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GUY RAZ, host:

I'm on the National Mall here in Washington, D.C., just under the shadow of the National Gallery of Art. Now, this is a very popular spot for joggers from all over the country, and I'm about to join them. But first, I've got to get a very special pair of shoes on.

Now, these aren't your traditional running shoes. They actually look more like gloves, except they're for your feet. And when you wear them, it's supposed to feel like you're barefoot. Now, a number of companies are making shoes like these now, and we'll explain why in a moment. When I get back to the studio, we're going to talk to David Willey, who is the editor-in-chief of Runner's World magazine. But first, I'm going to try this barefoot running thing out for myself. I just got to get my playlist queued up. Here we go.

(Soundbite of running)

So it actually feels pretty good running in these barefoot shoes. And I'm running on gravel on the Mall, so it should feel uncomfortable. But I got to say, these soles are pretty thick, and it almost feels like my feet kind of know what to do intuitively.

(Soundbite of music)

Okay, we're back in the studio now, and David Willey is joining us. He's the editor-in-chief of Runner's World magazine, and he's at member station WDIY in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

David, welcome to the show.

Mr. DAVID WILLEY (Editor-in-chief, Runner's World Magazine): Thanks, Guy.

RAZ: Why are these shoes all of a sudden becoming so popular?

Mr. WILLEY: It's interesting. It's like the life cycle of almost any product sort of ebbs and flows, right, and running shoes, really, were kind of invented in the '70s by a guy named Bill Bowerman, who literally poured rubber compounds into his wife's waffle iron.

(Soundbite of laughter)

And the modern running shoe was born…

RAZ: Wow, wow.

Mr. WILLEY: …the waffle shoe, as it was called. And after that happened, other competitors started adding new features to help with stability and something called motion control. And now there's sort of a slightly larger movement of foot to kind of back away from that. And as you said, your feet kind of know what to do. And the barefoot running advocates - one of the things they like about is that they think it actually reduces injuries and that running shoes have become built up so much over time that for some people, they're actually causing injuries.

RAZ: Yeah. People say that running shoes affects your gait.

Mr. WILLEY: That's right. When you take you shoes off, you land a little more on your forefoot, so a little more on the middle of your foot.

RAZ: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. WILLEY: Whereas when you have shoes on, the average person typically lands a little bit more on the heel. And here's the thing, if you are a very efficient and biomechanically gifted runner, running barefoot probably could work for you. But the vast majority of people are not blessed in that way. They've got some biomechanical inefficiencies. So for the greatest group of people, running shoes probably do a little bit more good. And there's also this, barefoot running, for most people, and running in these shoes - Nike will even say this about their line of Nike Free shoes - they're training tools.

One of the advantages of barefoot running is that it strengthens the small muscles and ligaments and tendons in your feet and your ankles. So as long as you do it that way and maybe something that you mix in, you know, with your regular running week, it really can help your running and help you get stronger and healthier.

The concern I have is that a lot of people, you know, hear about these new shoes and read about the vbrooms(ph) and maybe hear about this book called "Born to Run," which is that bestselling book, and feel like, oh, I can just throw my running shoes away and I'll just start tomorrow and I'll become a barefoot runner. You know, if a lot of runners or all the runners out there in America did that tomorrow, the vast majority of them would get hurt very quickly and would have to stop running for a long time.

RAZ: Do you have a sort of partisans of barefoot running who just write in and say, you guys are biased, you know, you're just anti-barefoot running?

Mr. WILLEY: We do get that sometimes. Then we get people who believe in barefoot running saying that we are promoting running shoes for the wrong reasons, and running shoes are bad, and we're being irresponsible. But there are very, very few true barefoot runners out there. And running is a really great community, very collegial and very positive. And for the most part, the people that I have seen who know barefoot runners or encountered them in races, they're really curious and they always come up and sort of ask questions and ask them what it's like, but they're not ostracized in any way.

And the people who are barefoot runners, you know, they sort of see that it works for them but don't necessarily all think that everybody should throw their shoes in the trash tomorrow.

RAZ: That's good to hear.

Mr. WILLEY: Runners, they're pretty chill.

RAZ: Yeah. Well, they're running. I mean, of course, they are. They're going to (unintelligible) their bodies all the time.

Mr. WILLEY: We're all high as a kite.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: David Willey is editor-in-chief of Runner's World magazine. He joined us from WDIY in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

David Willey, thanks for coming in.

Mr. WILLEY: Thanks a lot, Guy, it's a pleasure.

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