Talks@Google: Barefoot Ted McDonald

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 18.03.2010

TED McDONALD: So I just got done having an excellent lunch here, per usual, um, some
of my other campus visits.
I'm telling you guys have it made when it comes to food.
So thank you Google for a terrific lunch.
Those of you can see me closely see that I'm sporting a black eye today.
I have two Siberian huskies who I'm trying to train to not want to chase squirrels.
And it's not easy to do because something runs quickly by you -- I run a lot in Volunteer
Park -- and you have two dogs that I often run with a tether on, so I'm not holding them
and I'm like running with them.
And usually, we're in like this really fluid, moving great together.
And I can use voice commands and I can -- I kind of have various ways to keep them
doing -- we're all kind of a pack and I'm sort of the alpha, at least that's what I'm
And some squirrels or a squirrel went by in a somewhat narrow path and suddenly I found
myself in a branch and stopping.
A branch suddenly decided to stop me.
So I have a black eye and a hurt shoulder but other than that I think I'm okay.
I'm good to go.
I actually did this the day before -- I gave a talk last week at the Pacific Lutheran University's
-- they had a international symposium on sport and recreation.
And I didn't realize I was getting a black eye.
I guess it -- it happened the day before and I guess -- well, I guess some of you have
had black eyes sometimes.
I guess it doesn't just like suddenly you have a black eye.
So I was, like, didn't really know I had a black eye, but everybody was looking at me
so funny.
I thought just like, gee, I guess I must look really funny.
I mean, that's probably true, too, but nonetheless that's the story on that.
Anyway, I don't know how many of you know me from reading the book 'Born to Run' or
having checked out my blog, Barefoot Ted's Adventures, but I'll tell you it's been an
incredible experience to have become sort of a person who my own personal journey to
find a way to run joyfully to sort of do things that I sort of didn't think I was ever going
to be able to do, and then sort of put my mind to it.
And start really investigating what it means to be able to run and whether or not this
is something I was going to be able to do in my life for longer than an hour without
pain led to me where I am talking to you today.
And the story goes like this: When I was a younger person, I remember there was a --
my family ran the Santa Monica Pier carousel in Santa Monica.
I'm kind of from a carousel family, if you can imagine that.
But the son of Alan Cranston, who was a famous California senator, was having his 40th birthday
party at the carousel, and he was going to run his first marathon.
And I thought, my goodness, 40-year old running a marathon.
You know, this is his first marathon.
I was just so intrigued that somebody that old -- I think I was 20 at the time -- would
ever even be able to do that.
And I got to know him and I was sort of intrigued.
And he really had a successful run, and he was talking about how great it was and kind
of sharing with me his experience as a runner.
And I -- in the back of my mind, I sort of filed something there that, perhaps when I
was going to be turning 40, I think that I might try to make that attempt at a marathon.
So anyway, about seven years ago, my 40th birthday was coming – was going to be coming
up, and I thought, well, now's the time to give it a try.
So I'd done a little running here and there.
I ran, you know, some in high school and while I was -- I remember the first thing I did
after graduating from UC Berkley, I was studying Japanese and Rhetoric -- the first thing I
did after I got out was I started running again.
And I thought -- it seemed so enjoyable to suddenly start being able to put energy into
something that was so pure and -- but I could never, I really could never get more than
a hour where I would be in so much pain, basically.
And I tried different shoes, I tried all kinds of different things.
And I sort of gave it up for awhile and went to bicycling.
It's a very, very common story.
And anyway, my 40th birthday was looming about seven years ago, and I decided, well, I'm
going to make one more effort to crack this nut of long distance running.
There's got to be now some technological solution to this problem, and so I started Googling
"lowest impact shoe" and various things.
And I came up with a great find.
And it's -- it's a company out of Switzerland called Kangoo Jumps – I believe is the name
-- or Kangoo Boots and they literally make a boot-like footwear that has a, kind of like
a leaf spring built into it.
And you put these on and you can literally bounce.
I mean you can bounce around the -- and I thought yes.
And they had like a, you know, they had sort of testimonials and various people who had
tried, you know, people that had various problems with impact and they had gotten these shoes.
And I think they had evidence showing that this shoe was the most impact-resisting shoe
on the market.
And so it was like, right on.
And I -- right away e-mailed them and I -- they told me, oh, it's a great timing.
We're having this newest version of the shoe coming out that's even got more spring.
And I was going to have to like wait like a month.
I was just -- whenever you have to wait for something it's just like building up the intensity
of how wonderful it's going to be.
And I was just imagining myself sort of bouncing through the foothills and just -- I was going
to be coming a living embodiment of Tigger.
I had like -- I'm built so strong, I've got strong legs and I'm strong.
And I thought if with regular running shoes I could do an hour without pain, and for me
I was always assuming that marathon runners and long distance runners, those guys it's
all about enduring pain.
That's what I assumed, based on my experience.
So I thought if I could go on hour with the best running shoes, I figured I'm going to
be able to do like two hours like right away, like first day.
So anyway, long story short my Kangoo Jumps came and I put my Kangoo Jumps on, so damn
excited and I was bouncing around the yard.
And instead of one hour where I was in my case kind of lower back pain, 15 minutes later,
I'm feeling the same problems, the tightness in the legs and the various other things.
And I was just like, oh my gosh, you know.
It was just like you got to be kidding me.
I took the dial, turned to 11, 11 didn't work.
And I don't know about you guys but I'm one of these kind of problem solvers that I like
to like -- I like to test the extremes.
Even on some computer coding stuff I do, I'm like go over let's do this oh,crap that's
all screwed up.
Go over here, don't do this.
Oh, that's kind of screwed up.
And somewhere in the middle, I find a solution.
So 11 didn't work.
I had the best, most impact-resisting shoe in the world, 15 minutes later, ain't going
to be going anywhere soon.
And thankfully the kind of prototypes I had broke, I got to send them back.
They were rather expensive and, well, anyway, I found myself kind of confronted with a dead
And I didn't right away think about barefooting, but I had been doing a lot of barefooting
I'd been doing some barefoot hiking, and so I thought maybe I'm just going to be a hiker.
Maybe I'll be a barefoot hiker.
So I Googled "barefoot hiking," and well of course, there are barefoot hikers in the world.
And there are barefoot hikers forums and there are barefoot hiker events.
So I'm looking at all this barefoot hiking stuff, and I'm thinking that's cool I've been
doing that a lot.
And I think it's actually been very beneficial to me to have had that background before I
go further in the story.
But nonetheless, while I was looking at the barefoot hiking website, there was a little
link down at the bottom to barefoot running.
And before I clicked that, or about at the same moment that I clicked that link over,
and it happened to be a link over to -- the famous barefooter named Barefoot Ken Bob,
this bearded, long-haired guy that works over at Cal State Long Beach in Southern California
who had had a website sort of on barefoot running for several years.
Before I clicked on that, sort of like a flood of memories of various things in my own experience
that made me remember that indeed there were or had been perhaps in my mind at the moment
biomechanically perfect individuals in this world who had been able to achieve great things
I'd remembered Zola Budd, if any of you are older than me or about the same age, you probably
have remembered or heard about her, an Olympic athlete runner.
But I also started remembering my own father's experience as a barefooter in high school
and football it was very common to do a lot of training in barefoot.
I remember my aunt who had some high school track records, and her bemoaning the fact
that somewhere I think it was '64 that the essentially the sporting goods associations
in the United States lobbied and made it so that you had start wearing sport shoes in
high school sports.
Before that, I went and investigated -- this was quite fascinating, entire cross country
teams would be barefoot.
Barefoot training was not unusual.
Matter of fact, barefooting had kind of had a boom even previous to 50 years ago today.
Something I'll tell you, some of you who have read 'Born to Run' know already, even previous
to that there were people, like there was a fellow from Australia named Herb Elliot,
one of the early Australians to be able to get some medals in track and field.
And he had this kind of wacko coach named Percy Cerutty who apparently took these guys
and had them training like indigenous people of Australia, and had them running barefoot
all over the place, and ended up having great efficacy for these guys.
And matter of fact Herb Elliot, a barefooter runner, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated
twice, once in the late 50s and again in the early 60s.
So there was a whole generation of people, my father and my aunt and others, that barefoot
running in and on its face was not unusual and furthermore, running in shoes that weren't
padded or cushioned in any way was not unusual.
And matter of fact, part of the training techniques of being able to learn how to run this way,
either by default based on the fact that you didn't have any padding in your shoe or because
you had a great coach and you learned how to run well, you learned how to run in a way
that wasn't pounding the hell out of you.
These people that ran marathons back before the padded shoe, weren't taking on as much
impact as you might imagine based on the way most people think they need shoes today.
But anyway, all of these things started flooding through my mind including, I had just been
to -- my daughter had been in a triathlon, a kids' triathlon thing, and I remember the
first place kid running through carrying his shoes.
So just a flood of memories.
And then, of course, I even remembered in the newspapers the Tarahumara, the Indians
from Northern Mexico, would come and race this one race near where I'd grown up called
the Angeles Press 100.
And they'd come and run in these shoes that were made out of old tires.
I mean, I don't know if you've ever put a tire on your foot and started running, you'll
find out real quickly there's no cushioning in a tire at all.
Great protection, though, if you decide that you want to step on -- start running down
a hill at high speed and suddenly find yourself stepping on sharp rocks or wanting to brake
to make a turn. In that case, I would say they are awesome.
So anyway, I clicked that click and went over to Ken Bob's site and I was like okay, here
we go.
Let me just see what this guy has to say.
And I -- what I did I very methodically read everything he had written, followed through
every link that linked from his website, went to his Yahoo forum and read every input that
had started from when he – when he had started this forum.
And slowly but surely, I think that I took in from that all of the things, the ideas
about what kind of form I would expect, how far I would -- you know, what kind of things
I would have to look out for to start this journey of barefoot running.
At this point, I hadn't really tried it, so I had no idea what I was going to expect.
So I read all that.
I think three days later, I'd completed reading everything.
I had read every article, every link, and I was like -- sounds like I'm good to go.
So I went out and unbelievably -- I'd been like I'd said I'd been running periodically
all my life, so I knew kind of what to expect.
I knew about running.
But when I applied myself in this new kind of style of running which was much more about
learning how to land more on the forefoot or more up on the front part of my foot rather
than on my heel that involved having a much quicker cadence, a quicker turnover of my
And it was like an instantaneous epiphany that this was -- and by the way, I'm running
at this point I'm running on asphalt, concrete and then eventually to some horse trails but
it was like instantaneously recognizable to me that I had found something very important.
I'd discovered something extraordinarily important that was going to change my life.
It was 45 minutes later that I finally got home.
I purposefully stopped because I figured I better, didn't want to err on over exuberance.
But it was like the most important 45 minutes of my life at that point.
I had for the first time run barefoot in my life and I wasn't experiencing any pain.
I wasn't experiencing any back pain.
I wasn't experiencing any pounding.
It was so amazing.
Literally from that day until now, it was about seven years ago, I have been able to
continuously progress on this little journey of mine, and record it and share what I've
found and discovered in the process.
And it turns out indeed it's not a -- it's not an unusual event.
I'm not the only one who's had this epiphany.
It turns out at this point in history, in our moment of time, in our new generation
who never really even thought or considered barefoot running, at this moment in time primarily
because of the book 'Born to Run', it's had a huge influence.
And a whole bunch of research that's either coming out or is about to come out in --
and probably Dr. Lieberman's stuff from Harvard being the most important, is that you're going
to start seeing the beginning it's already started of a paradigm shift, I believe, in
the way we look at what it means to be human and what it means to run.
And that leads me to what I want to say about that, which is, an amazing thing.
It just so happened that as I discovered this for myself, and the first thing I thought
was, my goodness.
Well, first of all well let's see how far I can take this.
I mean am I going to break down here soon?
Let's see what I can do.
And it turned out that the fellow I was following and learning from was this guy Ken Bob, Barefoot
Ken Bob.
And he had been, his thing that year was to run a marathon a month barefoot.
And I thought okay, well, maybe I should start training or preparing myself to try to run
a barefoot marathon.
I've never run a marathon before and my 40th birthday wasn't quite here yet.
So that would be the -- that would be the ticket.
That would be to determine whether or not this has legitimacy.
Am I really going to be able to do this?
Am I going to break down?
Am I going to start having issues?
Well I didn't have any issues.
I continued to run practically every day.
Ended up joining an incredible, mostly Mexican-American and Mexican National running group called
the Wild Mountain Runners.
And these guys were hard -- for my friends, my Mexican-American friends in Los Angeles,
running is right up there alongside boxing as far as machismo goes.
They don't run -- they don't run for joy as much as I do.
They were running to sort of like, I don't know master themselves in a way.
And I would follow these guys on these, about six months after I started running, I got
in this club, and they would take me out on these runs in the mountains.
I mean, it got to the point by the time I was done from our mountain run, when I got
down to the asphalt, asphalt was cream to me.
Asphalt was like the answer of all of our ancestors' prayers.
Any kind of smooth surface where you could sort of tune out completely and not have to
be so hyper-focused on what you were doing was like a dream come true.
When you're running trails, particularly the Southern California mountain trails, literally
every footfall is a chess move.
And you find out real quickly that you're not -- the reason you have this capacity,
and this is what I really started focusing on, this capacity to move over incredibly
complex moonscape-type terrains in such a way that you're in each step being able to
find the sweet spots, if they exist, in real time is an incredible place to get to.
When you start, and I think this is what barefooting does, and I talk about this a lot but barefooting
forces you to become present.
You are mindful of what you're doing.
You're no longer the disconnected robotic runner who from their footwear up to their
headgear are no longer even connected to their body, not sensitized to the incredibly sophisticated
systems that we've inherited that are mostly preconscious but that require the ability
to feel the world.
Have you ever wondered why you have so much feeling on the bottom of your feet?
Have you ever contemplated?
Is it because God or the evolutionary gods or whatever it is that swerved us to get here
decided they wanted to laugh as we had to anymore nimbly make our way over the ground
or does it have some purpose?
And indeed, when you really start thinking about it, and then you start actually understanding
what's going on, all that sensory input is incredibly interfacing directly with your
It's this concept – you've heard of proprioception which many writers who write about
wax eloquent and call it our sixth sense.
And the more I understand it the more I indeed believe it is a kind of sixth sense.
However, it's a sense that requires the ability to feel, primarily the ability to feel impacts.
And the ability to feel that in real time, your body is able to do amazing things, i.e.,
instead of you becoming a disconnected robotic mover who just sort of takes impact in you
as you move, you when get sensitized and are capable to connect with the proprioception
in your own body, your body responds quickly.
I little coaching helps, and that's why I do that but ultimately people would discover
this on their own.
Your body won't let you pound the hell out of yourself.
It actually is able to in real time allow to make movements in a way that instead of
being disconnected and pound, you end up starting to see that the impact and the way you land
and the way you move ends up becoming extraordinarily smooth.
And instead of having hard edges in your movement when you're running, you start getting this
feeling of a kind of a flow.
And indeed, I believe running with my dogs and looking at big cats and other animals
that move well, it's this kind of ability to have your movement to be flowing, no hard
And indeed in Nature magazine this month, Lieberman has his research, cover story matter
of fact, showing him studying an unshod group in Kenya and a shod group having them run
over these impact plates and photographing them as they run by.
The people who put on the shoe, suddenly you have a whole cohort, a whole generation in
our case, of people who by disconnecting from their body and early on the cushioning was
But let's say in the early 70s, the beginning of the cushioning of a shoe before that basically
your sole is well, there's no cushioning per se.
There's generally protection from sharp things and uncomfortable things that you might step
on but cushioning itself and the concept of it wasn't there yet.
So the impact feeling is still there.
You're still able to run.
You sort of get connected to that feeling.
The beginning of the cushioning, I mean somebody could do like a evolutionary -- I believe
it's going to be a dying branch -- but the evolutionary branch of the beginning of the
cushioning in the foot of the whole cohort of runners, and the beginning slowly but surely
of people who could start running in a way that they weren't let's say evolved to run,
i.e., landing with their heel out in front of them with their leg extended.
You do that for too long, too fast and you won't be doing it too long and too fast very
long anymore.
But anyway, the beginning of that change requiring more padding, requiring a bigger heel, requiring
more -- it's kind of like you get into this self-fulfilling kind of prophecy.
Of like you need more cushioning and you need more heel because you're taking more impact
because you're running in a style that you weren't designed to run and so forth.
And finally we get ourself to the point where we are today.
Most people, if you interview them or talk to them and I had a chance to do this just
the other day, college students, you think, now in order to run, I'm assuming you probably
-- do you think -- do you need some kind of protection or what -- right away, of course,
you need padding.
And you need support and you need arch support and you need -- and any of you have read 'Born
to Run' and has read the chapter I would call the small C conspiracy chapter on running
shoes and the whole propaganda that have made people assume that they needed all of those
things, you'll find out real quickly that whether or not they actually protect you from
anything or not, at this point, there's no good scientific research showing that that's
the case.
Matter of fact, the swerve, the brake seems to be that you're way better not having anything
and learning how to run well.
Actually McDougall, the writer of the book Born to Run, said it eloquently at the Google
talk he did recently which was we're kind of a culture now where we've thrown somebody
into a pool and we want them to learn how to swim.
And instead of just saying, and by the way, you swim like this and you take your hand
over like this and kind of demonstrating how to swim well, we just kind of throw them more
expensive and fashionable and trendy new kinds of devices that hold them up.
And so they're flailing on the top of the water.
When if we could just say, hey, maybe you should just start moving smoothly like this.
So anyway, I -- my discovery was suddenly like, wow, I've really got to do something
to make this -- I'm going to have to do something to make my story, what I'm going to do, the
progress that I'm going to experience -- get out there and let other people know about
So I started a Blogger blog and started recording my progress.
Well, my progress went very well.
And one year later, I was able to run barefooted in a marathon and qualify for the Boston marathon,
which is an -- for a lot of people it's kind of like the Holy Grail for a marathon runner
to try to get a time that's good enough to allow them to enter the Boston marathon and
I did.
And in the process of that first year, year and a half, I started doing a lot of research.
I got very intrigued by indigenous footwear.
I figured well, if our ancestors were these great long distance runners as Lieberman was
pointing out, these persistent hunters who, for a huge period of our evolutionary history,
apparently we were able to and actually, there's some people who are still being able to do
it, outrun animals.
Squirrels -- as far as speed goes, we're ridiculously slow.
We're like on terrestrial animals, squirrels beat us.
Just about anything will beat us in the short run.
We are phenomenal, probably the best in the world, I think it's -- it's in most cases,
particularly if you ever have us running in the middle of the day, human beings can beat
out any other animals if you start adding hours and distance to the equation.
And we became really sophisticated at being able to chase down very large animals.
If you YouTube it right now, you'll find there's some great footage of some San people, some
of our earliest ancestors in South Africa, doing this very thing.
But it turns out there was a whole huge period of human history where this was a very common
practice of outrunning -- I mean the one on YouTube is an 800-pound ibex that within three
hours the guy – the animal, it takes off at speed, if you're smart you do this during
the middle of the day, carry some water.
You, because you've got a big brain, start being able to realize several things.
You start empathizing with the animal.
And you know the environment, and you know where they are going to go.
So they sprint off -- bam.
And it's the middle of the day.
Animals can only take one breath per stroke, and eventually they're going to have to stop
and start breathing because they're only cooling down primarily through their mouth.
So you know where they're going, you're going to follow their track, but you kind of get
a general idea where they're going to be going cause you know where there are some shade
trees, where that guy is going to want to get to and you just keep trotting around.
You don't -- he's out of your sense of view.
You get to where he got to, maybe he's already rested and took off.
It shows -- they kind of look around and start feeling where would they go next.
Anyway, to make a long story short, after a few hours, 3 to 6 hours depending, that
animal has run itself to death.
It's having heat stroke and by the time this runner has caught up to him, trotting along
at his fairly leisurely pace I would say, that animal is ready to succumb.
It ends up the -- in the video on YouTube, he does spear it but it's basically almost
a ritualized spearing.
And he says, 'I'm sorry I'm taking your life and I hope you're better off in the future.
You're going to be feeding my family and taking care of this and it's kind of that kind of
Well, it turns out, this was a very common practice up until even recently.
Google Book has been a great tool for me to do research on more persistence hunting.
I found everything all over the place.
The Tarahumara were famous for chasing down deer this way.
The most interesting story I found in persistence hunting is one tribe, I can't remember the
name off the top of my head, where if you wanted to prove you had some cojones, you
would, you would persistence hunt a black bear.
Spook a black bear, it runs, you keep following it, scaring the hell out of it, spook it again
and you run that thing to death.
So anyway, just to make a long story short, I want to make people know that indeed you
were born, as a human, if you're a human being, you were born with this incredible capacity.
It is a -- the hallmark of our species.
I think it's probably the most fundamental human capacity and that is to be able to move
long distances.
Not necessarily at the speeds that you see people running marathons and things these
It's amazing how much faster you'll run if there's millions of dollars involved.
But I say that in the kind of running that I'm really intrigued by and the kind of running
that I coach and share and try to convince others to try is a running that, first of
all, is much more connected and closely associated with the way I believe -- and I think it's
pretty clear -- that we ran for millennia, not, not 40 years.
Padded, high-heeled, orthotic padded shoe boot is only about at its greatest length,
40 years old.
And in reality, the ones that we're seeing these days that people think are so necessary
have only been coming around since we've been able to manufacture them overseas and start
-- the bloat started about that time.
But, nonetheless, once you learn how to move the way your ancestors moved, once you learn
how to run in such a way that you're not pounding the ground and think more along the lines
of a dancer approaching a stage, they're not relying on footwear to help them do what they're
going to be doing there.
They're relying on form and grace and strength and connection to their body, not disconnection.
And once you get rid of the big padded shoes, and once you get rid of constantly listening
to headphones while you're running and start trying to tune into what you're doing while
you're doing it, what I think you'll find -- and I think it's totally correlates with
it being such a valuable survival tool in a sense is that movement is
Movement isn't about -- we didn't become successful as a species because movement was drudgery,
painful, and you know, something that led us having to see a professional every time
we did it in order to put us back together.
This is not the way movement should be.
Movement ultimately should be smooth, non-diminishing, building up, and joyful.
And everybody of course is probably at one time or another either experienced or heard
about how the body essentially, the second wind concept endorphins and things like this.
Well, if anybody's experienced this knows that it's an element and certainly an important
element of it.
But being barefoot and learning how to move well over all kinds of different terrain both
natural and manmade that's one of the -- I'm sure some people in the back of their
head are like, 'What about manmade materials -- are so much harder than nature.'
Well, all I can say is they haven't run much in nature because nature's no friend either
to the foot if you're plodding along.
But once you become connected to what you're doing and moving well, even the hardest surfaces
including, for example, the sun-baked plains where our ancestors started out, rocky plains,
you'll find that learning how to move in such a way that you're not pounding the ground
is joyful.
It's really quite remarkable.
And furthermore, when you no longer are running -- it seems like the only way you sell things
in a consumer culture is, it's got to either be performance-enhancing or weight-reducing.
And I mean, those are two incredibly useful things but the problem with those two things
is they're all tied up with numbers.
Got to have quantification.
How far, distance, and so forth.
What I try to train people is to look at their running far more about being, again, connected
to their body.
Instead of erring on the side of how far, how fast, how long – how about how does
it feel?
Are you -- am I running in good form?
Getting associated with the feeling of moving well because ultimately, good running isn't
about how well you can endure pain.
It's how well you can remain relaxed, how long you can remain smooth.
And those should be the barometers of determining whether or not you should continue forward
on your running.
So I got to this point.
I did the Boston Marathon, and I actually went there and just before I went to the Boston
Marathon, I -- I was -- I'd been at this point looking all over, struggling to find some
kind of minimal shoe in order to be able to do some hundred mile races I had in my mind.
And low and behold, somebody sent me a link to an Italian blog that had the -- it was
in Italian, and I used Google Translate to translate it, and suddenly I saw this shoe
shaped like a foot.
And, I was like whoa, that looks pretty interesting.
And I read all about this guy, and it's the grandson of the founder of a company known
as Vibrum, lot of people in America call it "vibe rum".
Vibrum, Vitale Bramani is the founder,
Italian family-owned company still.
It turns out it's one of the first products REI imported into the United States.
Vibrum sold hiking boots and of course, everybody knows Vibrum for making famous for proprietary
soleing materials.
The Vitale Bramani was friends with Pirelli, and anyway, to make a long story short, they
dominate the shoe-soling business.
Well, they'd never manufactured a shoe.
Grandson is a yachts guy and barefooting on a boat is actually one of the better -- Any
time you're barefoot you have significantly better balance, I don't know if you've noticed
that, but that's part of the role proprioception plays for you, too.
And he got this guy and he spent three years.
I can't imagine any other company doing this, three years of his own, basically time and
money, hired this guy who had already started developing this shoe, and came out with this
shoe, the Five Fingers.
So I saw that, and I went whoa.
And I immediately got in touch with the Vibrum USA, and I got a phone call one day and it
was the president of Vibrum.
I didn't know it when phone call started.
And then I said, 'Hey, I really think that you should send me some of those shoes, and
I'm going to test those for you, and I'll get some other people to test them because
I'm Barefoot Ted and I run marathons barefoot, and I'll be able to tell you if that shoe
is actually a barefoot shoe.'
And the guy's like, 'Hold on, you're planning on running a marathon in these shoes?'
And I was like 'yeah', and he went on to tell me how he was a 2:25 marathoner, which is
a very good marathon time, probably around world class time, he did it.
And he said, 'I just really don't know about this'.
And I said, 'Well, why don't you send them to me and I'll tell you.'
So they sent me a pair and lucky for me, and lucky for them I would say, couple weeks later,
I was getting ready to make my first trip down into the Copper Canyon to run in essentially
the first inaugural Copper Canyon Ultra-marathon.
And I was going to be going down there with Christopher McDougall, who happens to the
writer of that book, and if you've read the book 'Born to Run', what I'm going to be telling
you from this point forward is essentially the story of the book.
So I get my Five Fingers, and I indeed wore them and I was friggin' blown away.
They were allowing me to be able to stay in this relaxed place that I'm so convinced is
very important to remain in as long as possible, and still run on -- there's plenty of places
where it's not comfortable to run barefoot.
And there's plenty of situations where it could be not so safe.
So this shoe was like, immediately, I was like this is the answer.
So I took that shoe, it was the early version before they started making some of the different
things they have now.
And I find myself down in the Copper Canyon of Mexico running this 50 mile race with these
incredible athletes, probably the greatest long distance runners in the world today who
happened to run in these kind of shoes here.
That's a thick version of it.
And McDougall was recording this entire trip.
He was -- he had this book in mind, planned, didn't really have anything to do with barefoot
running at the time.
And so that experience ended up becoming a life-transforming experience.
Meeting the Rarámuri, the Tarahumara people, running with some of the greatest runners
in the world, being part of a great story.
And actually getting a chance to have lots and lots of other people sort of start to
make the same kind of transition that I have, made me realize it was a goal that I had at
the very beginning.
Right, early on, after -- particularly after I qualified for Boston and realized I could
keep running like this, the first thing I started thinking and the Five Finger shoe
ended up becoming the answer, I realized that there was no way in hell that this barefoot
running was ever going to become a fad or a hit in the United States unless there
was a product.
I knew there's just no way.
You tell people, you got -- hey, it's free.
It's free.
It's like, okay, man.
Right on.
It's like as soon as -- we are so trained to like, you know, we purchase a solution.
We got to have a purchasable solution.
So I actually have a blog entry called Vibrum Five Fingers, Paradigm Shifting Trojan Horse,
and that's exactly how I see it.
In other words, if you can get people to essentially buy something that is a -- it has no padding.
It essentially fits your foot like a glove.
It has no arch support.
It has no -- anything other than let's say a thicker skin.
And, by the way, the skin on the bottom of my feet is not a hard, calloused, unfeeling
That's a shoe.
The skin on me feet is a supple, pliable, multi-layered feeling, living material.
And indeed, I would go so far people think, 'Oh man, don't you want to get into technology?
Technology or something isn't there something better?'
How about a self-healing, self-nourishing gets stronger and smarter with use material,
has a direct interface with my brain, and that -- and even better, all I have to do
is eat good food to grow it.
I mean, come on, give me a break.
It makes a lot of sense when I'm at the farmers' market and I'm getting ready to buy a tomato,
that's like 3 or 4 bucks, it's like but it's going to be my shoe. [audience laughs]
It changes the whole -- and in reality, when you really think about it you're foot is ike
I mean you've got cells building themselves, it's there -- it's on and on.
It's so fascinating.
And indeed, when you start even thinking about it, look at all the martial arts, first thing
you do, you take off your shoes.
You want to be a gymnast, you want to be good at balancing, you take off your shoes.
You want to do a lot of spiritual arts, take off your shoes.
The idea of being connected and being part of your body and being present, all of these
things come with the package.
And it's just such an incredible journey.
So, got to have a -- something to buy.
And there was that shoe.
And I knew, whoa, people are going to get that.
And there're going to be able because ultimately, let's face it.
I think probably the most incredibly, apart from the fact of having overly sensitive feet
at first, many people do because essentially we've been, essentially wearing earplugs and
earmuffs our whole life and wearing those if something loud comes in, if you have earplugs
and earmuffs on and something loud comes in, you've got a emergency situation on your hands.
You take your earplugs and your earmuffs off, socks and shoes, and suddenly, you're getting
what seems like a lot of emergency signal.
And at first, I think it's the other analogy is sort of like going to a massage therapist
and you're very tight, and they start working on you.
And you're like, lady or guy, whatever, you know, that's -- and then oh, oh.
And then pretty soon it's like, 'Damn, that feels good.'
Well I think there's very much the correlation, taking the earplugs, earmuffs off, and allowing
the foot to sort of reawaken, reconnect to the job that's it's been doing for who knows
how long now but certainly eons and getting re-in-touch with your own body.
I would tell you from my own experience and what I've seen from hundreds and, at this
point, thousands of other people it's a worthwhile journey, doesn't cost too much.
But that's not the only problem.
The psychological difficulty of being in public or running and doing any of these things that
society tells that's not right.
It's subversive.
You're running barefoot, there's something wrong with you.
It just doesn't fit the mold of what you should be doing.
You're putting yourself at danger.
That's the common assumption.
You certainly don't have all the social markers of being affluent, where's your brand?
You're dirty.
People -- I don't know how many people have bothered, but if you want to find a good place
to grow microbes just give me a hot, warm, moist dark place, let's add periodically,
some moisture and some dead skin cells.
For the hell of it, let's wrap it in sort of a tox material made somewhere else by people
who don't like what they're doing.
But go ahead and do a microbe, do a little sampling of that and see what see what you
can grow in a Petri dish.
Now go out to let's say someplace where there's sunlight and air and hard surfaces for example.
And let's find what we can find there.
Oh, but what if you step on a nail, a rock, glass, dog poop, the whole list of other possibilities.
And accidents will happen.
I'm sure that it does.
In my long history now as a barefooter, well, there was this incredible other set of gadgets
that I inherited from my ancestors, eyeballs and a brain.
And it's amazing how a coordinated use of all those things in real time allows me to
not step on the dog poop or not step on the various things that are out there.
And then ultimately, and this is the real -- this is the thing that I think makes my
job as a coach really the only thing I do, the only thing I'm willing to teach at this
point is I do an introduction to barefoot running.
One time, you're done.
I don't really think I can share it much more.
And the rest is sort of self-experimentation, but there are some little hints that you need
to pick up on, and it has to do with about the way -- instead of being the plodding kind
of mover, what indigenous people used to call us cow walkers as opposed to fox walking or
what I call robot.
When you learn how to move nimbly, with a much quicker cadence and a much gentler landing,
suddenly some of the things that you're thinking that if you stepped on how horrible it would
be, when you're dealing with a living, feeling material, you would be surprised.
It doesn't want to mash down on things that don't feel comfortable, and getting into this
sort of place where you're moving very quickly and nimbly over the ground, you start to land
on something that doesn't feel very comfortable -- hot, holey, sharp, whatever -- you're
on to your next footfall.
So ultimately, a style of movement also plays into how to be able to move in such a way
that you can do well with what you've already been given.
So the Five Fingers are selling like hot cakes.
The first question I had for the president after I tried them and knew that they were
going to be good was, is this a stock company?
And it wasn't.
So sadly, I'm not a millionaire at this point because of sales of Five Fingers.
But I believe that I would have been to some degree because at this point last year, they
planned on doubling their business in the middle of a recession.
And I think the numeral five before the multiplication symbol would have been still too small.
And they're getting ready to launch a whole bunch of new shoes in April.
And furthermore, the bandwagon hasn't stopped with them.
They have a patent on their little design there, smart them, and a pretty smart CEO.
But you're going to see that minimalism and minimal shoes will become the rage because
more and more people are going to basically succumb to the reasoning that I just sort
of shared with you.
I hope it makes some sense.
And I think with that, I will stop and take some questions.
>> Um, I have read a little bit from that book, so it's a very nicely
written book.
I would like to ask, the book is talking about people that had nothing to do with running
And then within a very short time, like one year or two years, they developed into these
world class athletes that are able to run hundreds of miles literally.
So how does that work?
What is that gives them that ability that they didn't know before?
>>TED McDONALD: Well, I think you characterized the book a little bit differently.
There aren't -- there are not a lot of people in that book -- the only person that might
fit the category or the person that you just described would be me in the book.
But there are -- most of the other characters in that book were not like beginning out
-- beginners or just starting this journey.
So speaking for myself, and as that probably may be the character you're referring to,
the question is -- can other people do this essentially?
Is this -- is this something that I could do?
Maybe is that -- does that simplify it?
>> Maybe that would be the second part of the question.
So my discovery, my personal discovery, I am a person that did just what you described
went from essentially not running much, very consistently for very long, to spending a
lot of time trying to find a solution to running in a way that I can do it safely and comfortably
to realizing that this was an -- was working for me.
By the way, before I continue on this, I'm not dogmatically a barefoot runner, nor am
I -- matter of fact the only thing I'm dogmatically dogmatic about is being not dogmatic.
So ultimately, I am part of getting the story of barefooting and – I really wanted to
see it at least become part of the palette of choices of mainstream America.
But when I started out it wasn't a choice.
You couldn't say I'm going to be a minimalist runner or a barefoot runner it would be like
dude that's wrong, you can't do that.
So what I think McDougall says in the book and I agree with and what I think the science
backs up and I agree with, is that this capacity to run is a fundamental human capacity, and
that the foot is not a broken appendage.
This is not something that we just accidentally dragged into the future.
It's there because it's incredible.
It's -- it's one of the things Michelangelo gets off on, he looks at the anatomy of a
foot and he was like whoa.
It's so amazing.
It's such an amazing tool and yet we have a whole generation of people who have assumed
that their foot was something broken.
That you know, in some cases, you'd also assume if we could cut it off at birth that would
be better but since that's barbaric, let's just cast and protect and do everything we
can to make it not get injured.
And it's that attitude that we had something that wasn't viable, that is wrong.
It's -- it's kind of it's purely a psychological thing.
It's not true.
The foot is -- if incrementally developed -- some people never -- I like to often talk
about the foot and learning how to barefoot like a language.
And some people, I had a client the other day, 64-year old guy had never been outside
in his life -- he was unfortunately affluent when he was growing up and his parents didn't
want him to be barefoot like all the other kids who were having fun.
He had to wear his shoes.
It was like oh my God.
But nonetheless, being like a language some people are starting out with just learning
the alphabet.
They may have never been barefoot in their life, let's say.
That's the worst case scenario.
Other people were barefoot as kids.
They might have been doing barefoot sports.
Surfing is a good one, that's what I was into, and skateboarding and other things.
They've may have just re-continued barefooting for various reasons, going, living in a culture
that allowed that to happen.
Their movement into being able to run barefoot or minimally is, obviously, the progress is
much greater.
The similarity is that regardless, an incremental develop of this capacity, rather than being
driven by the ego and numbers and how fast and just everything about performance and
how -- if you really get into it as orchard growing rather than as a purchase solution,
and sort of regrow your body in a sense, because that's what you're doing.
You're reawakening in some cases something that's been in a cast its entire life.
What my personal experience and looking at having this forum and knowing about hundreds
and thousands of other people who have done the same that incremental development of this
potentiality in most almost all human beings, I would say, unless they have some significant
trouble, will develop and will come about and will be perfected.
You can imagine it's quite a satisfying thing to realize you don't need anything in order
to do the one thing that we are preeminent in the world at doing.
>>TED McDONALD: Damn, I talk a lot, don't I?
>> Hi.
I know you mentioned this a couple of times, but what if you have a flat foot, and it's
painful to walk, is it still -- is it too late for those people or can we still try
something like this?
>>TED McDONALD: Well, that's a great question.
Since I didn't have flat feet, I didn't know the answer to that but I can tell you based
on reading a lot of experiences from a lot of other people, it's sort of like some people
have super high, stiff arches, some people have flat feet, and it used to be that flat
feet, by the way, would keep you out of the military in the United States, not anymore.
So if you were hoping -- hopefully we won't even have to think that way.
Maybe that's a -- that would be the better way.
But it turns out with people with the flat feet -- imagine a foot that has not developed
any strength yet.
And the modality and maybe it's still this case, it seems that the typical podiatrist
modality of taking care of almost every foot condition is to stabilize and/or stop movement.
Let's immobilize this thing.
Well, I think that -- and there are, believe me, on the cutting edge of all of this stuff,
this kind of activity won't -- the future will not hold this.
I know one lady in -- I'm not even going to say the name -- who is doing some research
on this topic, she's already running barefoot.
She doesn't -- but she doesn't recommend this to any of her clients yet because the research
is not done yet.
But the people with flat feet start developing the strength in their feet, and it's incremental.
This is like everything.
It's an incremental progress.
They begin to develop, as their foot develops a full range of motion and starts developing
musculature and getting used to -- they start developing some kind of like arch.
I mean, there's a lot of cases if you check out my Google group, if you just type in "minimalist
runner" it will come up, and maybe do a search in there, and you'll see there's -- this topic's
come up a lot.
So I was -- at first I was intrigued because I started to think oh, my foot is getting
longer and wider.
I'm like okay.
Then somebody else, oh, my foot's getting shorter and wider.
And I'm like, okay.
What's going on here?
And then a physical therapist was explaining to me so if I have a very, very tight foot
arch, and I start giving it full range of motion and allowing it to develop, it kind
of stretches out and starts to relax a little bit and sort of develops that way.
If I have a very, very flat foot, and I start sort of developing my foot, it sort of shrinks
a little bit.
So all these different potentials are there.
I think that it might be worthwhile if you're concerned about safety and whatnot, try to
search out and see -- and I think there are some in Seattle, podiatrists who's along these
Of course, Americans have the most unhealthy -- I think the research shows that we have
like the most foot problems per any population in the world today but anyway.
We've also got the greatest number of choices, so.
Anybody else?
>> I think I saw in your site you were looking at doing an Iron Man or trying to get sponsorship
for an Iron Man and ride the ride on an 1890s full Penny-farthing cycle.
What's the logic behind that?
>>TED McDONALD: Actually McDougall mentions that in the book, too.
I've got this -- before I became a barefoot runner and this sort of proves that the psychological
block for being a barefoot runner or minimalist runner before was basically can you handle
being "other"?
And my little sport before that was I learned how to ride these high-wheeled bicycles and
became really good at it actually.
There's a race at Stanford University every year that I've won once that I think it's
been going on and off since 1891, down the square, riding these high-wheelers, and I
got really good at it.
And then 1890 was the year I want to do an Iron Man, as if it were that year because
1890 is the last year of the Penny-farthing, the high-wheeled bicycle actually known as
an ordinary bicycle as opposed to a safety bicycle.
Because Dunlop developed pneumatic tires in 1899.
So I got really intrigued by Victorian athletes, their capacities, and it turns out around
that era you had a lot of interesting things going on.
The bicycle was -- that bicycle, the ordinary bicycle, was the first human-powered machine
that we all could own essentially.
And if -- most people have never ridden a high-wheeled bicycle, but they're an extraordinary
vehicle and if we lived on a planet without an atmosphere, it would be the most efficient
bicycle to ride because you're directly driving -- you're, you are -- there are no mechanical
devices, you are there driving the wheel.
Unfortunately, air and the problem of air, wind resistance, doesn't make that as fast
as it could be.
But so what would an athlete of 1890 do?
Indeed it turns out that I have the capacity, and therefore I think it would be a educational
thing because the bicycle itself is such an important thing.
We wouldn't be here today.
I mean, out of the popularity of the bicycle and the flows of capital that started because
of it, and particularly when it became male and female started being able to ride in 1891
when the pneumatic tire came out and women could ride a bike.
And they had pantaloons.
And actually, one of the early feminist movement is the capacity to ride -- wear pants and
ride a bicycle.
And then of course, all that capital for the ten years up to there leading to well, let's
face it, the Wright brothers were bicycle mechanics.
The Ford -- his first big capital was from a bicycle racer.
I mean, without all of that, we wouldn't be where we are today.
However, going back to a world where human-powered stuff, and we eat our fuel, that's my favorite
The idea of eating your own fuel and locomoting your own vehicles, your two feet being the
most sophisticated ones you'll ever own, that's kind of the idea there.
So it's educational and fun.
I think it would be cool to do, and I'm ready to do it.
I just haven't found the good sponsor yet.
Unfortunately, the ideal sponsor is companies that started in 1890, and there are some,
sadly, one of them is called Coca Cola.
I don't think I would want to be -- I don't know if I want to be a sugar water salesman.
But Idaho, the Coeur d'Alene Iron Man, Idaho became a state in 1890.
So if anybody's got some interesting ideas of who we can -- I'll cut you in a deal.
>>TED McDONALD: Okay, one more question.
>> I just wanted to ask about any research or articles or literature that you've done,
if you could explain like how barefoot running is more beneficial?
Or how it takes away the pain that a lot of us get because we wear the thick-soled shoes.
Like what is the difference and why, like, why did you personally -- why do you think
that you experience less pain while running barefoot?
>>TED McDONALD: Well, there are -- first of all, just to start that off -- not everybody,
one of the things I like to say to people if it's not broken, don't fix it.
There's plenty of people in this room I imagine -- I met one earlier today, and I know a
lot of others who are for one reason or another, by the way, I found older runners to be more
likely to be in this position who have been around for awhile and actually learned how
to run well before the really gargantuan stuff came around.
But there are a lot of studies, I mean,
what there aren't a lot of right yet, and I think there's going to have to be more
-- there aren't a lot of coaches or there's not a lot of how-to books.
There's tons in the works.
I mean, I've been, today, I've been answering e-mails almost every day, I'm getting some
kind of request to write a forum or a forward to a book and to support or sponsor this minimal
I've never had more shoes in my life.
Barefoot Ted, it's just like, it's ridiculous.
I mean, it's pathetic.
I mean, it's over the top.
But I've found some really interesting shoes out there, too.
Like one millimeter thin-soled shoes made by -- with Kevlar and rubber so you can't
get a puncture wound.
But at this point, if you live around here, you might consider coming and taking a barefoot,
introduction to barefoot running class from me.
I do those.
I think there has been a lot -- Runner's World had a lot of stuff about this, and kind the
debate about barefooting and shoes.
I think if you do just a quick little, quick perusal on the Internet you'll find that there's
more -- I could talk for days there's just so much stuff going on.
But it's definitely -- there's definitely resources out there.
And there's no -- on the minimalist group, Google group I have, there is the kind of,
the first the tagged or the -- or the first forum story there is sort of my advice.
I recommend reading that.
It's very short.
And it at least gives you some basics to watch out for.
So with that I guess thank you very much.