Set Your Feet Free

Ok, a lot of you asked about my “weird” “strange” “ugly” “funky” shoes when I blogged about running the half-marathon with Leah, Lucy, Aaron and friends back in April. Here’s the inside scoop on running “barefoot.” You can also see this article posted on

Set Your Feet Free

I started running “barefoot” last October after reading the book “Born To Run” by journalist and ultra-marathon runner Christopher McDougall. The book is a great read and I was a fan after reading it but THEN I sent Chris some questions and he actually wrote me back, so now I’m a fan for life! As I was saying… in the book he talks about, among many interesting things, a study that showed the correlation between the price of your running shoes and injuries is this— the more expensive the shoe the higher rate of injury. This concerned me because I have been running in high-end shoes for years now. My shoes have a price tag of $174.00. I have survived… but my last few races I did say, “Hello” to my left knee and noticed my achilles was acting up. I wondered if my racing days were coming to a quick close. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to leave the pricey shoes in my closet and pick up a pair of $80 Vibram FiveFingers.

I was thrilled to see Suzie Cooney’s Athleta Chi article, “Born Free: Barefoot Running” because Suzie did a great job of explaining the mechanics behind running barefoot and she shared credible references. I am more of the grab a pair, put them on and go kind of girl. I did just that.

I put on my Vibram FiveFingers in October. I knew I wasn’t supposed to just take off running vast mileage so I wore the shoes around town and to the gym, at the airport and the grocery store.

In December I was corralled waiting for the start of the Las Vegas Rock & Roll Half-Marathon and I noticed a man wearing FiveFingers! I wanted to ask him about them and how he got up to training for his half marathon in them, but I didn’t say anything to him. (Silly me) I was running in my high-end shoes because I knew that I hadn’t built up enough “barefoot” miles.

In April I ran the 2010 Salt Lake City Half-Marathon “barefoot.” I was running the race with my husband, Aaron, my thirteen-year-old daughter Leah, while pushing my ten-year-old daughter Lucy in a jog stroller and that combination took most of my attention.

It was only around mile 10 that I even remembered that I was running the race “barefoot” and smiled that something that had seemed like such a big deal only four months back had almost gone unnoticed.

Here is how I conditioned my feet for the race.

Like I said, I wore my Five Fingers around town and to the gym for my workouts. I was doing 20 minutes of cardio three days a week. My feet held up great.

When you start wearing them, you will notice changes in your gait. You just can’t comfortably run heel-to-toe in a shoe that was not created to force that movement. Think about a child, they don’t run heel-to-toe. Take off your shoes and sprint on the grass. You probably won’t run heel-to-toe either. Your feet will stretch and feel the ground beneath them. Your toes will spread out and actively participate in your run.

Get comfortable with your new gait and then start adding time and miles. One of the first things I noticed was that my calves hit a new burn level. Living in Utah, I waited until enough snow had melted before I transitioned my training from the treadmill to the streets, my calves were on fire again. I run “barefoot” in the rain, but the snow is just too cold. Running in the rain is great especially when you circle back around to look at your cute footprints.

Listen to your body and listen to your feet. If your feet are slapping the ground and making a lot of noise, you might be tired. Slow down or walk. I love running in the grass and on trails and I think it’s kinder and easier on your feet. If you think about it concrete and pavement weren’t created with barefoot running in mind… at all.

For snowy days I have picked up a pair of Nike Free 5.0. These shoes are Nike’s answer to the minimalist’s shoe.

The following is the three-day per week half-marathon training I followed while also conditioning my feet for the “barefoot” run. This is a great beginner half-marathon training program modified by our trainer Kasey Payzant. This is the schedule she uses to train children and teens and the rest of us who don’t have the time to get four runs in each week. If you are not yet up to running 3 miles you can add 2-3 weeks to the top of this training. You may want to start with 1 mile, 1 mile, 2 miles the first week. Followed by 1.5 miles, 1.5 miles, 2 miles the next week and continue with 2 miles, 2 miles, 3 miles the following week, then follow the program below. If you are training for your first half-marathon, barefoot or soled, choose your race and get your calendar out. Work backwards from the race day week by week. You do not want to finish your training without a race to run. Similarly, you probably wont finish your training if you haven’t actually registered for your half-marathon. Don’t give yourself an out.

Barefoot Running: running with nothing on your feet.
“Barefoot” Running: running with minimal foot protection.

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About Rachel Coleman

The opinions and late night musings published on this blog are Rachel de Azevedo Coleman's alone, and are not ever intended to represent the opinions and sentiments of any organization or product that Rachel is, was, or will be associated with. Rachel Coleman is the creator and Emmy-nominated host of Signing Time!, the children's American Sign Language vocabulary building series. She is also the creator and host of Baby Signing Time, Rachel & the TreeSchoolers, and Rachel & Me. Rachel now serves as the Executive Director of the American Society for Deaf Children, a 501c3 nonprofit established in 1967 by parents of deaf children. ASDC is the American Sign Language organization for families who are raising deaf children. Motivated by her child, Leah's deafness, Rachel has spent the last 18 years creating ASL products to help bridge the communication barrier between hearing and signing communities. In 2006 Rachel founded the Signing Time Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to putting communication in the hands of all children of all abilities. In 2014, the Signing Time Foundation launched a 50-Lesson online ASL curriculum called "Sign It: ASL Made Easy" that is available free-of-charge to families with deaf or hard of hearing children ages 36 months and under. Apply at For those who do not qualify to receive Sign It ASL for free, they can find it for purchase at very reasonable rates on Rachel and her husband, Aaron, live in Salt Lake City Utah. They are parents to Leah who was born profoundly deaf, and is now a senior in college at NTID/RIT in Rochester, NY. They are also parents to Lucy who has spina bifida and cerebral palsy, and recently graduated high school. In 2010 the Colemans were joyfully reunited with Rachel's daughter Laura. Rachel is proud to be Laura's birth mom. Laura was placed for adoption as an infant in 1992 when Rachel was 17 years-old.

22 thoughts on “Set Your Feet Free

  1. Rachel, I recently bought a pair of these! I’m over-thinking it, and haven’t started yet, but they’re there! LOL This is a little silly, but seeing you wear them is what made me seriously consider buying them in the first place. It seemed like such a strange trend, but seeing that someone normal wore them made me do my research. Quite convincing! I am excited to begin.

  2. Not a runner, but just wanted to thank you for coming out to our Salt Lake Buddy Walk… and thanks for donating a few of your Signing Time DVD’s – my little guy won them in the raffle (and they were ones we didn’t already have) – huge thanks!!!

    • Sure thing it was a beautiful day! Congrats on winning the raffle, we partnered with the National DS Buddy walk and offered a free gift set to EVERY Buddy Walk in the country for their auctions and raffles

  3. I have the new Vibram’s FiveFingers Bikila (new style especially for running) I was going to get the Sprint until I saw they came out with the “running” one. I’ve been “Barefooting” it in these things since early this year and I’m actually a pretty new runner. So far, I’ve run two 5k’s in them as well as my usual morning run/power walk. I love them and have had no problems. It makes sense that they are designed for how your foot naturally wants to run and being a person who hates shoes I love that they feel like almost nothing. The toe thing does not bother me at all. Just thought I’d share! Also, for those interested, beware of the counterfeits out there, I hear they are having a real problem with this. (I ordered mine from REI.)

    • My brother just picked those up too. I always recommend trying them on first in real life:) I bought mine at a running store. They are not the only ones having trouble with counterfeits… our entire Signing Time library has been pirated and mass produced in China:( If you buy it from any site other than you may be funding illegal activity (sigh) even on craigslist, ebay and

  4. You did the Rock ‘n Roll half-marathon in Vegas last year? I’m training with Team Challenge for the Rock ‘n Roll this year… my first half-marathon.

    Also wanted to note, that I am very happy to see Signing Time back on PBS here in Vegas.

    • The Las Vegas course is nice and flat but man it seemed like it went on and on and on (at least visually) It was really cold last year too, I wasn’t expecting that.

      I am ALSO thrilled that Signing Time is back on PBS in Vegas. Be sure to let Vegas PBS know how happy you are about it, it was their choice to air it and I am sure they would love to hear thanks from their viewers.

  5. I am a chiropractor and while I like the idea I am concerned about people making the switch. I am super impressed by how you eased your way into them. Great job! People in my area have had just as many if not more issues from making the switch too quickly. You’re a great success story!

    • Understandable! I have had friends who put on Vibrams and ran on the treadmill for a whopping five minutes and could barely walk the following day. I am serious when I say take it slow and if you haven’t already been super active, then take it even slower!

  6. Rachel-
    I must confess that I am probably your newest and biggest “fan.” 🙂 My 21-month-old daughter Brooklyn was born with L4 SB (we were denied the MOMS study…). As of right now, she is completely nonverbal, and no one really understands why. Thus, you enter my family’s living room daily! Brooklyn is THRIVING with the signing… up to using about 40 words on her own now! She absolutley loves it, and I am learning as much as I can as fast as I can. Hardest part is that she uses her hands to walk with her walker….. So she’ll sit, sign to me, then stand back up. 🙂 But it works! Anyways….
    I am inspired by your “Strong Enough” blog, and my lazy rear end is hitting the gym!! After 4 foot surgeries in 6 years, not sure when I’ll be ready for “barefoot”… but I’m gonna check it out! My surgeon may say it is a terrific idea, who knows??!! But again, THANK YOU for being such an inspiration to my family, myself, and so many others!

    • Hi Jodi!! It’s nice to meet my newest and biggest fan! Lucy also as L4 SB, but you may already know that. Lucy didn’t speak or sign until she was 2. Actually she signed at 2 and started VERY quietly speaking at 3. I am glad that you found us and hopefully we will be a great resource for you and our family. Best of luck.

      • Thanks for the encouragement! Yes, I have read up on both your beautiful ladies… SO encouraged by all they’ve accomplished, but of course I gravitate to sweet Lucy. 🙂 Sounds like our girls have alot in common, even if Vanderbilt wouldn’t take us two years ago! With Brooklyn’s apraxia issues, signing has become the BEST thing EVER in our house! Even 4 yr old big sister is running with it! So, thanks again. Gonna hit up your site to do some Christmas shopping…. !

        So jealous of Las Vegas… why can’t Houston put SigningTime back on PBS?!?! Boo.

  7. thank you so much for the barefoot review. i’ve been eyeing those shoes since i read an article in time magazine about them. it’s good to know i have to ease into it, otherwise, i would have been one of those dying on the treadmill after 5 minutes. [i’m prone enough to dying after 5 minutes as it is.] and thank you for the 3-day/week schedule. i’m not doing great at hitting all 4 of my 4-day/week schedule. i definitely needed some assistance. thanks!

    ps is that hard to jump from 10 miles to 13 the next week or is it that once you get to a certain point, you almost don’t notice the extra miles? i’m only to the point of doing 2/2/3 this week

  8. Hi Rachel,

    I recently got my Vibrams too…(the KSO model) and read Born to Run…I can tell you I’ve eliminated knee pain, and have dramatically changed my form when running. I think the book is a must read, and everyone should try some ‘barefoot’ running..I don’t think everyone will be able to adapt to it, but I think there is a vast majority of people that are using over engineered shoes…

    BTW, thought you might like to see how our 18 month old has offered her modern dance routine to your theme song…please ignore the goofus off to the side…

  9. i am a hater of shoes. if i don’t have to wear them, i don’t, and if i can get away with it, i just wear flip-flops. i used to run in high school for the pleasure of it, but quit in college. i had always preferred running barefoot to shod, and found that i ran more before becoming fatigued when barefoot. my only problems were things like stickers and the occasional bits of glass or nail.

    i recently decided to start running again, and i found the vibrams! a true dream come true! i was worried a bit about fit, due to one of my toes having a weird curl (an underlapping toe), but the fabric is quite stretchy! when i got my new shoes, i wore them around the house a lot (i was scared to wear them outside or put any signs of wear in case i realized they were the wrong size) and after a bit found the perfect fit! i then started to run (ok jog) again. since i spend my entire day barefoot (not including my weekly trips to places i have to be shod) i had no need to acclimate myself to running without fancy running shoes. i was so surprised to feel the grass between my toes with these on! a HUGE plus for me! and my son loves our new routine of an afternoon jog followed by some baby signing time (he is addicted to signing dog lol).

    i am glad that you also enjoy running “barefoot”! i think it’s quite a treat. i hope to work myself back up so i can do a half-marathon or two pretty soon!

  10. Rachel-

    I found this website after a guest at our house brought over her Baby Signing Time dvds. Now the three babies spend an hour each morning staring, entranced, as your video play. At first I didn’t even know they were watching the videos, I just noticed that my twins were signing more frequently and expressing more complicated thoughts. So, that’s all to say that within a month, my kids have expanded their vocabularies greatly and have less frustration in expressing their desires.

    They still scream at me, though.

    I chose this post to comment on because, hey, Five Fingers! I trained for and ran my first 5k, half marathon and full marathon in five fingers this year. It’s far, far easier for me than trying to hoof it in more “standard” running shoes. Of course, it takes a lot of getting used to.

  11. Hi Rachel,

    I started walking barefoot because of a good friend of mine introduced me into this magical tendency on finding connection with mother Earth.Hike barefeet on the mountains was an experience I will never forget and specially on red rocks in Southern Utah.
    In The last few weeks I decided to take this “connection” to another level. I decided to run Barefoot,although at the beginning I was doing it just on grass or with socks at the gym. Now I run shoe less on the streets ( if there is not much snow out there):-)
    I’ve never participated in a Marathon before but this year I am going to do it , the thing is , I am seriously considering on do it barefoot. And here it comes my question..
    Running up hill is easy and also comforting in a certain way, the thing is downhill, I feel like I am going very slow, I time myself and I take longer going downhill than uphill.. is that normal?

    Thanks for this site, I am glad there many people running barefoot and Knowing that I won’t be the only one shoe-less in the SLC Marathon.

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