John Milton gave up running in his mid-40s because of chronic injuries like shin splints, joint soreness and muscle pain. Six months ago, at 71, the …
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John Milton gave up running in his mid-40s because of chronic
injuries like shin splints, joint soreness and muscle pain.
Six months ago, at 71, the Littleton man took up running again
and so far he has not been plagued by the same problems that
hampered his running in his youth. He says it is because he ditched
the one thing that was the cause of his pain: his running
“I’m running for life,” Milton said. “I’m very happy with the
effects I’m having from barefoot running.”
Barefoot running is a growing trend in the running community, in
part because of a book called “Born to Run,” by Christopher
McDougall that chronicles Mexico’s Tarahumara tribe, who run great
distances shoeless or with thin-soled sandals.
The human foot contains 26 bones (one-quarter of the bones in
the body are in the feet) 33 joints and more than 100 muscles,
tendons and ligaments. Proponents of barefoot running say it helps
strengthen and realign those muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments,
thereby reducing injuries. Cushy running shoes make feet weak and
limit their natural movement, they say.
Running barefoot also eliminates heel-striking, which some say
is a cause of injuries, in favor of landing on the ball of the
Milton now runs a few times a week on an indoor track, logging
between 22 and 28 shoeless miles a week. Although he had to
overcome some initial soreness caused by working rarely used
muscles, especially his calves, Milton says he now runs
“I have never covered this many miles before,” he said.
He says barefoot running has strengthened his ankles, improved
his posture and lifted his arches. He has also lost weight.
Milton is not the only Littleton-area runner to have discovered
benefits of barefoot running.
Scott Jones, who has a background in exercise physiology,
teaches the high school athletes he coaches to warm up barefoot.
Jones said he does about 20 percent of his running barefoot and
teaches it as a complement to running in shoes.
“For my athletes, I want to show them what good form feels
like,” Jones said. “A lot of runners get hurt all the time, but if
you can learn the form barefoot running teaches you, it’s injury
Jones is organizing a no-shoes-allowed 5K race on June 27 at
Redstone Park in Highlands Ranch. The event, 70 percent of which
will be on grass, with a short section on sidewalk, swept clean
before the start, will focus more on family fun than on
“We’ve gotten away from going out and running around barefoot in
the grass and there’s nothing wrong with it,” Jones said. “I think
it’s fun to get out there like a kid again.”
The event will be collecting shoes for the charity Soles4Souls
and participants are asked to bring an old pair to donate.
But not everyone agrees that barefoot running is good for feet.
Dr. J. Cade Christensen, a podiatrist at the Allied Foot and Ankle
Clinic in Littleton, says he typically wouldn’t recommend running
barefoot. Most people, he said, unless they are an elite athlete,
need a supportive running shoe.
“If you are constantly barefoot, the muscles and ligaments in
your feet have to work a lot harder to support the arch in your
foot,” Christensen said. “I don’t believe it’s for everyone.”
Christensen added that he sees a surge in common foot problems
and injuries in the summer months when people wear less-supportive
footwear, like sandals and flip-flops. Barefoot running is a trend
that comes and goes every few years, he said.
“The younger, athletic, fit, toned people can get away with
(running barefoot), but I really can’t recommend it,” he said. “I
think it’s probably more of a fad.”
Not only might running barefoot get you injured, it could also
get you in trouble. People who are not familiar with the technique
are bound to be thrown for a loop when they see a shoeless
In March, Milton was kicked off the track and told he was not
allowed to run barefoot at the Buck Recreation Center because of
safety concerns. Although the center does not have a rule against
barefoot running, the manager thought it would be a liability if
Milton stepped on broken glass or stubbed a toe.
After considering the issue, South Suburban Parks and Recreation
District Executive Director David Lorenz says people are allowed to
run barefoot on the track.
“I really thought there was nothing wrong with it,” Lorenz said.
“The district has no problem with it.”
Milton now runs about three times a week on the indoor track. He
hopes to move his workouts outside this summer.
Jones says that in his experience, the running community has
been accepting of barefoot runners, even when confronted with a
group of them running through Boulder’s Chautauqua Park, like Jones
and others did last weekend.
“Usually, people are pretty cool and impressed,” Jones said.
“It’s been out there a little bit this year, so many endurance
athletes know about it. It’s just the culture out here.”
But it may take a while for the concept to catch on among the
general population. The only downside to barefoot running that
Milton can think of is the confusion it tends to generate at the
“You get a lot of weird looks,” he said.
For more information about Jones’ barefoot 5K, go to www.thenakedfoot5k.com.
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