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Shoeless runners are taking a natural path

 Elizabeth McCullough, Kamal Shah and Daniel Kucela run barefoot in Coldstream Park in Lexington, Ky. Some runners feel liberated without shoes, but a podiatrist says barefoot running isn't smart for everyone.
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Date published: 10/3/2010



People might think they're crazy, but barefoot runners, even those who run punishing marathons sans shoes, say that freeing your feet from the confines of a sneak is just as God and nature intended.

Rick Roeber, Midwest representative for the website therunningbare foot.com, compares walking and running in shoes to typing with gloves on. It's just not quite right.

"You have to try the experience to understand," he said.

Elizabeth McCullough of Lexington, Ky., who started running barefoot earlier this year, said she went to the website for direction and soon embraced the idea.

"Just running up the street without any shoes on felt wrong and exciting," McCullough said.

Roeber and McCullough were serious marathoners who ditched their shoes after suffering running-related injuries. McCullough broke her pelvis while running a marathon.

"The doctor had told me, 'When you are breaking bones when you are running, you shouldn't be running,'" she said.

But the former Marine wasn't deterred. After consulting the website and healing sufficiently from her injury, she slowly took to the road, going through a transition period before she felt totally comfortable running without shoes.

Roeber has run without shoes since April 2004, when, after having run 18 marathons, he was in such pain he thought he might have to give up running.

Running barefoot presents some challenges because he lives in Missouri. It gets cold there. It snows there. One time, he got frostbite on "a couple of toes." He ran a barefoot marathon a few days later, and his toes "were bloody nubs" at the end of that race.

But he still runs barefoot.

He wears shoes to work at a communications company only because he has to, and even then he wears loose-weave huarache sandals.

"I like to keep them as free as possible," he said of his feet.

Barefoot running has been around a long time, said Dr. W. Ben Kibler, an orthopedic surgeon at Lexington Clinic. An Olympic marathoner, Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia, won the gold without shoes in 1960. Barefoot South African runner Zola Budd famously knocked American Mary Decker out of medal contention in 1984.

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