Barefoot Runner Makes you Wonder

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Barefoot Runner Makes you Wonder (Image 1)

The scenic, twisting single track trails at Carvin's Cove.

It is here that Chris Neikirk often trains for local 5k's.  It's not enough that the trails here are often steep, slippery or strewn with rocks. 

Chris pushes it a little bit further.

He runs barefoot. 

Chris Neikirk: "I've been running barefoot; it will be four years in May."

A personal trainer, Chris says he researched running and found that some of the best runners in the world run barefoot.  That our bodies are just designed to run this way

"Rather than throwing someone into doing this, I started doing it myself just to see where it would take me.   I've never really turned back," he said.

Chris is amazingly light on his feet.  Form he credits to running the right way -- without shoes. 

"When I wear soft running shoes, I just feel like I can't get a good purchase on the ground.  I feel unstable.  I feel wobbly.  It's just awkward and unstable -- the best way I can describe it."

Chris has jumped over snakes, stepped on bees, thorns and lots of sharp rocks. I had to ask, doesn't it hurt?

"After about three months or so your soles thicken up and the things that you would step on and skirt around you don't notice as much.  You notice them but they don't really hurt," he said

Carlin: "Ok Chris I'm willing to give this a shot what do I have to do?" 

Chris: "Take off your shoes."

So off come my trail runners -- ironically designed like regular running shoes only with stiffer soles --so you don't feel the rocks poking up into your feet.

Next he showed me something called "ankleing" an exercise to get your weight on the balls of your feet, which is different than in running shoes.

"That's going to make me lighter on my feet, so when I step on the roots, the rocks the bees it doesn't hurt as much?" I asked.  "Yes," he said.

And with that we were off, running through the Enchanted Forest section of Carvin's Cove.  The trail was about as smooth as you can find, the ground surprisingly still cool on an 80 degree day, but honestly, my feet were not ready for this.

Watching from the side, the difference in our experience levels is obvious. Chris runs upright -- relying on his intuition to keep him from stubbing his toe or puncturing the sole of his foot. 

No matter how hard I tried to forget, and just run, I had to pick my way through the obstacles.  Light on my feet?  Right!

For the record, Chris recommends taking about three months to build up the toughness of your feet, so my form was about what he expected. 

As for Chris -- He says he is actually faster barefoot and looking forward to upcoming races, and all the training runs in between.

"I love it," he said.  "Even if it's not running.  Even if it's walking out on a field somewhere.  It's just really fun to do.  You feel a little bit more free.

If you would like to contact Chris, he can be reached at or 540.353-3745

Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved