Interview: Barefoot Ted



by Annie Rice

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Why did you want to break away from traditional running footwear?

Having grown up in Southern California in barefoot surf and skateboard culture when it came time to run, I was putting on regular running shoes and it wasn’t working for me. The feeling of that very challenging, jarring experience at the end of even one hour of running was pretty much enough to have me feeling really worn out. I was really committed to making one last effort to discover a solution. My 40th birthday was on the horizon, and I’d always had in the back of my mind that I’d give a marathon a try and I was just about ready to give up.

I’d been doing some outdoor barefoot hiking so I had some capacity and connection to my feet. Growing up in Southern California my culture really prepared me to be able to not assume that human beings are probably broken by default. What’s fascinating and wonderful about being born a human being is that the human body may be the best technology you’ll ever have and the idea that you need to fix it before you figure out how to use it is not the best way to think.

How did you discover barefoot running?

So keep in mind, we’re looking at bare-footing as a language, for some people it’s like being transported to an African village with a language they’ve never heard of, but nonetheless the likelihood is that if they were to spend a year there applying themselves they’d eventually be able to get it. But for someone like me it’s almost like going back to this village where I’d spent the first 10 years of my life I had an advantage. So after these three days of reading and doing this research when I finally went out and started running that way, it was like instantaneously obvious that I’d stumbled on the right thing. It was an epiphanal moment for me and I realised that it was going to work for me.

Then investigating other aspects of it, I got very fascinated by the natural selection of footwear in human cultures  and I was investigating that all over the world which led me to understanding and seeing some of the most incredible running peoples in the world. I’ve been learning how to make it work and creating my own sandals and all of that starts from that moment; it is literally directly connected to those first three steps. The realisation that it’s not the technology we need to add, it’s the technology we need to remember.

What are the fundamental principles of barefoot running?

The fundamental principles have to do with being able to reconnect with the basic information of the body that is available to us. The ability to be able to reconnect literally to the feeling of the foot, the impact of landing, what one quickly figures out from this experience is how to change the form to reduce the impact, making those adjustments one ends up creating what I like to refer to as an energetic wheel. Learning how to make smooth and beautiful energetic wheels you are rewarded with endocannabinoids [runner’s high], the research on this is that long distance runners produce it, non long distance animals don’t.

What are the benefits?

It really comes down to – from my point of view – I’m not an expert coach, I am only an expert on my own experience and I have found a way to communicate that experience so it can resonate with other people, that’s the goal but it’s certainly not some kind of scientific process if you don’t do this you’re doomed, its just really about feeling. You cant explain balance, you feel it and good running is really a combination of light landing, quick cadence and a feeling of balance, it’s really smooth and effortless when you get it right and it turns out for some people – I was certainly one of those some people. Bare-footing forces us to pay attention much more. One of the things that Lieberman found was that when you put people on the treadmill and analyse their gait patterns, the variables in gait pattern in people who wear shoes is much more radical, whereas when you take the shoes off the variabilities reduce.  

Can anybody do it if they apply themselves?

Certainly, but it gets a little harder as we get older and it would certainly be harder if you had no background in the language itself. Then of course there is the other whole element of it, which is if it "ain't broken don’t fix it". Maybe it’s not the need of some runners. In a way barefoot running in my experience is much more about creating yet another kind of running culture that’s not just about continuous measuring of our distance, times and speeds or the endless obsession of that, it’s more about the joy of being well and being amazed by the fact that this very basic minimal elegant solution has been the one that has lasted the longest.

What steps would you advise to someone making the transition?

I think one aspect of it that you should really analyses is why you want to do this and be sure you’re prepared to make a commitment of instrumentally developing it and seeing if it will work. I think a lot of people have had the idea that it’s a cure all which is as absurd as the idea that some kind of footwear is going to solve every problem. Form and skill sets are ultimately what we’re looking for here and the ability to listen on ones own body. So many people are spending time having goals that are maybe outside of their capacity at the time, I think that’s where injury risk comes from. The fine tuning of the middle path is certainly something that experience will teach you and I think that getting closer to the right form earlier on is definitely going to be beneficial. Having a poor running form and a poor ego development are two combinations that are going to lead to what I see out there is the real world as pretty unhappy runners.

Tell us about the Luna Sandals and the creation of them

It was in 2005 and I got fascinated into my research in footwear in different cultures and natural selection in footwear and I think all throughout the world I saw simple sandals being the solution. I was able to qualify for the Boston marathon ahead of schedule running fully barefoot. Then in December 2005 somebody linked me to a blog in Italian that was talking about this barefoot sole that I thought might work. I was working for solutions for running that would allow me to run in the same style but protected. So I contacted that company and I told them that they may have the best running shoe ever and indeed I got my first pair of five fingers in January 2006.

I knew at that time that barefoot running was never going to become a mainstream story because you can’t sell it, you can't sell free. Free doesn’t exist. So find me an artefact that shows people that barefoot may be the best thing, I thought that was pretty awesome. And then going down to the canyons and becoming friends with Manuel Luna I became aware of how to make, wear and run in the sandals – it was a powerful experience that moment I can remember like it was yesterday. And in a way as I was recognising that the sandals were awesome, he already thought that, so I've been going down there every year and we’ve become good friends. He really in a way has extended this long, long tradition and in many ways I think the sandal is one of the earliest inventions.

Like the surf board which was just a plank I feel like we’re surfers who just keep making surfboards, just refining it on a very basic design. With little refinements we’ve made luna sandals, an ancient basic design, become something that 21st century monkeys can play with and that’s really the goal. So we manufacture our sandals in Seattle, I know the people and every process, we’re not a sweatshop, we’re a living wage kind of place, we like what we’re doing and we believe in what we’re doing.

When could you wear the sandal?

The sandal is totally viable for running but it’s also an every day comfortable sandal too. Great for walking, great looking. We’re creating a cultural space in running where we’re not just about people winning races in luna sandals, but so running might just be something you do to be healthy and happy and going around in footwear everyday that keeps you vulnerable to a certain degree – and I think that vulnerability is important. It’s part of that, being mindful and conscious of where you are, I think that’s a 21st century attitude. 

Barefoot Ted is speaking at the Barefoot Connections Conference. For more information and tickets visit shop.primallifestyle.com


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Discuss this article

"It really comes down to – from my point of view – I’m not an expert coach, I am only an expert on my own experience"

"it’s certainly not some kind of scientific process if you don’t do this you’re doomed"

"if it "ain't broken don’t fix it". Maybe it’s not the need of some runners."

"people have had the idea that it’s a cure all which is as absurd"

It's actually interesting to read this, as it is not the message that many 'disciples' are preaching.  Even on these forums, there are those who answer every question with "you need to try barefoot and it will cure your..."

Whilst I think that barefoot is an interesting 'sub-culture' of running and I am not a fan, BF Ted seems like a nice guy who has put a lot of thought into what he does.

Hats off.  Or should that be shoes?


Posted: 24/06/2013 at 23:19

One of my favorite personal quotes is: "The only thing I am dogmatic about is being dogmatically against being dogmatic."

I truly believe that self-experimentation is key. My own research has made it abundantly clear that for many of us, learning to run barefoot (or minimally clad) is the key to finding efficient running form.  After all, human beings as a species rise to the top of other long-distance running animals...and this evolution came long before the modern shoe.  

I truly do think it would benefit most runners to reconnect with their own default hardware.  The foot after all is the foundation of all athletics in human beings.  Regaining functional use is a logical first step if seeking top performance and injury prevention. 

I just finished up with the Barefoot Connections Conference. I was amazed to see the growing body of research on barefoot running.  Several Phd students with fresh data were presenting.  All very interesting stuff.

In the end, I suggest people stay open minded about what it means to run and what it means to be a "human being".  They may be surprised with what is possible using the "original equipment"

Best Regards, BFT


Posted: 25/06/2013 at 11:51

Well I really do want to "reconnect with my own default hardware". My experience with running in Vibram FiveFingers may not lead me to becoming a better runner than everyone else but it will and has made me much stronger within my own physical limitations.

I'd love to try out completely barefoot training on road and wherever I possibly can but that may not be as easy here in Northern Ireland as it is in California. We're not known for a "barefoot surf and skateboard culture" :P


Posted: 06/07/2013 at 21:10

I was always encouraged to study the historical footwear of any region to get clues as to what has worked the longest.

I founded the LUNA Sandal Company with the goal of bringing back one of the oldest continuously used pieces of running gear on the planet...e.g., the simple sandal.  True, not ideal in freezing weather, but worry not.  LUNA is learning from the Samurai of Japan.  They wore sandals during mountain warfare even in snow.  How?  They wore special coverings to keep foot warm and dry.  We are tesing those now for colder weather folk like yourself.

How's that sound?

BFT


Posted: 09/07/2013 at 15:37

Well done Ted for trying new things and challenging the way we think.

This is a good follow up read :

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2013/jul/05/christopher-mcdougall-born-to-run-interview

I might give your sandals a try in the future

 

 

 

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Posted: 21/07/2013 at 13:57

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