Rick Roebel runs another barefoot marathon

Tuesday, September 4, 2007 | 12:12 a.m. CDT; updated 4:01 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008
Rick Roeber finished in just under four hours at Monday’s 48th Annual Heart of America Marathon. Roeber has now run 29 marathons without shoes.

COLUMBIA — Standing at the start line, waiting to begin the 47th Annual Heart of America Marathon, Oscar Chavez couldn’t stop looking at Rick Roeber’s feet.

“I wanted to see if they’re different,” Chavez said. “My daughter asked me if his feet looked different, and I wanted to see.”

And are they?

“They’re dirty,” Chavez said with a laugh.

The reason for Chavez and his daughter’s interest, and for the uncleanliness of Roeber’s feet, is that before Monday, Roeber has run in 28 marathons, totaling 9,218.91 miles, in bare feet. The HOA Marathon on Monday, which he finished in 3 hours, 58 minutes and 12 seconds, was No. 29. Of the five times he has participated in the Columbia Labor Day tradition, four have been barefoot.

“He’s a unique person,” race director Joe Duncan said. “Running this thing barefoot boggles the imagination.”

HOA Marathon participant Tom Kilbourn agrees.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “Most of us need all the padding we can get. I’d never run barefoot. I can barely do it with well-padded shoes.”

But it is the excessive padding in running shoes that made Roeber, 51, start running without them. According to him, the heavy padding in his soles, combined with his frequent running, “weighed” his heels down, making them hit the ground improperly and causing two knee injuries ­— a stress fracture in his tibial plateau of his left knee and severe clicking in his right knee. Wanting to continue competing without possibly further damaging his knees, Roeber, or “Barefoot Rick” as he has come to be called, looked into barefoot running, a technique he had heard would prevent injuries. Since switching from shod to unshod running, Roeber has not had any more injuries.

“I don’t get hurt as much without shoes,” he said. “I get instant feedback. There’s so much padding in running shoes, you don’t get feedback from your feet if you’re doing yourself harm.”

Not only has barefoot running been safer for Roeber (he claims items such as glass are not a danger unless you “scrape your foot on the ground as you run”), it hasn’t hindered his level of competition. His fastest time with shoes was 3:15:59 in the 2001 Quad-Cities Marathon in Moline, Ill.. His fastest time without shoes was 3:38:07 in the La Salle Bank Marathon in Chicago in 2006.

“I’ve run 47 marathons, 29 barefoot and 18 with shoes.” Roeber said. “I haven’t found one advantage of running with shoes.”

Injury prevention and competition aren’t the only reasons Barefoot Rick decided to run barefoot.

“It’s the way God wanted us to run,” he said. “I look at it as a return to the hunter-gatherer way of running.”

Chuck Engle, winner of Monday’s event in 2:42:50, made the same observation.

“Everybody used to run barefoot,” he said. “If you think about it, running shoes just came around. Nikes just came around. I don’t know how he does it.”

Roeber, a born-again Christian from Lee’s Summit, Mo., also said the novelty of running marathons barefoot attracts media attention, something that could help him raise $10,000 for the Kansas City Rescue Mission. He is asking for donations provided for his runs in the Omaha Marathon, the Kansas City Marathon and New York City Marathon this fall.

“This has turned into a ministry for me,” Roeber said. “Once I started getting attention, I told the Lord that I was going to turn the attention away from me and onto Him.”

The Omaha Marathon will be especially interesting for Roeber. Susan Smisek, the marathon director, added a barefoot division for the 2007 running . Smisek said the Omaha Marathon had five barefoot runners compete last year and hopes to have 10 this year. Only “three or four” have signed up so far.

“I first found out about barefoot running on a New Year’s Day run in ‘06,” Smisek said. “There was a guy ... who was running in snow and ice barefoot. It piqued my interest. Why not have a barefoot division? I like the uniqueness of the category.”

Roeber also likes to run in the snow and ice. In December 2005 he ran the Dallas White Rock Marathon four days after getting frostbite on his left foot, a result of running barefoot in snow and ice when the temperature, when the wind chill was 6 below.

“After Dallas my toes looked like bloody nubs,” Roeber said with a laugh. “I like running barefoot in the snow. It’s cool. It’s fun.”

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Peter Fernandez September 4, 2007 | 7:27 p.m.

Running barefoot is really becoming popular as is barefooting in general.
Even shoe manufactures recognize the
benefits of nature’s original design. Some have even developed designs that attempt to simulate being barefoot.
Nike Free: Nike researchers developed a training shoe that simulates barefoot running. The Nike Free was born as a result of researchers watching the Stanford track and field team practice and perform training exercises barefoot.
Swiss Masai Barefoot Technology: This shoe style provides less support and stabilization, requiring the foot muscles to work during the act of walking. As a result, the feet become stronger, more developed, and less prone to aches and pains.
Newton Running: This new shoe’s active membrane retracts as the foot rolls onto its toes requiring the runner to land on the forefoot or midsole as opposed to heel-first landings. A technique widely used by barefoot runners.
Being barefoot promotes healthy development of musculature in the feet and legs, while excessive reliance on shoes tends to promote atrophy and weakness in those same muscles. Thus overdependency on shoes has serious consequences. A study published in the September 2006 issue of Arthritis and Rheumatism found that “modern shoes may exacerbate the abnormal mechanics of lower-extremity osteoarthritis.” Researchers concluded that maybe it was time to re-evaluate our daily walking programs,
presumably to include time for walking barefoot.
In many parts of the world, reflexology paths offer feet a chance to experience varieties of textured surfaces. In addition to biomechanical advantages of regular barefoot exercising, many holistic health practitioners believe the tactile stimulation underfoot while walking barefoot on natural surfaces has positive effects on body, mind and spirit.
Walking barefoot is also a good way to avoid athlete’s foot. It is not the sole-to-ground contact that presents a risk so much as the feet going back into a moist, dark, warm environment. Closed-toe shoes are ideal incubators for fungi and bacteria to live and breed. Allowing the feet to “breathe” also prevents foot odor.
Dr. Lynn Staheli, who directed the orthopedics division at the Children's Hospital in Seattle for 15 years, documented that children raised in parts of the world where shoes are rarely worn had better flexibility, mobility, and strength, which resulted in fewer foot-related problems and injuries. In the 1960 classic “Take Off Your Shoes and Walk,” chiropodist Simon Wikler notes that children who go barefoot regularly develop stronger, healthier, and more functional feet than children who are generally shod. (He notes that a “constantly shoe-wearing tenderfoot” is rarely able to comprehend the innate capability of the human foot.) http:

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