MINNEAPOLIS - At Lake Harriet, runners rule the pavement. But no one knows how to work the ground better than Paul Horan and his friends. Horan loves to run barefoot.
"There's just something about that. It's like being a kid again," explained Horan.
He has been running barefoot since his high school days. He said it makes him feel free and improves his running. By day, though, the barefoot runner helps others improve their stride at his shoe store, Gear Running Store in Edina.
"This shoe has a very low natural to-the-ground feel," described Horan.
Top-notch running shoes fill Horan's shop. But it is shoes like the Vibram FiveFingers and the lightweight Newton Running shoes that are top sellers. Each of them was designed to give a barefoot feel. Horan believes going barefoot helps prevent injuries.
"It builds your foundation, builds your foot strength which often go neglected in traditional shoes," said Horan.
John Long is also a runner. He owns Marathon Sports in Minneapolis, and has tried some of the barefoot mimicking shoes.
"It's just like anything it's not the magic pill. For some people it might be, and that's great. But for most people it wasn't the magic pill they were looking for," explained Long.
Long said he saw interest in this type of running surge after the bestseller "Born to Run," a book about running without shoes, came out in 2009. He said many customers wanted to try it and many come back with injuries.
Dr. Paul Langer, a podiatrist with Twin Cities Orthopedics, has studied barefoot running extensively and also does it himself.
"I kind of tried it just so I can speak to my patients about it," said Dr. Langer.
While injury rates haven't really been studied Langer said he's observed differences in the way impact is made. In a cushioned shoe the heel strikes first, he said. With bare feet, it's the middle of the foot that strikes first.
"The impact force may be the same but it's just spread out over a longer period. And that might be why some people may be less prone to getting injured if they run in a barefoot or minimalist type of shoe," said Dr. Langer.
Horan said going barefoot made him a stronger runner. It also made a difference for his friend Gretchen Heim who took off her shoes after problems with muscle tissues in her thigh.
"It cleared up right away and so it's made a difference for sure," said Heim in describing how barefoot running has benefited her.
While science catches up, Horan, and other barefoot runners like him, are racing toward what they believe is the finish line for fewer injuries.
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