Barefoot Running With Ken Bob Saxton

Kelly discovered a barefoot running website, many years ago. When she showed it to me I thought the idea was crazy. Then I had a series of running related injuries: plantar fasciitis, and arthritis in the knee. In desperation (I’m addicted to running) I gave going barefoot a try. The plantar fasciitis went away. Knee pain was greatly, but not entirely, reduced.

Old habits are hard to give up. When you spend your whole life in shoes it’s difficult to adjust your running form. Thankfully, the proprietor of, Ken Bob Saxton, lives in Southern California and just so happens to give what he calls “play-fun-shops” at least once a month. Ken Bob doesn’t believe in charging people to teach them how to run, so the play-fun-shops are free (and fun).

His message is simple–listen to what the soles of your feet are telling you, relax and keep your knees bent as you run. It’s the knees bent part that was new to me. Ken Bob videotaped me running and then played it back in slow-motion. The video showed me running with straight knees, leading to heel striking. Heel striking leads to injuries.

The video above shows Ken Bob running with his distinctive bent-knee style (the music reflects his sense of humor). I gave the Keb Bob running style a try this Sunday and it was pretty amazing. I had less knee pain and I found myself booking along. It will take me some time to get used to, so I’m going to take it slow for a few weeks.

Bending the knee also, according to Ken Bob, applies to walking. I gave walking with a gently bent knee a try this morning too, and it seemed to help with the knee pain, particularly when going uphill.

I bought a copy of Ken Bob’s book Barefoot Running Step by Step which describes his ideas in detail and has a chapter of drills to get the hang of the method.

Ken Bob travels occasionally and offers funshops elsewhere in the country–watch his calendar to see if he’s coming your way. 

Even if you’re not a runner, the barefoot running debate is a profound one in terms of the way in which technological or economic innovations (the production and marketing of complex running and walking shoes for instance) can have unintended consequences. Two quotes in Ken Bob’s books neatly sum up this debate:

“I do think [barefoot running is] a fad. In fact, I don’t think it exists; no one in my universe in eastern Pennsylvania runs barefoot. In terms of minimalist shoes and Vibrams–yes, possibly a tectonic shift there. But in terms of running without shoes, I don’t see it.” – Amby Burfoot, editor of Runner’s World Magazine.

“If barefoot running is a fad, then it’s a 2 million-year-old fad. From the perspective of evolutionary biology, I can assure you that running in cushioned, high-heeled, motion control shoes is the real fad.” – Daniel Lieberman, Ph.D., Professor of human evolutionary biology, Harvard University.

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    • Not sure what you mean. Yes, the soles of your feet will toughen up. But it doesn’t have to be ugly/cracked/nasty looking. The feet of the most hardcore barefooters I’ve meet have been smooth–sort of polished looking.

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