Will you or I ever be able to run fast when running barefoot? This is a question asked by basically two categories of people: those who picture all bare feet as soft and tender, and those who are just beginning to run with bare feet. The answer is: It depends. Does the person have the capacity to run fast? Is the runner willing to carefully transition to barefoot running? What kinds of surfaces or general terrain will be run on? But, first you must define “fast.”
I have always liked to run fast. That is to say, I’ve always liked feeling that I am moving fast. Sure, it is nice to set personal records and place in races occasionally, but the true reward is the sensation of speed. It’s the joy of accelerating and the pleasure of pumping the legs to full power that really keeps me running. Even if “fast” doesn’t show up on the time charts the same way it did in high school, it is fast for me now. In this sense, most people could run fast with bare feet if they want to.
Not right away, when first starting to run with bare feet, though. If leg muscles are strained as they are pushed too hard to adapt to different usage, or previously bound soles are shredded due to impatience, it will take even longer. If stress fractures in feet occur because of added distance to barefooted running before having developed good springy form, there won’t be any running at all. If running isn’t consistently done with bare feet, it might be tempting to say it isn’t working, when really the person hasn’t done what it takes to be a barefoot runner.
Finally, fast is not smart or feasible everywhere. Surface type and other running route variables need to be considered. The newer you are to barefoot running, the slower you will need to run on rough surfaces, to avoid hurting yourself. And, whereas rough surfaces (which can mean different things to different people) are good for practicing form, it is hard to spend as much time running on them. Some paths have ground that is uneven and unpredictable, or possibly with sharper turns. Fast on them is riskier. Sometimes a minimal shoe IS the smartest thing, but it should still allow for some ground feel and foot flexibility.
On moderate to smooth surfaces (for my level of barefoot experience), including asphalt and nubby rubber tracks, I have reached a point where I am definitely as fast or faster when running with absolutely bare feet. Of primary importance is that it is just more fun with bare feet, so I am inspired and joyful. Also, I can feel the spring of my legs from my hips to my toes. I feel much more in control of my running and can adjust to the ground minutely with each stride. Putting shoes on is like trying to play the piano wearing gloves, but I’ll do it when the keys are covered with gravel.
My 19 year old daughter is measurably fast in bare feet. She took first place for all women while running barefoot (yes, skin to ground) in a recent local 5K. The race was reported to have 2260 participants, but no break down for numbers of men versus women was available. The course was on relatively smooth city streets. She had worked up to 3 miles 5 weeks earlier and by race time was running at least that distance with bare feet a couple of times a week. When she wears shoes, she also tends to place first for the women in these types of races. She is an example that running fast can be done with bare feet. If anyone is avoiding barefoot running because they think it will slow them down, they might want to reconsider the facts.