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Running barefoot kicks up mixed emotions

Michael Sandler is an advocate of Barefoot running and has begun teaching others the benefits of walking and running without shoes. Through, a group has formed that meets Saturdays at Martin Park in Boulder to practice running together, without sneakers. Barefoot running has started to gain momentum, but it is still an odd concept to take off your shoes and run down the street, especially when you have to run on the pavement. Photo by Reza A. Marvashti for The Denver Post.

By Anica Wong
Class of 2009

The pavement begins to warm under the summer Colorado sun as Michael Sandler jogs up Flagstaff Road near Boulder. Normally, this shouldn’t concern a runner. Sandler, however, is jogging barefoot.

“When you are barefoot, you are forced to run the way ancient man ran, which is a soft dance,” Sandler said. “Even my upper body got stronger.”

He claims he can run farther and with less chance of injury now that he has left his running shoes in the closet. He’s far from the only runner who believes so. The number of barefoot runners appears to be a growing niche among the running community. Those who run barefoot maintain it helps them keep a stride that delivers less shock to the foot, helping prevent injuries.

But experts caution that only a small percentage of runners can successfully train sans shoes.

“Your muscles, tendons and bones are balanced if your shoe is properly fit and your foot is properly supported,” said Eugene Rosenthal, a local podiatrist, who said he would never recommend running barefoot.

The concept of running without shoes can be hard to wrap your mind around, mainly because so few people in this country have ever tried it.

“I would say 98 percent of the U.S. do not grow up barefoot, walking barefoot, going to school barefoot,” said Mark Plaatjes, a physical therapist and owner of Boulder Running Company. “If you do not grow up barefoot, it is a really difficult thing to do.”

But Ethiopian Abebe Bikila did grow up running barefoot, and he won the 1960 Olympic marathon in Rome unshod.

The beauty of running barefoot, say its true believers, is that your feet will adapt naturally to almost any surface.

Read the full story on the Denver Post’s Web site.