One foot at a time | One sole at a time | One hell of a good time


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Inspired by "Born to Be Barefoot" by Christopher McDougall

Born to Be Barefoot
Article by McDougall
Download PDF here
Reading Christopher McDougall's recent article titled "Born to Be Barefoot" was a great pleasure.  His article succinctly confirms and validates for me the worthiness of the pursuit of personal understanding through self-experimentation and hints from the stories and traditions of our most ancient ancestors.

Christopher McDougall's book "Born to Run" has moved a lot of us to reexamine what it means to be human, what it means to locomote with two feet over the world.  He has reminded us that we are not broken by default and that some of our most basic primal capacities are awesome before the admixture of anything, that we embody some pretty impressive ancient technology worthy of remembering and rediscovering.

Testing the Original
Vibram FiveFingers
January 2006
Since 2004, I have been committed to rediscovering for myself the joy of running, the joy of primal movement, the joy of tuning into my own body's sophisticated and time-tested tools for survival and play.  That led me to the bare foot, but my investigation did not stop there.

I started becoming fascinated by the footwear of our ancient ancestors, footwear that has played a role in our species' ability to get to every nook and cranny of this planet on our own two feet.   I looked for modern versions of these most fundamental designs and in late 2005 hit pay dirt when I was among the first to recognize the original Vibram FiveFingers as the perfect shoe for human beings, the first modern shoe that achieved full expression of the most amazing footwear design ever...the foot itself. (see my blog article "Paradigm Shifting Trojan Horses - Vibram Five Fingers")

Tarahumara Huarache Sandals
Made by Manuel Luna in 2006
One thing the footwear of our ancient hunter-gathering ancestors share is an elegance of design, a functional simplicity based on an underlying assumption that the foot is just fine as it is and at best requires protection from the extremes of hot, sharp and cold.  Sandals and moccasins have played a role in our success from the very beginning. Go hither and thither on this planet and do some'll find fine examples of minimalist footwear everywhere.

It is no mistake that the Tarahumara Indians of Northern Mexico happen to be among the greatest long distance mountain runners on the planet.  They have remained true to a tradition of running and sandal making that goes back into our distant past.  Simple sandals have proven themselves through the natural selection of human experience and use. The simplest, most elegant solutions that work tend to rise to the top: sandals like the Tarahumara huarache and the traditional Japanese waraji and the San people of South Africa's giraffe-hide sandal.

Traditional Japanese Waraji
Part of a long footwear tradition

Regaining an acquaintance with our own bodies is a first good step in getting a chance to taste what it means to be fully human.  Learning how to move well in your own bare feet directly connects you to an aspect of the human condition that is as old as time and older.  Every able bodied 21st century primate of the genus Homo can relive the magic and majesty of our species' bipedal mastery of movement in their own default equipment. It is a human birthright available to all, and when practiced well, brings health and happiness by virtue of being what our bodies and minds have evolved to crave.  We know it when we feel it and humans have been practicing this amazing art for some time now.

Sandals of the Bushmen
Among our oldest ancestors
In the end, is barefoot and minimalism for everyone?  Is it the new cure all?  Will it make me faster, better, stronger?  It has yet to be determined, after all, we as a cohort of humans in modern urban societies are the among the first who have ever been so differently-abled as to literally need therapy and coaching to reconnect to our own bodies' basic primal abilities.  With insights from evolutionary biology and the cultures of our most ancient ancestors, we can pick up on a powerful riff of movement that when played through the instrument of our own bodies is instantaneously recognized by many as being the most perfect solution.

Using health and happiness as a motivator, you will find much to gain in reconnection to the earth and your body.  10 years ago, barefoot and minimalism was barely on the palette of footwear choices available to mainstream America. Now that it is actively being rediscovered, I feel like new-old aspects of movement culture can once again flourish. Running is not just about times, distances and speed.  Running is about human exuberance and joy, about allowing the human animal to express and come alive, about mastering functional movements by moving well in one's original hardware.  All you need is your own two feet and a patch of earth, the rest is up to you.

Walt Whitman
In my own personal investigation of running and living, I have gained much inspiration from the American Transcendentalists like Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman.  In particular, I have been amazed to rediscover a similarly inspired anarchistic philosopher named  J. William Lloyd who in 1890 wrote the first treatise on running as an exercise where he suggests that health and pleasure should be our primary motivation for movement, not competition.  I plan on sharing much more about him and his insights in the future.  For the time being, here is a great tidbit he wrote in a paper on coed running clubs and games in the 1890s:

"I would advise that each runner leave shoes and stockings at home, but of course this should be optional with the individual; next to bare feet are sandals, next to sandals moccasins, next to moccasins, soft, low shoes."

Deep insights into the human condition are timeless.  Gaining access to some profound insights may be a bare foot away.  Enjoy with gusto.


PS.  And of course you can always take it one step further and run with the animal that has hung out with us from time immemorial, the loyal, loving dog ;-).  I do.

With Hiko and Edgar in front of the BTR store in Seattle

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Holy Huarache Sole and Hole Tests

Holy Huarache Sole and Hole Tests

Holy Huarache Sole
Took an old (pre-Cherry) Vibram sole rubber (Q487) and filled it with 7/32" (5.55mm) holes to see if it would be "airier" and a little less slippery when wet or sweaty.
As for making it less slick, the holes worked. However, for whatever reason, the sole felt hotter than the sole without holes!?
Holy Huarache Hole
Also, tested out a hole repair idea for torn ankle holes. Using excess material from a pair of sandals, I punched out some rubber donut/washers and Rhino glued them to the footbed. Worked perfectly. Only drawback, a little too thick, otherwise perfect.
Click here to view my latest huarache running sandal kits and custom made offerings.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

New Google Group: Huaraches - Indigenous Running Sandals

Photo Copyrighted Luis Escobar
I have started a new Google Group (forum) titled:

Huaraches - Indigenous Running Sandals

Join with link below:

The mission of the group is to:

Share experiences running in and making huarache running sandals and other indigenous and minimal running sandals and shoes.

Dispelling the myth that you need an overly supportive, cushioned, orthopedic boot in order to push the limits of human potential in running and exploring the world.

Please feel free to join and share YOUR experiences with using minimal and time-tested sandals and shoes on YOUR adventures, big or small.


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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How to Tie Huarache Sandals Part 2

A couple more videos showing the tieing of huarache sandals. Videos taken while participating in the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon 2007.


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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Huarache Training Run - 20 Miler on AC 100 Course

Elevation guide showing Sam Merrill

Short clip running down El Prieto Trail from Upper Brown Mtn. Trail
Music by System of a Down from my daughter's iTunes purchased list

This past Sunday was a good test for the huaraches. I took them over to the last portion of the Angeles Crest 100 Endurance Run course to see how they could handle some nasty, rocky switch backs.

I started up the mountain near where the AC 100 ends at Johnson Field. Caught the El Prieto Trail to the Upper Brown Mountain Trail over to Millard Campground. In the early part of the course, I was having to go through a bunch of little streams and puddles, so I had some more testing of wet sandals.

From Millard I headed toward Echo Mtn. eventually on the Sunset Trail, and then from Echo Mtn., I got on the Middle Sam Merrill Trail which brought me up to the junction of the Mt. Lowe Road, Idlehour Trail and Inspiration Point Road. Elevation 4700 feet. So total run had about 4700 feet of climbing.

On the way back I got to test the huaraches' ability to handle downhills on some potentially slippery swithbacks. Not a single stumble. Not a single stubbed toe. I was on my game.

Map of my run, 10 miles up and 10 miles down...

Per normal, I took my FiveFingers along in case of huarache malfunction, but I didn't need to use them.


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Monday, January 15, 2007

Tarahumara Huarache Sandal Sandy Riverbed & Broken Boulder Running Tests

Again today I took my huaraches out to Hansen Dam and put them through some more testing. I ran several miles through a sand filled, dried-out riverbed. My 5mm thick, four ounce Vibram-rubber soled sandals handled the situation flawlessly. The sand does not stay trapped under the sandal.

For the second part of my test, I headed to the dam structure. The backside of Hansen Dam is a giant broken granite boulder field. It is a great place to build strength and balance while running. I tested the Tarahumara huarache sandals on this terrain and they passed. No room for mistakes here. No forgiveness. But, great for learning how to stay focused and balanced.

Music: Rage Against the Machine

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Tarahumara Huarache Sandal Rocky Trail Running Test

I took my huaraches out to Hansen Dam in Los Angeles and put them through some thorough testing today. I ran about 10 miles on some of the rockiest trails I could find. My 5mm thick, four ounce Vibram-rubber soled sandals worked perfectly.

You can usually trust indigenous design when it comes to active footwear. These sandals and others similar have been around for 1000s of years, and I know why. They have no frills, just exactly what you need and not a bit more. Elegant design.

What I am also finding is that nothing gets trapped under the foot. The strapping system is the very minimum, and with no straps and other excess, the stones, sand, etc., don' t stay in.

I will be wearing these sandals in the upcoming Copper Canyon Ultramarathon on March 4th in Mexico.


PS. By the way, I am able to run barefoot in all places you see me running in the video. It is just a lot easier to do with the huaraches. The point is that wearing huaraches does not mean you can plod your way down rocky hills safely. The real trick is learning how to be LIGHT on your feet.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Custom Huarache Sandal Test Part 2

Running in Nature is SpiritualHere's some of what I saw today running near my home in Los Angeles

Flying Free

Looking Homeward
My Path

Upward Bound

Vegetal ExplosionRocky RoadRock Feast

My chickens don't seem to mind my dirty feet.

Today's test went exceptionally well. The sandals are still intact after 8 miles of hard mountain trail hiking/running. At first I was worried about the performance of these sandals since the sole seems a bit thinner than the Raramuri racing sandals. Yet, they seemed to do the job. My feet did not feel confined. My foot was able to flex and move naturally. Feet were pain free on toughest sections of the trail.


An attempt a video of the downhill run. Poor quality.

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How to Make Vibram-Soled Huarache

Tools: Scissors & Punch
Materials: Rubber Sole Material 5mm thick &
Leather Straps 6mm wide x 150cm long 2mm thick

Cut out sole in shape of each foot.
Draw foot on rubber and cut with scissors.

Make 3 holes with punch.
One between your big toe and on either side of the ankle.

Bottom of sole.
Tie knot on one end of leather strap.
Cut out leather washer. Push strap through hole.

Bottom has tread, top is smooth.

Here is how to lace sandals.

Making them is one thing, learning how to tie them correctly is another. These are just early attempts. I have only been running in huaraches for 11 months. I have only made one successful pair. I have much to learn; however, I do plan on sharing my discoveries.

Perhaps one day soon I will offer a kit with sole material, straps and simple how to instructions. Until then, please use this.


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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Tarahumara Huarache Sandal Test cont.

Indigenous Design

Trail Home

As mentioned last week, I received some rubber sole material from Peter, Vibram sole designer. I quickly made a pair of Raramuri-style huaraches. The sole on these sandals is quite thin, just 5mm which makes them much lighter (about 4 ounces) than my truly authentic, Manuel Luna produced, huarache sandals and significantly more flexible.

Rock Climbing

I took them out on a 10+ mile hike-run in the mountains above Burbank, California. Today was quite clear. The ocean could be seen in the distance along with Catalina Island, Griffith Park and Downtown LA. The sandals performed perfectly. I think I am getting addicted.

Crest Running

My goal is to wear a pair of huaraches during the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon on March 4th in Urique, Mexico. The race is nearly 50 miles on mountain roads, so I am doing all I can to prepare. These modified sandals may be the answer.

Ocean View

Burnt Rock

New Tree

I have much more testing to do with these sandals, but today was a huge success. I did not need to constantly adjust these sandals. They stayed snug the entire journey. I did not get any hotspots or blisters. My feet are getting used to the leather straps. I do not like the feeling I get when I sweat a lot in these, so I plan on trying to add a rice straw or hemp top cover.

These really are the most elegant solution to portable ground that I have found. With only one small strap of leather coming up over the top of the foot, rocks and pebbles do not get stuck, they just roll out. Indigenous design at its best.

More tests are necessary. Perhaps a slightly stiffer rubber would be better.


Will Survive

Mountain Lion

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Tarahumara Sandal Experiments cont'd.

North from La Tuna Canyon

Tarahumara Sandals: Elegance of Design

Nacho's Feet, Urique, Mexico, March 2006
Photo by Luis Escobar

Manuel Luna, he made my sandals...

Spent the last couple of days doing some long runs in the mountains with Raramuri huaraches direct from Urique in the Copper Canyon . Learning how to wear the sandals comfortably for hours is not easy. I have been studying all of the photos that Luis Escobar took while we were in Mexico in March. I am trying to figure out exactly how to best tie them.

The pair that I have are a little too heavy. Next time I go to Baranca del Cobre, I will get me a lighter, thinner pair.

Today after 12 tough, hot mountain miles, I had enough. Got some nasty blisters between the toes. This skin will get tougher if I keep wearing the sandals. More testing with tying methods is necessary.


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Friday, March 24, 2006

What the &*@#?

photo by Ona McDonald

The future exists now for some.

Primitive and post-modern combine.

Actually, the connections between the Tarahumara indians and Vibram are deeper than would first appear. Both have found successful shoe sole solutions from automobile tires.

Best Regards, Barefoot Ted

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Monday, July 04, 2005

Mt. Whitney Summitted Barefoot

A big THANKS to Andy Kumeda and for organizing this trip!

And, yes, thanks to Dennis Lee and his wife for loaning me an ice axe at the frozen snow traverse. Without you, I would not have been able to continue safely. Thanks! And, congratulations to your wife. I know she was suffering from the altitude even before the switchbacks. Thanks for the photos, too.

Dennis Lee took this photo of me descending at the Windows

The Windows with Special Sandals I wore for the descent

Me at the finish 12+ hours after starting up...

Mt. Whitney from a safe distance

I am going up there?

Started midnight July 4th with Andy Kumeda. Summitted at 8 am. Back to Whitney Portal by 12:30 pm. Got lost MANY times, especially going up at night. It was hard to find the trail in snowy sections. Dennis Lee and his wife, together with Andy and I worked as a team to find the trail in certain sections. I feel confident that I could get to the summit in 4 hours without snow and not getting lost. Maybe I'll try again later this year.

I was curious to find out if anyone else has climbed to the summit barefooted. So, I posted a question at the Whitney Portal Store Message Board. Click here to read the responses. According to Whitney Portal Doug it seems common to the point of a non event! Okay?!

Looking up to Trail Crest

Wore my special rope sandals with wool socks coming down. Went through snow, rivers, mud. They dry very quicky. Absolutely no blisters, not even a hint. That's the benefit of lightweight footwear.

Looking down from Trail Crest

Crossing streams is more fun barefoot...

Best, Barefoot Ted

PS. I stubbed a little toe up on the Trail Crest and left a little half-penny sized blood stain on the rocks all the way to the summit. I actually saw them for miles as I descended.

Photo of blood on rock

PSS. I did have some unusual visual hallucinations, probably from sleep deprivation and altitude, while descending the mountain and driving back to LA.Click here to read my report at the Whitney Portal Message Board.

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Monday, June 27, 2005

Yucca Sandal Expedition with Paul Campbell

Ona and I met with Paul Campbell today. He introduced us to a huge variety of native sandals made from agave, yucca and other materials. He has a fantastic collection that can be seen in his book "Survival Skills of Native California".

Proud results. Ona holds today's prize

Paul took us up into the local mountains. We found an excellent spot to test manufacture some yucca sandals.

Where we turned off the trail

Our spot

Looking opposite

Raw materials

Necessary tool

Start the toe

Finished, dried sandal

Although I have not had a chance to test the sandals (we only made one today), I know that this are going to work. They are very similar to Japanese waraji. They are lightweight and fairly easy to manufacture (especially if you were making a pair a week). The also are like waraji and AEI Shoes: they flex forward and back, but not side-to-side, which may help prevent punctures.

All in all, we had a great time and very much look forward to learning more from Paul in the future.

One of the highlights of the meeting was getting a chance to eat some dried yucca that was over 3 years old. It was delicious.

Best, Barefoot Ted (and Ona, too)

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