Before Born to Run hit the shelves and inspired all types of runners to cast off their shoes and run free, there was Nike. Nike came up with its line of “Frees,” shoes designed with minimal support and maximum flexibility for training shoes (track runners have had access to racing flats, practically scraps of fabric with a spike sole, since as early as the 1920s). And before Frees and the barefoot fad, there was Abebe Bikila.
Bikila is legendary for winning the Olympic marathon event while running barefoot. In 1960, unhappy with the fit of the shoes provided by sponsor Adidas, Bikila decided at the last minute to ditch his shoes. After all, he’d trained barefoot in Ethiopia. He ran his race as he’d trained and won the gold, the first Sub-Saharan Africa to win any gold medal at the Olympics, in 2:15.16. He came back in ’64 (wearing Pumas) to set a new record and again win gold with a time of 2:12.11.
Vibram, a shoe company, honored Bikila by naming one of its FiveFinger barefoot shoes after him; the Bikila is like a glove for your foot, allowing for a more natural running motion. Many runners have gone from very minimalist shoes with a more traditional build, like the Nike Frees, to Vibrams, which allow for some protection of the sole while feeling closer to running barefoot.
Gilbert’s Gazelles Training Group, partnered with the Run for the Water Foundation, has recognized the popularity of this trend and is, for the first time ever, offering a “Barefoot Division” at the upcoming Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge Series race, Run for the Water 10 Miler. Check the criteria for running in this category at the Run for the Water website; runners will need to pick up a special tag at the beginning and run all of the race in the accepted shoe (or actually barefoot). There will be prize money, too.
“To coincide with the RRCA 10-Mile State Championship, we wanted to provide an opportunity to some of the area’s top runners to compete for money,” said Gilbert Tuhabonye, owner of the training group. “It’s exciting to be able to partner with Run for the Water – a race that holds such importance to me.”
If you’re thinking about making the switch to barefoot running, don’t decide in the minutes before the race, like Bikila, to go sans shoes. You will need to train your feet to become accustomed to the difference in running. Even going to a more minimalist shoe takes a bit of working up to. Barefootrunner.com gives tips and shoe reviews, and you can find a wide range of minimalist and barefoot running shoes at our Austin-area shoe stores.