The Natural Joy of Running: Barefoot?

Barefoot running?  It can’t get any natural than that—before civilization was invented, or any form of it, that was how our ancestors moved and survived eons ago.  Today in the 21st century running had become very technical—pronation, supination, compression, hydration, fartlek, Global Positioning System, etc.—isn’t it nice to not think of any of these terms when we think of running?

Running is not rocket science, or maybe now it is

Believe it or not, in the ancient Olympic Games athletes participate in the games in the nude so no one had an unfair advantage of using any tool except for what nature had given them—their bodies.  Back then there were no running shoes, chemical drinks, dope, or anything similar but runners were still able to compete in footraces in as long as 5K runs!  Even the barest of runners of our age would look luxurious! (The longest footraces in the ancient world are thought to be “only” about five kilometers long; the marathon was only introduced in the modern Olympic Games)

Long-distance runners of the ancient Olympiad

In the latter part of the 20th century people started looking at running scientifically and invented running-oriented shoes. Back then shoes were very much Spartan featuring only simple rubber soles with spikes for traction—many of the technical details we enjoy these days weren’t invented yet, but it didn’t stop humans from running, and continue getting better at it. Eventually things like stability, cushioning, mesh, and other technical features were devised and that’s when things got complicated.  Gone are the days when you pick a shoe because you liked its design!

The good old days

Many runners these days say running got complicated—actually, it didn’t.  We just started to know more about the mechanics of running and the more we know, the more we realize that we have much more we don’t know!   And now with all these fancy technologies and $160++ shoes they tell us that all these “improvements” actually made us more feeble and prone to injuries?  That with all these “comforts” we “enjoy” we practically lost our ability to run with the correct form as nature designed our feet?

Honda’s Walking Assist Device—could this be the future?

Is your mind messed up already?  Good.  Forget all that I mentioned for a while and imagine yourself here:

* with some digital color correction

One of my favorite spots in the country, Ilocos Norte, gave me the chance to get away from it all, particularly with the beaches of Pagudpud.  I could just spend the entire day there, relax, let the world turn, and be contented.  But since I did not have that luxury, I had to maximize my stay with the most natural way a runner can—run at the beach!

With practically just my board shorts on I just let loose and run like I’m the only person in a desolate island.  I even left my flip-flops on the sand and ran barefoot!  In fact the only “unnatural” item on me at the time (aside from my clothes) was my GF405—since I was already wearing it I just started it to save where in the world I was running (I lost my Philippine geography lessons quite some time ago) and just forget about it (to remember only when to stop).  I just love that it works unobtrusively letting me savor that “natural” moment.  At that moment the only thing more “natural” I can do is to run in the buff but of course I’m neither in a nudist camp nor in ancient Greece.

Crash course on Philippine geography: the location of the beaches of Pagudpud (click to view Garmin data)

At first I wanted to have a “beach running photo” for this site’s banner, but I don’t perform well in such “unnatural” conditions and after some “fake” shots I relinquished the idea.  I can always come up with some fancy digital artwork as banner I thought.

What do runners do at the beach?  Run! Little did I know (and glad that didn’t know) that some “paparazzi’s lenses” were still on me during my innocuous beach run.  It was a “real” moment in a “natural” setting, and it was digitally captured so I was very thankful that I wasn’t a lone person in a desolate island.  Running barefoot and feeling the sand under my feet—it was a feeling that every runner should experience!   I was just lucky that I found one of the best beaches in the Philippines as my setting.  Thank you Sir Rene for capturing that moment! (FYI: this site’s banner is also “natural,” taken candidly by Sir Rene “Jazzrunner”)

Enjoying myself at the beach, courtesy Rene Villarta

Running is naturally pleasurable, and it is more so on natural settings—free from feigns and complications of the world.  You need not find a secluded beach, an exotic location, run barefoot (or even in the nude) to find the natural joy of running—just bring yourself, have an open mind, a willing heart, and leave your baggages behind.  Grab along some close friends too for company!

“Natural” is always best! Also courtesy Rene Villarta

Related: my barefoot running stories in Boracay, Nasugbu, and Pagudpud.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Lynx says:

    Oh this is nice, tracing running’s humble history 🙂 On a similar note, walking barefoot is less stressful for people with arthritic knees. The book says wearing shoes with thick soles just increases the joint stress…nice fact right?


  2. Nathaniel says:

    Nice post dennis! I also wanna run barefoot in the beach, but the extreme camber will worsen my ITBS.


  3. wmtan00 says:

    hmmm. personally, i find barefoot running overhyped, in particular by shoe companies offering “barefoot running shoes”. it may have served the prehistoric man well, but back then they were running on sand, grass or soil.


  4. jazzrunner says:

    Wow, i should have joined you on this run and sweat-out the hang-over we had the night before! Nice topic, Denz!:-)


  5. dhenztm says:

    @Lynx: Thank you, and I think I agree 🙂
    @Natz: Aw too bad! It was only at beaches with fine sands that I can run barefoot to train my weak plantars
    @Wilson: I think you were referring to barefoot-simulating shoes (Nike Free, Vibram Five Fingers, etc.) not barefoot running because the word “bare” in barefoot means wearing nothing, and I was really running without anything under my feet 🙂
    @Sir Rene: I just can’t resist the beautiful beaches of Pagudpud! It’s one of the few places I can run barefoot safely… you didn’t run barefoot but you did run at just about every place we went! 🙂


  6. forefoot says:

    Nice posts, Dennis…I thought u’d try running barefoot in a race or in the city! 🙂


    1. dhenztm says:

      It depends on where the race is (like Boracay?) or what city (Boracay City? hahaha)

      My palms have more callouses than my soles so it’s probably safer for me to run on my hands than barefoot hehehe


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