Now we get to the serious stuff. To the questions about "rocks and glass": Rocks are uncomfortable, but do no damage. What little broken glass can still be found at the roadside in this era of plastic bottles tends to lie flat. Nails are an issue only if they are sticking up of a board. But I've walked barefoot through construction sites and I have stepped on any number of nails lying flat on the floor without the slightest discomfort. Naily boards I avoid.
The main thing is, I stay attentive to the ground ahead of me – sort of like watching the road ahead when you’re driving! If I do step on something sharp, that’s what the “ouch” sensation is for. If I step on a rock, I simply don’t put all my weight on that foot. Motto: “Tread lightly”! If it’s something more painful, that’s when the recoil reflex kicks in. The only thing that really gets to me is thorns. I’ve taken quite a few thorns in my day. If they’re stout, they pull back out. But if they break off, the piece will eventually fester and pop out a few days later. Bottom line: I’ll run on rocks, but I try my best to avoid thorns!
Think about it though: Almost all of us went barefoot as children without serious mishap – and enjoyed the heck out of ourselves. We’d kick our shoes off at the drop of a hat. So what happened?
Well, imagine if, from age five onwards, our society had taught us that we must never go out without first cramming our fingers into leather mittens. As adults, our hands would be tender and our fingers deformed and often stinky. We’d be afraid of taking our mittens off outside the home. At home, we’d occasionally take them off and note how good it felt to spread those cramped fingers and run them over soft surfaces like fabric. Yet if we encountered someone who chose a mitten-less lifestyle, we’d would ask them incredulously: “Doesn’t it hurt to grasp things with bare hands?” “What if you pick up something sharp or hot?” “With such tough skin, do you have any sensitivity left in your fingertips?” “I wear support-mittens that are specially designed to prevent hand pronation … so I don’t know if I could ever go barehanded.”
All right, here's where we deal with the nitty gritty, where the rubber -- er, sole -- meets the road.
## Advanced Issues Chip n Seal roads: A lot of rural roads are paved with “Chip ‘n’ Seal” which is sharp gravel embedded in a thin asphalt matrix. It’s great for tire traction, but a slice of hell for bare feet. I have found that the paint used for the white line along the roadside helps take the sharp edge off the gravel.
If possible, I’ll run on the shoulder. But there, frequently, is the leftover gravel, which is no fun. Further from the road, there may be grass or weeds which are better, but watch for hidden junk tossed from cars.
Finally, unless there is a fence, I’ll just move onto the farmer’s fields. Those are tilled and soft and very nice to run on. Unless there’s a fence – in which case hopping it is between you and your conscience … ;-))
## Traction Bare feet have less traction that most running shoes or hiking boots. I’ve skidded out more than once on slick muddy trails. Like me, you may have to hose off the mud before you get back into the car!
## Edging Bare feet are also more rounded and softer than shoes, and much more so than hiking or climbing boots. Barefoot rock climbing is probably not a good idea, in general!
## Temperature extremes In summer here in Oregon, asphalt gets blazing hot. I stay on light-colored surfaces that are cooler: sidewalks, even the white line on the road. Trails … those are always fine!
## Biohazards Dog feces can contain pathogens and parasites. I stay away from dog runs and/or parking strip grass where people walk their dogs. I also wear shoes in downtown urban areas – I won’t go into the various things that one steps in that recently came out of someone’s orfice(s), but I don’t want to worry about them! Public restrooms – I bring those painter’s booties from Home Depot in my pocket.
## New routes It’s often good to wear shoes to check out new routes before running them barefoot.