Barefoot, minimalist running growing in popularity

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ALLOUEZ -- Barefoot running, or minimalist running is something some call a fad, and others call a revolutionary approach to staying fit. No matter what it's called, some doctors say it's not something you can run right into.

Run Away Shoes manager and runner Colin McKean says the barefoot running business is booming. McKean says about 20 people come into his store every week, looking to get into some barefoot running shoes.

"This forces your foot to basically, as they say, do what it's designed to do," McKean said.

McKean is a former St. Norbert College athlete who got into barefoot running last year, about the time a book came out touting the benefits of barefoot, or minimalist running. He now uses it as part of his training.

"I wear my minimalist stuff, maybe twice a week, so, if I'm running six or seven days a week, I'll wear them for my shorter runs just a couple of times," McKean said.

McKean says even getting up to twice a week took awhile!

"It's something that if you do start out too fast then you're going to end up doing some damage," McKean said.

Podiatrist April Borchardt with Prevea Health was initially against barefoot running, but after looking into it and trying it out, she said her mind was changed...slightly.

"The key is that it's not for everybody and that's what I found out," Borchardt said.

Borchardt says a major benefit of barefoot running is that it strengthens small foot muscles that are unused because of the traditional types of shoes. To do it safely, Borchardt says you have to have the right foot type.

Often, Borchardt says many patients try running barefoot too much and too quickly, leading to problems.

"They decide to go for their full, two-mile run, the first time in a Vibram five-finger, which is not going to work. It's really, five minutes you start out with and gradually increase your time slowly," Borchardt said.

Nutrition salesman and runner Peter Burkel says the idea of barefoot running is interesting, but not for him.

"I've heard people have some great results and it's supposed to be more effective. It takes a bit more to adjust to it from my understanding, but I really never gave it much thought, myself, personally," Burkel said.

"There are going to be some people that have been running barefoot for years and feel very strongly that that's right for them, but as popular as it is right now, I don't think it will continue to stay that way," Borchardt said.

"I don't think it's a fad. I think it's created and forced a lot of companies to innovate their product lines. You're still getting some cushion in the shoe, but it's introducing some more of those minimalist tenets that will strengthen your feet," McKean said.

Borchardt says if you do wish to try out barefoot running, to consult your doctor first.

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