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May 18, 2010

My Brother Todd featured in the Frederick News-Post!

Shoelaces, blisters not a problem for barefoot runner
Originally published May 16, 2010 - Frederick News-Post

Todd Byers didn't have to worry about his shoes coming unlaced May 2 (2010) at the Frederick Marathon. The Long Beach, Calif., runner ran the course barefoot, as he has run 84 other marathons since 2004.

Byers, 46, did not go barefoot as a result of Christopher McDougall's bestselling book "Born to Run," about a group of people in a remote section of Mexico who run hundreds of miles either barefoot or with simple sandals strapped to their feet.

He did not do it as a result of the wave of runners who are sampling what has become a running trend.

Rather, Byers has been running barefoot since 2004. He runs barefoot because a friend and fellow runner, Ken Thackston, suggested he try it. "I never had problems," Byers said. "I like it better, as opposed to having to do it."

Byers also likes running the Frederick Marathon. He's a running coach who grew up in Berkeley Springs, W.Va. His twin sister, Tina, suggested he do it a few years ago, and he found he liked it. "It's what I consider my hometown marathon," he said. "It's an excellent event, and I decided to keep coming back."

Byers runs one or two marathons a month. Among his 266 marathons are marathons run in the three-hour range, but he mostly prefers to enjoy his marathons. He ran the Frederick Marathon in six hours. "Frederick is a very beautiful course," he said. "I even heard other people comment on that."

Byers approaches barefoot running with the same laid-back attitude. "I like it better," he said. "It's a choice, because I think it's better for me."

He says it's more important for runners to focus on their form. "I teach people how to run properly," he said. "Once you have the basics, if you choose to wear shoes, it's up to you."

Byers encourages a style of running similar to chi running (pronounced chee). "I've worked with Danny Dreyer," he said, referring to the author of "Chi Running," which suggests runners use their stronger core muscles to do most of the work in running.

"It is a method of pose running," he said. "It's all about trying to run based on how your body was designed."

The body may have been designed to run using the core, but it's not intuitive, he said. "You're designed for it, but you just have to use the tools."

Running barefoot doesn't mean you'll immediately get the right form, he said. "Using proper form with or without shoes is what makes it less tiring," he said. He advocates a pelvic tilt forward, along with a gravitational lean, similar to that in chi running.

"One of my pet peeves is hearing scuffing late in a marathon," he said. That can happen whether a runner is barefoot or not, only the barefoot runner will feel it a little more. Still, that late-race shuffle happens because a runner is not using his or her core, and is letting the legs and feet drag.

For those who want to learn how to run without shoes, Byers said it takes a change in attitude. "You have immediate feedback," he said. Barefoot runners do not keep their feet on the ground long enough to feel stones, glass or other impediments. "If you scuff your foot running, you have immediate feedback," he said. "You know you did something wrong. I move quickly to avoid any sort of injury." Yoga is usually done without shoes, and that's to properly balance the body, he said.

Byers also does trail running without shoes. But in Hawaii, where he volunteered at the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, he did not go shoeless across the lava fields. "We all have our limitations," he said. "I'm not out to prove a point. Shoes are tools."

His feet are not like leather. "You start to become more sensitive," he said. "You also learn to touch the ground lightly."

Socks and minimalist shoes, including the new Vibram Five Fingers that are selling rapidly, are like security blankets, he said. That's not a bad thing, he added.

"What's the first thing you do at the end of a marathon?" he asked. Take your shoes off, he is often told. "Even my feet will be tender at the end of a marathon. What I don't have is blisters." There's nothing for his feet to rub against.

He runs barefoot through California winters and has run barefoot in snow, but not in extreme cold. He said feet eventually warm up.

Barefoot running means no callouses. Runners who run in shoes should be proud of their callouses, but without shoes to rub against, the callouses disappear.

Byers said his feet are tough, but not rough. Even at airports, Byers said his feet are noticed. "I've had the TSA people say you have good looking feet," he said with a laugh.

In barefoot-friendly Southern California, he doesn't wear shoes often. If shoes are required, he'll wear them. "I try and respect the custom," he said. "In other cultures, it's a sign of respect to take your shoes off."

Byers plans to return to Frederick next year. In addition to his twin sister, he brings other friends who run the 5K and the half-marathon. "It's an excellent, well-run event," he said.