Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Mon, 16 Feb 2004 08:17:35 -0500

Shedding Socks

RUNNING COMMENTARY 506

(rerun from February 1997 RW)

Some items of clothing you think of in pairs. Shorts comes with shirts, jackets with long pants, hats with gloves.

So too, socks go with shoes. You don't run in one without the other.

Not unless you're an contrarian like Paul Reese. He goes sockless. Before thinking this as odd as wearing shoes without strings, hear him out.

Paul ran across the United States in 1990, when he was 73. Later he crossed all the remaining states, finishing with Hawaii at 80. He wrote about these treks in three books, which left few of his experiences unexamined.

"A few times, being sockless," said Paul, "I've been the target of a snide remark like, 'Hey, real macho. No socks.'

"That's bushwa. Macho has nothing to do with it."

He then gave his rationale for letting nothing come between his shoes and his skin: "The main reason for not wearing socks is that, I feel closer to the earth and get a better feel for the road. Hell, I just plain enjoy running more when sockless.

"Another factor: Consider what I save by not buying socks or having to launder them. And let's face it, modern running shoes are so well made that they are quite comfortable without socks.

"Yet another reason: It was often my experience as a socks wearer that by slipping or getting twisted they actually CAUSED blisters. In more than 5000 miles of running across states, sockless, I have yet to develop a blister."

I side with Paul on this matter. I too run with naked feet.

The practice goes back to my early running, when the heavy, baggy sweatsocks bunched up in your shoes unless you taped them at the ankles. I came to like going sockless for a reason that Paul didn't mention: It gave the illusion of longer, thinner legs, and my stumps needed all the help they could get.

Like him I got odd looks at the starting line of races. I too heard comments like, "You're running that way? I'd hate to see your feet afterward."

They looked no worse then than at the start -- and look a lot better now than during the few years I was forced into socks. These were the low-cut minisocks that came into fashion around 1980.

I used these to protect against the custom-made inserts that had come between me and my shoes. This the socks did, but at high cost to skin (blistering) and bone (from slippage at the heel).

Then shoes started coming with removable insoles. Under them went my orthotics and off came the socks.

They've stayed off ever since. My feet give thanks for again putting them in closer touch with the earth.

The only downside: Without socks to soak up some of the sweat the shoes take it all. Left to ripen, they smell as I would from never showering.

Against all advice from manufacturers I toss my shoes into the washer every few days (but never in the dryer). It's either that or treat them like a dirty dog who can never come in the house or ride in the car.

UPDATE. Seven years further along from the writing of this column, I nod to fashion by wearing the leg-flattering "runner" socks that stop at the lower ankle. But they still come off for my runs.

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