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I have been running for years for fun. Since last year I am interested in marathons. I attended 2 marathons and currently getting prepared for Munich marathon.

I run 4 times a week.

And I would like to run barefoot at one or two of my easy runs per week.

I have tried first time this morning; I did 5k and ended up with minor blisters.

How can I run on asphalt barefoot without having blisters? Does the skin get used to it after a couple of -easy- runs? Or should I use a heel first style bcoz of the asphalt?

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I found this which looks quite useful: sites.google.com/site/barefootchronicles/… –  pencilCake Jul 22 '13 at 13:22

5 Answers 5

Absolutely do not heel strike. It's not necessary, and you won't want to do it anyway because it will be painful.

When you run on clean asphalt with proper form, it should be quite comfortable and you generally should not get blisters or excessive wear on your feet. If you start with half a mile to a mile max barefoot in the first week and gradually increase the distance, your soles should adapt without problems.

The key to running barefoot on asphalt, or really any surface, without pain or blisters is correct form:

  • Bend your knees
  • Land lightly. Think of the lunar lander landing on the moon: begin to pull your feet up/back (by bending your knees) before they touch the ground, to lessen the impact
  • Don't "strike" the ground but touch it. Focus on "lifting" your feet from the pavement rather than striking the pavement, this will help you be lighter on your feet
  • Try to be very quiet on your feet. Quiet means low impact

The first part of the foot that should touch the ground is the ball of your foot. Followed quickly by your toes and then heel (or possibly heel then toes, whatever feels more comfortable). Yes, your heel can touch the ground, this helps the spring action of your calves to absorb shock and energy and propel you correctly, but it should barely touch the ground.

The way that your foot touches the ground -- ball-heel-toes -- allows the foot to spread out as it lands rather than after it's landed, so that you can distribute your weight over your foot without it sliding around. What causes blisters on pavement or other surfaces is the sliding or spreading of the foot over the surface. Visualize paint on your feet and try to leave perfect footprints. Proper foot alignment (toes straight forward and under your center of gravity, not too widely spread) and hip rotation will help here.

It's actually a great idea to start barefoot on asphalt, because asphalt will give your feet all sorts of feedback to encourage proper form. Once you can run comfortable barefoot on a hard surface, you can run on any surface barefoot (or in minimalist shoes).

Since it's easy to not notice pain, blisters, or other problems while running, a good way to prevent overdoing it, especially when you're starting out, is to stop every mile or so and rest for 30 seconds. Then evaluate and see if your feet feel fresh enough to continue. Otherwise you'll suddenly realize you should have turned back a while ago because your feet are too tender.

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I've tried barefoot running on concrete. I restricted myself to 5-6 kms distances. I didn't get any blisters though - maybe because I'm used to walking barefooted outdoors. However, one time, I did get a very painful puncture wound from sharp gravel or wood. Make sure you run on clean surfaces devoid of any debris. You can also get ultra-minimalistic running gear.

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It sounds like you have a lot more running experience than I do, but it seems logical that there are really only two ways you can go here:

  1. Negotiate with yourself and buy a barefoot shoe like Vibram FiveFingers
  2. Just keep running until you blister over. When I was in college, I knew a guy that walked all over campus in bare feet - even in the middle of winter with 8 in of snow on the ground. He was able to do this because - over time - the bottom of your feet build up a thick pad and they become less sensitive. Apparently he had been doing that since he was a kid though, so it was a gradual progression; so if you go this route, I'd increase the frequency you're running barefoot slowly over time, giving your feet enough time to heal in between barefoot runs but not so long that you lose your gains.
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If you have worn shoes your entire life, when running barefoot (and in this case I assume you mean completely unshod) you are going to get blisters.

Shoes cushion the feet and provide a soft surface for us to walk on, this leads the feet to be soft and supple. Not necessarily a bad thing, until you walk without shoes.

Barefoot running is going to subject the sole of your foot to friction and tearing that it is unused to. This leads to localised inflammation as a healing and protective response - aka. blisters. Overtime these heal and provide a protective layer of scar tissue and rough skin for your sole. Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do to speed this process, apart from walking barefoot more often.

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This is very true, exactly the case of mine. –  EricAm Aug 22 '13 at 16:00

I've made recently a 20-minutes walk on the asphalt, which resulted with really nasty and painful blisters. And it was only walking, not running.

According to the answer on the Outdoors: http://outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/4277/how-to-harden-feet-for-walking-barefoot-on-harsh-surfaces the best thing to adapt your feet to barefoot running is the sand. If your feet are better adapted to walking on asphalt than mine, you can simply practice barefoot walking, it's quite common in Germany.

As for heel-first running technique, it's absolute no-go. According to various sources, it's the source of various injuries even when running in special shoes, barefoot you have no amortization, so the whole impact would come to the knees.

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