Give the rise and fall of the idea in a short span of time, it is difficult to predict a future for running barefoot or in minimalist footwear. Then,barefoot running was never a discovery and certainly not an innovation. It was happening always and it would continue to happen. However, the question is more about its relevance. While barefoot running may not be a fad anymore, there are still some reasons on why runners will and should consider running barefoot.
Increasing cost of shoes
Top among them is the increasing cost of shoes. Today, an average running shoe costs in the region of Rs. 10,000 (~US$120) and lasts no more than 500-800 Kilometres. Vishwanathan Jayaraman, a barefoot runner since 2012, said in an interview,
“The biggest cost for a runner is his shoes. I actually calculated, it works up to around ₹10/ km — more expensive than taking a cab.”
When a friend of mine questioned a shoe salesman about the expensive prices, he replied, “You are paying for the technology.” Then, running is a simple sport and the beauty of it is in the simplicity of it. Does it need such technology that creates inequality?. While minimalist footwear don’t come cheap either, they are certainly bound to last longer than the conventional shoes. You can wear it till the soles get worn out completely and possibly, even after that. Also, there is very little talk of “technology” giving rise to new versions and additional costs.
The other dimension to the cost factor is the rising inequality among shoes. Recent innovation by Nike has resulted in break-through performances in long distance running with most of the world records shattered. While most of the shoe makers will catch up with Nike, it still leaves a large section of runners behind. These shoes cost a lot more than other shoes (with possibly less life) and makes running an expensive sport. Prof. Ross Tucker has written extensively on this topic and the ethical implications for allowing such footwear.
While the issue affects the professional athletes more than amateurs, it is bound to have some trickling down effect like the costs spread across all the varieties of shoes and increase in their prices.
Impact on Environment
The impact of shoes on environment will certainly make a compelling argument to avoid it. In her book, Foot Work: What Your Shoes Are Doing to the World, Tancy E Hoskins provided some alarming details about the environmental impact of shoes.
Estimates by worldfootwear.com shows that 24.2 billion pairs of shoes were manufactured in 2018 alone and 90% of these shoes end up in landfill. Recycling of footwear is almost non-existent for various reasons including trivial ones like people don’t dispose shoes together or they get separated in collection process.
Most branded footwear recommends change of shoes as over-using the shoes leads to injuries. Hence, discarded running shoes have very little purpose outside running.
The final and the most compelling, yet not quantifiable, reason to go barefoot is the sheer simplicity of it. People love running because it is a simple activity to pursue and everyone runs to their ability. Running barefoot appeals when looked from that point of view. For frequent travellers, it is a pair of shoes less in their luggage. Innovations in shoes may not appeal beyond certain level. It will start make people question about the complexity of running shoes and the need to pay for them.
While barefoot running may not become a fad again, it is certainly going to be in vogue regardless of the innovations in shoes.