Not many people run ultra marathons without shoes.

But Robert Shackelford just did. Three years ago he started experimenting with barefoot running and he’s never looked back. I asked him to share his experience.

ROBERT’S STORY

Why did I quit shoes for good? Frankly, shoes hurt.

I started running in 2004 and I was fraught with pain. I was told to run in stability shoes, which were heavy and kept giving me shin splints. It was so painful that I would literally have to call off a run, sit while the pain subsided, and then do a slow walk back to the car. It wasn’t fun.

But I fell in love with running and kept at it, ignoring the pain if I could. I was always told that pain and injuries are part of running and I completely bought into it. Black toenails were a badge of honor.

In 2007 I stumbled upon the websites of a couple of very interesting characters.  The first one was Barefoot Ted. I found it amazing that someone could run a marathon barefoot. Here I was dealing with pain and injuries while this guy was running marathons and beyond with a big ass smile on his face.

From Ted’s site, I found out about the amazing Ken Bob Saxton –  who had been running barefoot for ages. I wanted to see if I could run a race barefoot! And so I bought my first pair of VFFs, the Classics. I also bought some Nike Frees and started running in them as well, all the while following a marathon training program.

I soon started running barefoot. Back then I was taking yoga classes and would run a barefoot mile afterwards. My form was complete crap; I had no clue what I was doing, but it felt so liberating that I would ignore the bloody blisters. And this was my routine.

Then the broken bones came. In 2008 I ran my second marathon and felt a pop in my left foot on mile 18. I decided to ignore it and continue running, taking walk breaks when it became too painful. I finished in 4:07, a PR for me.

When I got home I was diagnosed with tissue damage and was told to continue running if I could. After a few months it wasn’t getting any better and I asked to see a specialist who diagnosed me with a broken second metatarsal. Down for the count.

By January of 2009 I was running again and decided I’d try out for the Marathon Maniacs. Training went well and on May 16th I ran the Windemere Marathon. The very next day I ran the Capitol City Marathon. That was a little painful, but I wasn’t done yet! Two weeks later I ran the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon and a month after that the Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon. I also broke the second metatarsal of my right foot. Cue long healing process. Immediately after the race I took off my shoes and tossed them in the garbage in disgust.

On the last day of 2009 I drove up North to meet Ken Bob Saxton and run a few miles with him. I was still in recovery mode but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to meet the barefoot guru.  It was then that I decided I would put the shoes away for good and become a barefoot runner.

I have broken this vow twice. The first time I was at the company gym and decided to hop on the treadmill to put in a few miles. I got about half a mile in and had to take them off. I felt so uncoordinated and my feet were sweating.

The second time was last weekend. I was given a pair of Terra Plana Evo shoes and was asked to try them out and see what I think. I decided to wear them for a 5k. I averaged about a 7:00 pace which was a PR for me, but I hated them. I was uncomfortable the entire time and couldn’t wait for the run to be over so I could get them off my feet. So I now have a once-worn $160 pair of shoes sitting in the trunk of my car.

So what have I accomplished after not wearing shoes for nine months?

Speed improvement – Previously I could never run at a pace faster than 8:30. If I tried really, really hard I could run a mile at 7:00 but I’d feel like throwing up afterwards. Now I can run comfortably at a 7:30 pace and often times find myself running faster than a 7:00 pace. I haven’t really tested myself on a mile but think I could throw down a sub 6:00.

Mileage improvement – For the first time in my life I have been able to put in a 200-mile month. In fact, I have done this for the past two months now. And I can consistently put in 50+ mile weeks of just casual running.

Speedy recovery times – The 5k I mentioned earlier? That was the day after running my first 50k. No longer is it unusual for me to run 20+ miles and then go out for a run the following day. Running barefoot forces you to change your form to one that does less damage to your body.

Health improvement – I am barefoot most of the time now. At work I wear VFF KSOs, but other than that I’m either barefoot or in sandals for the most part. I truly believe that grounding one self to the Earth is extremely healthy, both spiritually as well as physically.  It has been almost two years since I’ve had my last sniffle. And I don’t do flu shots either.

What would I tell someone if they were interested in barefoot running? Check back here tomorrow for my top five tips!