Since Elementary School, Jordan Trump ’10 has considered himself a runner. From running his first six-miler with his dad driving the van next to him, to completing his first marathon before graduating high school, running has saturated his life. Throughout his running, Trump has struggled with one element: shoes. With size 12 feet that he claims are “abnormally wide,” he has never been able to find what most runners call “the perfect pair.” After a successful cross country and track career at Millikin, Trump decided to change his running to embrace a growing trend that experts are saying lowers injury rates and improves technique. Instead of struggling to find shoes that fit, he decided to forgo shoes completely, transforming into a barefoot runner. While the popularity of barefoot running grows, the opinions of doctors and running experts remain split, with some believing in the natural abilities of the foot, and others promoting the comfort and technology of shoes.
What first prompted you to try barefoot running?
I always had bad form, and I thought that learning to run with better form might be better on my body and allow me to run farther and faster. After a few months of training, I realized I was right. Going from shoes that weigh 14-18 oz. each to no shoes really saves energy. Also, my form is more efficient so I can run farther before my legs get tired or start to hurt. I could not imagine going back to them. Once you get used to running without cushioning and all the high-tech material in conventional running shoes, you realize it’s just dead weight strapped to your feet. Plus, I’m always ready to go for a run. I don’t have to worry about where my running shoes are anymore!
Do you run exclusively barefoot, or do you have minimalist shoes?
I started out exclusively barefoot for about four months, but eventually found minimalist shoes that I liked (Zemgear 360s). I like the feeling of running barefoot for easy runs, but I find that sometimes I need some form of protection. Having something on my feet, even if it’s thin, helps me relax and focus on my run. Also, if I run extensively barefoot, my feet start to get tender. Currently, I’m training hard for my next marathon, so I’m only running barefoot about 25 percent of the time.
What were some of the difficulties you experienced from transitioning?
It took me about four months from starting barefoot to where I wanted to be, which was being able to run a marathon barefoot or minimalist. When I started, I was more susceptible to blisters. I also had to choose my running surfaces more carefully. I spent a lot of time running in circles on the Millikin football field grass.
Do you still have difficulties running barefoot?
Occasionally, yes. There are still some surfaces that just don’t work barefoot. Also, if I am tired and don’t focus on relaxing when I run, it tends to be a bit less enjoyable.
How do you deal with cold and wet conditions during winter months?
Since I’m relatively new to barefoot running, last winter I played it safe and ran almost exclusively in my minimalist shoes. A barefoot runner’s primary form of feedback are the nerves in the foot, and once your feet are numb you really have no idea when they are near- ing their limits. I will likely try barefoot running this winter, but it will take time to build up to my usual mileage in cold and snowy conditions.
What would you recommend to people considering barefoot running?
Stay patient when transitioning, pay attention to your form and try to run as relaxed as possible. Definitely seek advice from others who have done it before. For many, the transition can take up to a year; it just depends on how hard you work at it.
It has been more than a year since Trump’s transformation to barefoot running, and his results have given him every reason to keep going sans shoes. He has achieved personal records in every race distance from a 5K to a marathon, even qualifying for the Boston Marathon, where he will compete in April 2013. In one year, he improved his time at the Illinois Marathon from 3:41 to 2:50. He won a local 5K, Penguin in the Park, with a two-minute margin while barefoot and competing against more than 600 other runners. Along his journey, he hasn’t felt the need to take a day off from running in more than a year. His success is as easy to see as his bare feet racing along the running path winding through Decatur’s Fairview Park, and while his family and friends may still think he’s crazy, they can’t argue with his results.