Barefoot Running Sandals

Barefoot Running Sandals made by Dr. Les Waddel

In my quest to find Barefoot Running Sandals, Dr. Les Waddel actually sent me an email. I was excited about his product, so we set up an interview. He started producing Barefoot Running Sandals only a few years ago, and now they are for sale ($90 plus $10 shipping with in the US) through his website, Barefoot Training Sandals. Here is the interview with

David Tiefenthaler – When did you first get into the sport of running? Did you run competitively at all in high school or college?

Dr. Les Waddel – In high school and college I swam competitively. The only reason I ran was if I had to in Gym class. I was interested in bike racing but didn’t know how to get into it till after college. I raced USCF cycling from 1973 to 1980. In 1979 I read about this crazy new sport triathlon and saw it on Wide World of Sports in 1980. A few weeks after seeing it on TV I stopped at a specialty running store and asked how to train for a marathon. That began my running.

I’ve ran as much as 80 miles per week. For most of the 80’s I swam 10 miles, bikes 200 miles and ran 65 miles per week.

DT – What do you not like about running shoes that made you decide to create your own running sandals? Did you have a lot of problems with your feet?

LW – After hearing about barefoot running (I think a better name is natural style of running) November of 2009 I bought a pair of Vibram FF. I didn’t like them because their hard to get on, with the seams on the inside they rub holes in my skin. but, the hardest for me was the lack of any cushioning. I am a tender foot! I’ve been in supportive shoes for 60+ years. My feet were emaciated! they were just skin and bone. So I decided that natural style of running is how we were designed and I needed to find a way to gradually develop my feet for it. I looked around and couldn’t find a shoe that would work so I began experimenting.

I bought a pair of neoprene socks, added 1/4” of EVA for cushioning and 1/16” rubber conveyor belt material for the sole… it worked but TOO HOT, me feet stunk!

Next I tried modifying a pair of sandals I had. I liked having my toes open to the air. The strap method I used was good but the foot bed was contoured and that allowed rocks, gravel, twigs or sand to stay in.

After a few more attempts I came up with a success, a sandal similar to what you see on my web site. I’ve since improved it three times.

Problems with my feet… I started running in 1980 at the age of 30. From the start I tended towards flat feet so used good supportive shoes and orthotics. At 50 years old my feet began getting worse; flat feet worse, bunions, hammer toes, Morton’s Neuroma, knee pain/popping, calf cramping. By the age of 60 I couldn’t run more than 5 or six miles without calf cramps. My knees would pop (LOUD) once or twice in the first 1/4 mile of most runs. I had to stop every 2 to 3 miles of a run and adjust my metatarsals so the neuroma pain would subside. Most all of the problems have gone in the past 1 1/2 years of natural style of running.

DT – How much do you run mileage wise in your running sandals? Do other runners run high mileage with these sandals?

LW – For the past year I’ve been running 18 to 25 miles per week. I don’t seem to have the motivation do get back to 50-60 miles per week like I used to. I do enough to stay healthy. But, I also bike 60 miles, do calisthenics or weights and surf three times per week. I ‘race’ at least one 10k and a triathlon a year. I have been up to 11 miles running with the sandals, it felt GREAT. But…I added the mileage too fast and developed a bone bruise.

High mileage? No. I’ve been in touch with Don Beraglio, ‘Running and Rambling Blog’ . He’s an minimalist ultra runner that reviews running related items. He’s agreed to review my sandals but is busy with a few too many shoes at the moment.Most people that have bought the sandals are just beginning with natural running so I suggest they build the sandal running slow.As far as mileage per pair of sandals… the pair of sandals I’m using now have almost 700 miles on them. I intend to continue adding the mileage until they fall off.

DT – When did you decide to start selling the running sandal model that you created for yourself?

LW – I sold a few (at cost) last April to some running friends for their feedback. Because of their input and my experience with the early designs I have made a few changes to make the sandals easier to use and more durable.

The first public showing/sale of the sandals was last month at the Big Sur International Marathon Expo. That was the weekend that my website went up also.

DT – How do you make these shoes?

LW – 1. Cut the straps using a hot knife on a jig I made to get uniform lengths.
2. Sew the straps on my home sewing machine using an industrial grade thread.
3. Glue the leather onto the EVA.
4. Cut the different size sandals using a clicker and sandal die.
5. Glue the straps into the EVA/leather sandal.
6. Glue the Vibram rock climbing sole to the bottom of the sandal.
7. Sand the edges smooth.

That’s the abbreviated version. My first mass production I produced 80 pair of sandals in a month working part time.

DT – What are the advantages to wearing a running sandal compared to a running shoe?

LW – 1. Your muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints all move as they were designed.
2. Lighter weight
3. They allow you to run natural style, landing on the ball of the foot.
4. Improved balance/proprioception.

DT – What are the advantages to wearing a running sandal instead of just going barefoot?

LW – I think most people are like me. Whether they are just starting a running program or have been at it for awhile. They have been using shoes. To go barefoot would be like wearing a cast on your hand since birth and then at 20, 30 or 60 years old cut the cast off and try holding a fork to feed yourself. The hand wouldn’t work, it wouldn‘t have the strength to hold the fork!

I have a few friends that began natural style running in the Vibram FF, they developed stress fractures. I designed the sandals because I needed just a bit more protection until my feet built up gradually. The EVA midsole is designed to give you initial protection but gradually compress to impart more and more stress to your foot so, over time, it continues gets stronger. I can now run barefoot for 1 to 3 miles depending on the surface, but, I prefer using my sandals. Their just comfy.

DT – Did you read Born to Run, and have you tried to make your own huaraches in the past? I don’t really like that design because of the flip flop feel it gives you because of the string between your toes.

LW – Yes, my wife bought it for me Christmas 2009. I loved it! I read stuff online a lot but not books. My wife will say, “you should read this book! It’s good!” We’ll go on a trip and she’ll read it to me. But Born to Run I read in three days!

Yes, on this quest I’ve actually made 6 different styles of running shoes including a pair of Tarahumara style running sandals. I used Barefoot Bob’s instructions with Vibram Cherry soling, a leather footbed and 6mm hemp cord. I didn’t like the cord between my toes and, again, my feet were way too scrawny to be safe in a shoe with that little of cushioning.

DT – You mention on your site that you have made a modification recently. How many models have you gone through, and do different models work for different people?

LW – On my quest to find a shoe to transition into barefooting I have made 6 different models. The last being the best but still I have altered #6 four times to improve it.

I have two other models of sandals that I think would work great along with the one I now have.

DT – How far do you want to go with your project. Would you be interested if a large shoe company offered to add your sandal model to their line, or do you want to keep total control over your running sandal model?

LW – Ha! I began this quest just to be able to run natural. Then I found that there were others out there with the same problems that I had. I don’t push to GET things any more. If it is to be it will happen and I‘m open to it. I know if this takes off I don’t want to mass produce the sandal myself. And I don’t have the money to have it manufactured here or in Asia. But I would love to do promotion for a company manufacturing/selling my sandal. But I also need time to make my balsa surfboards and carbon fiber ukuleles too. Thanks David!

DT – For more information, or to purchase your own pair, go to his site – Barefoot Training Sandals

Related Articles

– Types of Running Shoes
– Barefoot Running Shoes – Minimalist Shoes
– Born to Run Book Review

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