too quickly. With perseverance and a sensitive approach to try different Fivefinger versions it paid off for myself BIG TIME.

    I must mention getting the socks too. Yes for the prevention of smells but it spares you the initial discomfort on the toes rubbing against any internal toe pocket stitching.
    Any internal toe pocket stitching is not a fail of design btw. Just my toes were always protected from coming into contact with anything all their lives and got a little upset until I started using the toe socks.

    Hope this helps?

    Shame I heard Vibram Fivefingers lost a court case for claiming “Health benefits.”
    There was a $3.75m (£2.2m) class action settlement involved
    What Science says or claims is not always ‘truth’ and what Courts decide is not always ‘Just’
    Vibram Fivefingers have definitely benefited my personal health!

  • Ben Turner

    Thank you Mike! There plenty more where that came from – I know you subscribed to Athlete Adventure before, please make sure you weren’t caught out by the GDPR debacle! Double check – there’s a LOT more to come of the Athlete Adventure relationship with Barefoot Junkie and Vibrams


  • Lynette

    I’ve been in barefoot shoes now for over a year. It took many weeks to transition for me. I had pain & stiffness to work through from years of being in the wrong footwear with my biomechanics adjusting to that. I now feel the difference in my posture & am pain free so to anyone considering this, please transition according to your own body & feet, listen to them & persevere slowly. It’s really worth it & it’s not just about running & sport it’s about everyday. It’s life changing & im not being a drama queen!!

  • Michael Hargreaves

    Hi Ben,

    Firstly, thank you for the honest and transparent feedback regarding barefoot running.

    I look forward to hearing about the training/strength and conditioning programs (choices) that you’ve adopted along the way.

    All the best


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published