DALLAS Running barefoot in the backwoods of Ellis County was a way of life for me as a child (I grew up in the country, after all).

But now the thought of heading out for a long distance run without shoes is frightening.Don t I need the support?

The idea that less is more has runners turning to a natural way of training. The barefoot phenomenon was pushed into overdrive after the book Born to Run hit shelves.Journalist Christopher McDougall wrote about the Tarahumara, a tribe of super athletes who live in the mountains of Mexico.

Born to Run examines the idea that our bodies are simply born to run. It s natural. And so is running barefoot.

Just as book sales soared, a strange looking shoe called the Vibram FiveFingers hit the market.It s a rubber casing that fits around your feet and between your toes.

I was actually passed by a guy running in them during the White Rock Marathon. Hamlin Jones said the shoes changed his mechanics.

I caught up with him and several other barefoot runners at Luke s Locker in Dallas. Jones had run two half-marathons in the shoes before venturing out on a full.

Hamlin said the key is to start slow. Something like this is scary, he acknowledged. You ve just got to slow down and keep your feet under your body.

Running barefoot changes your stride. Patton Gleason, a trainer and manager at the Plano Luke s Locker, uses the FiveFingers shoe as a training tool. Minor adjustments can have huge dividends, he said.

Gleason says he had hip pain for years, but the technique of running barefoot helped naturally adjust his stride and strengthen his legs and feet.

All the barefoot runners I spoke to agreed on one thing: You need to start slow.

Duncan Cragg suggests starting on a softer surface at first. Cragg came to the United States from South Africa on a track scholarship. Running barefoot is something he s done since he first began training more than 15 years ago.

Cragg said shoes can weaken your feet. Your toes are meant to be separated, he said. Running barefoot makes them stronger and increases your balance.

When first training barefoot, you should start by wearing the shoes during warm-up or cool-down. Try walking at first, then running short distances on a soft surface.

Sales of Vibram shoes reached 11 million in 2009. The FiveFingers shoe was introduced in 2006 and since then sales have tripled each year.

Locally, stores can barely keep them on the shelves.Matt Lucas, the president of Luke s Locker, has seen the popularity of the shoe grow. Lucas said there has been a lot of interest from consumers for things that can improve form.

Other shoes offer the same appeal.

Nike introduced the line of Nike Free in 2006. Consumers choose the level of support in these shoes.

Newton running shoes also provide a barefoot feel. Its technology focuses on the runner landing on the forefoot instead of the heel.

Lucas says barefoot shoes are great options for training as well. The one difference: The FiveFingers shoe has separated toes, so prepare to get a few stares when you wear them.

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