Going Barefoot

ponderings of a Nelipot

I’ve always thought of shoes a little differently than most Americans. I think of shoes kinda like I think of couches: they’re something to sink into at the end of the day, when you’re tired and need a break. They are not something you should use all the time.

The problem with couches is that they promote bad habits. If you’re slumped over in a couch all day then you’re going to ruin your spine. And believe me, I’m a programmer, I’ve seen the “Video Gamer’s Spine” many times. It isn’t pretty.

Obviously a little bit of couch time is okay—even beneficial—but it doesn’t take long for it to turn ugly. In the same way, if your feet and leg are supported all day by shoes, you’re going to ruin your feet and legs.

The problem with shoes

I am, and always have been, a nelipot. A nelipot is simply someone who goes barefoot, which is a very good description of me. I’m also a runner, and those combined powers make me a barefoot runner.

I’ve never been able to understand the runners that buy all sorts of equipment for their running. Running seems so basic, mankind has been running for as long as we’ve been around. It seems to me that when it comes to something so human, simpler is better.

The simpler you can make something, the better.

I’ve been a runner for almost a decade now. When I was a young pup and started running I was afraid to run barefoot; I had heard plenty of horror stories about how barefoot running will “ruin your arch” or “destroy your knees” or something like that. So I grabbed the shoes that I had—a pair of thick soled tennis shoes—and ran in those.

That was a mistake.

It didn’t take me long before I twisted both of my ankles. Fortunately I was a 60lb pipsqueak, so I didn’t really do any serious damage, but it was annoying and painful. I learned something from a few months of running with those: you can’t just run in whatever you want. And if your running shoes are thick soled you better have really tough ankles.

Finding a better way

It didn’t take many days of limping around on a twisted ankle to realize something: my ankle didn’t hurt as much when I wasn’t wearing shoes. So despite the horror stories I heard about barefoot running, I decided to give it a try.

And that was the last of my ankle problems. Seriously, I’ve never had a problem with my ankle since, despite putting it through some pretty rough times. Sure I’ve twisted my ankle while running barefoot, but it isn’t a big deal. It hurts for a few seconds, but it’s never been severe enough to stop my running, I just keep going.

Barefoot injuries

There are downsides to running barefoot though, it can get pretty ugly. I’ve sliced toes open and limped home before. I’ve embedded thorns in my feet, I’ve walked through fields of sand burrs, I’ve torn toenails off.

Hurting your feet isn’t a particularly pleasant experience. Protecting your feet with shoes or boots is so much easier, it takes a lot of commitment to walk through the pain when something pokes your foot.

But there’s a bright side: all of those injuries are superficial. They hurt for a little while, but every superficial injury that you receive toughens your feet a little more. People tend to think of superficial injuries as a bad thing, and I think that’s wrong. Superficial injuries are what protect you from serious internal injuries.

Barefooted kids

I think one of the great tragedies of our time is parents who don’t allow their kids to do things that could hurt them. Little kids need to learn from their actions, and a very good way to learn through actions is by experiencing pain.

Going barefoot is one of the easiest and safest ways to teach kids through pain. It doesn’t take them long to figure out that things with thorns hurt, and kids are (somewhat ironically) a lot more willing to stick with something even when it hurts, if you give them a chance.

So much of life is doing the right thing even when it’s painful, and nelipots know that barefooting teaches some very important life lessons through the pain it inflicts.


So! If you’ve never been a nelipot, don’t jump into it. If you want to try it, take it slow. It’ll take time for your feet to toughen up after years of relaxing on foot couches, be careful not to do yourself permanent harm.

But do experiment with it. Go shoeless every once in a while, see how you like it. Yes, it will hurt for a while. But if you’re anything like I am, the scratches are worth it.

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