The motto of the Barefoot Runners Society is “Changing the running world one odd look at a time.”
Liberty Professor of Biology Daniel Howell would agree.
Howell, nicknamed the “Barefoot Professor” by students, has spent the last five years running without shoes and reaping the benefits.
“I’m not a fan of shoes,” Howell said. “If I was running with shoes on, I don’t think I could run at all.”
Howell is currently studying the effects of shoes on foot anatomy and the human gait.
He calls going barefoot a “miracle cure.”
“I call it my lesser gospel, and I’m pretty evangelistic about it,” Howell said.
Zach Rocco of the Naval Academy marathon team believes in Howell’s lesser gospel. One year ago Rocco got shin splints. A friend told him to start barefoot running. He did and his shins quit hurting.
“After every run, I barefoot run like 30 minutes,” Rocco said. “It cured my shin splints.”
Yet the American Podiatric Medical Association refuses to endorse barefoot running because there is not enough research to prove it is good for runners.
Howell finds the organization’s refusal ridiculous.
“(There is) zero, zero, zero research that says running shoes are good for you,” Howell said.
In July of 2010, he released a book that demonstrated this.
“The Barefoot Book: 50 Great Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes” outlined the negative effects of wearing shoes on the human body.
The book landed him a lot of media attention. The coverage began when the News & Advance ran an article on him and his book. Soon the news hit the Associated Press, and he was in the Washington Post. Next his name was on the Drudge report and Nov. 30, 2010, Howell found himself sitting in New York across from Sheryl Crow and Kathie Lee on the Today Show.
Howell is not alone in his support of barefooting. Five books, “Born to Run,” “The Barefoot Running Book,” “Barefoot Running,” “Barefoot Running Step by Step” and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Barefoot Running,” have all come out or are coming out between the summers of 2010-11.
Still, the odd looks are a reality and not only are they odd, sometimes they are even malicious.
“I get treated like a criminal,” Howell, who has been escorted from buildings and thrown off airplanes, said.
Even at Liberty, there is hostility toward kicking off your shoes.
On April 5, all resident assistants were instructed in an email to make the following announcement in hall meeting:
“Students, please remember that shoes must be worn in academic buildings at all times according to the Liberty Way Dress Code. Any student found in non-compliance will be subject to reprimands.”
Former president of the TOMS Shoes club at Liberty, Lauren Edwards said last year the club was not allowed to officially hold the annual One Day Without Shoes (ODWS) event to raise awareness for the people in the world who cannot afford shoes.
“We had to put out many disclaimers … I think that the disclaimers really scared many supporters away from demonstrating that day,” Edwards said.
Howell said the social barefoot boycott is unfounded.
According to Howell, fungal infections like athlete’s foot that are associated with poor sanitation are actually caused by shoes. He said that athlete’s foot is seven times more prevalent in men because of their tendency to wear primarily closed-toe shoes.
According to the American Dermatological Association, the best way to cure athlete’s foot is to go barefoot as much as possible.
“We have been literally brainwashed for four decades to believe we cannot live without shoes,” Howell said.
“I am really hoping this whole barefoot thing takes off in 2011,” Howell said. “There are lots of people realizing that shoes are not healthy.”
Howell will be heading up to New York in September for the second annual barefoot run. He is scheduled to be a speaker at the event.
“It’s really a who’s who, excluding me, of barefoot running,” Howell said.
Howell leads a small barefoot running group around campus on Tuesdays at 3:30 p.m. and Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m.
Howell’s blog can be found on the web at barefootprof.blogspot.com.