Interview: Barefoot Ted

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

The Luna Sandal. 

Find out more more about Barefoot Ted and the Luna Sandal here.