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Barefoot running.

Wed, Jun 30, 2010

cardio, Exercise

Sure, you can choose to deem this a re-run. I prefer to view it as foreshadowing for tomorrow’s post. Tomato. Tomaaaaato.


We’ve previously established there are innumerable things I’ll attempt in the name of coming up with a freakin blog post journalism.

I’ve NIA’d

I’ve awkwardly swung a kettlebell.

Ive competed in bodybuilding.

This time, however, I’m letting you down.

I’ve decided upon a post topic I found intriguing (if by intriguing you mean mildly nut-jobbish—which I do) yet one which this MizFit is far too fearful (and delicate) to attempt.

What fitness endeavor turned this intrepid writer squeamish?

Barefoot running.

Yep, you read that correctly.

There’s a contingent of runners regularly exiting their domiciles barefoot and not merely to jog to the mailbox & back praying their In Touch weekly hath arrived.

In addition, if you buy into the group’s motto: one foot at a time, one sole at a time, one hell of a good time, then I’ve not only failed you but deprived myself of a damn enjoyable escapade in the process.

According to its practitioners, the notion of barefoot running started at the beginning.

The beginning, they contend, of us.

Sure we all commence our lives barefoot (and in many cases spend our entire first year that way) yet the fact we also spend the majority of this same year crawling seems not to lessen their zeal-like passion for this point.

In the minds of many barefoot runners the very reason our ancestors survived was the fact they frequently remained shoeless through adulthood.

Those who escaped from predators ran swiftly (according to individuals like Ken Saxton, editor of the web
site runningbarefoot.org) because their healthy, bare feet enabled them to learn to run properly.

If you’re anything like I am, your initial reaction to Saxton’s words is one of confusion.

It was only after a few readings I ‘got’ his point that the discomfort which at times accompanies barefoot running is a gift because of what it tells the runner.

Pain can, indeed, be a signal for us to change our gait or tweak our stride a fact I’m quickly learning is true as I train for my own shoe-clad race.

In Saxton’s mind, only through serving as your own foot whisperer (my phrase not his) will you ever learn to run properly and pain free.

This assertion baffled the newbie-runner in me.

My feet can throb after just *wearing* shoes for twelve hours. How badly might they ache if I jogged barefoot for a mile or two?

The barefoot running community would answer a resounding: far less.

They believe our feet were designed to keep us moving upright, at varying speeds and do so in total comfort. Feet weren’t created, in their opinion, to be swathed in leather or canvas without being sore later.

We think we need shoes, they’d contend, as a reaction to skilled marketing campaigns and a desire for moneymaking by shoe companies. (MizFit note: I must add that at this point in my research I was thinking constantly of this blogger who is my sole provider of shoe porn.)

I’m nothing if not a skeptic, but I felt my anti-barefoot running resolve weaken.

Why did I love my running shoes?

Was it the support they provided or had I bought into the notion they’d make me faster, stronger, lighter on my feet and look pretty damn snazzy as well.

Grab a sneaker and plop it on it on a flat surface. See how the front of the shoe curves slightly upward?

This curl is added to encourage a heel-to-toe rolling movement when the wearer walks or runs, yet a rolling motion has been shown to cause potential injury to the wearer’s knees and back.

Now stand barefoot and check out how your toes are positioned.

Are they naturally curving upward or gripping downward against the floor?

Barefoot running made much more intellectual sense after I completed this little experiment.


Quite honestly I couldn’t get past what I deemed the ick factor of potential disease.

While this isn’t a much discussed topic I’m convinced it poses a rather large danger that my fancypants Nike Air Rifts prevent.

Puncture wounds (!), even on soles thickened over time, pose a real and frequent threat.

One irrefutable fact is the need to start slow no matter your shoe-clad fitness level.

It’s suggested one walk before running to allow the soles of the feet to thicken properly (why does that phrase make me throw up a little in my mouth?).

Sites such as runningbarefoot.org encourage newbies to stroll barefoot at every opportunity before progressing running and, only after time, should one attempt long barefoot running sessions.

Foot acclimation can vary, but the consensus is it takes three or four weeks to prepare the feet to pound the pavement.

In the end, I wasn’t convinced enough to attempt an outdoor barefoot run.

The promise of running barefoot (imagined as childlike frolicking whist birds weave garlands in my hair) was compelling yet my older, wiser, wet-blanket self really had zero interest in risking injury easily avoided by covering my feet.

As a result, if you need me this morning you can find my cynical-arse running my neighborhood marathon training.

Shoes firmly intact.

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74 Responses to “Barefoot running.”

  1. Erica says:

    I definitely have wanted to give this a try. I think (on your first post) I mentioned I had heard a lot about this from Matt the No Meat Athlete. I think it would just be cool to experience a totally different kind of run. I hope that you are doing well. Hows the Tornado? 4th plans?

  2. Hanlie says:

    I like the idea of barefoot running (let’s forget for a moment that I am not even a runner), but I can’t get over the fact that it’s bound to hurt my soles and then there’s of course the germ/filth factor. In the olden days they walked in pristine wilderness, not grimy sidewalks and pavement. I ever squirm when I see people walk barefoot in the mall. Me, I love going barefoot in summer, but only at home!

    • TimeTraveler says:

      That “pristine wilderness” has as many more types of microbes than a typical urban and suburban environment. Plus insects, snakes, parasites, and hidden dangers that are not easily seen and avoided. It’s just a false perception that in those “olden days” it was cleaner, though it does depend what you mean by ‘olden days’. Today we have a lot less pollution, less trash, less chemical contamination, since anti-pollution regulations have been put into place over the past 40 years. And that mall floor you so “squirm” about is mopped daily, there is little there that would be harmful - ceramic floor tiles in a dry air conditioned building are not ideal places for germs to multiply. You already touch all sorts of microbes with your hands, and you live. A typical beach has much more in the way of germs than that mall floor. Why don’t you “squirm” when you see mechanics work on dirty cars and pick up tires that rolled all over the city? Why don’t you “squirm” when you see kids playing football in a park and getting mud all over them, where dogs and other animals have pooped? Why don’t you “squirm” when a gardener digs in the dirt with their bare hands and plants something? After all that what happens?

      They wash their hands. And you can wash your feet. God, this generation is so prudish and squeamish. Young people walked barefoot everywhere during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the sky did not fall.

  3. Tara says:

    I can’t get into the whole barefoot notion as I think it’s too icky but that sneaker experiment is pretty cool.

    What’s tomorrow about? :)

  4. Nan says:

    I am MEETING YOUR CYNICAL ARSE in Las Vegas!!!

    I’m definitely coming and so excited.

    When will you post more details?

  5. Nan says:

    and LOL at the crawling piece.

    I say give it time and there will be people crawling marathons ‘like we did when we were babies.’

  6. Yum Yucky says:

    see that. You’ve convinced me that shoe-wearing is for the birds…oh wait. Birds have claws, not feet. I take a brisk jog to the mailbox frequently. Too bad it’s right next to the front door. I never leave the step. Now I’m about to do my in-house barefoot cardio. I haven’t put a home-exercising shoe on in over threeo years, but I can slowly take this outdoors by running in my lawn. Seriously. I wanna try.

  7. Leslie says:

    I have seen you tweet about the book Born To Run.

    It had me almost ready for barefoot—but only on the sand.

    I will pass on the puncture wounds.

  8. Kat says:

    I am intrigued by the VFF’s. But I think I will wear shoes on my next race…-)

  9. Trish @IamSucceeding says:

    Oy! My feet were hurting and screaming NO as I contemplated the thought! Where I may agree we might not have been created with wearing shoes in mind…all that goes forth we can catch by doing so was not either.

    This sometime in future runner will definitely be in shoes…comfy ones at that!

  10. Bea says:

    I am by no means a real runner (whatever that is LOL) yet can’t imagine taking three to four weeks to prime my feet for running outside barefoot.

    I am impatient.

  11. BK says:

    As much as I love running and as long as I have been running I will PASS on barefoot running. It’s not my thing. Plus my feet are too damn pretty to “thicken up”

  12. Lainie says:

    Are those your feet in the picture?
    Don’t toughen them up! :)

  13. Beth says:

    I love my VFFs. I can’t warm to the idea of running completely barefoot because I’m afraid of stepping on stones or sharp stuff. But I definitely run better sans shoes.

  14. Desert Agave says:

    I’m intrigued by this whole barefoot running thing, but as I don’t even walk barefoot to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I think it would take a miracle for me to try it myself!

  15. Meredith says:

    Interesting but a pass for this wimpy woman.

    I saw your Born to Run tweets to and started the book last week.

  16. Leah J. Utas says:

    I’d love to go barefoot in theory. In practice there’s Dog-knows-what available to step in and on. I used to go barefoot on the farm in summer. It felt good.

  17. Laura says:

    I loved Born to Run and get the whole concept…but my poor feets and I don’t think they can handle it. I have gone for super duper expensive cushioned shoes to much lighter ones so maybe one day….

  18. messymimi says:

    My mother fussed at me to put shoes on my babies until I told her that I didn’t teach them manual dexterity by putting mittens on their hands, and neither would I teach them pedal dexterity by putting shoes on their feet.

    Then she fussed at me for using such language.:)

    Seriously, I understand their point. We aren’t meant to wear shoes. But we also, au natural, aren’t meant to be on concrete or wood floors either.

  19. Sagan says:

    I really like this notion and it’s something that I want to try so badly! But naturally, barefoot running is something I’d have to do according to the weather… methinks running outside in a Canadian winter with these shoes would NOT be the best plan ;)

    This time of year? PERFECT :D

  20. Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman says:

    I’ve read up on barefoot running and aside from the fear that I’ll step on a syringe, some spit, or gum, I fear how my mechanical issues would do without shoes and my custom orthotics. I have really flat feet that require inserts. I can’t imagine running barefoot would be good for my knees. Though the way the gait is changed from barefoot to shoed is really interesting.

  21. Miz says:

    why did your comment Messy Mimi make me think of au natural running as in nekid :)

  22. Krissie says:

    I can’t even step onto my front step without shoes. Between being tender-footed and my irrational fear of splinters, the thought of running barefoot is almost hilarious. But it’s kinda like eggplant and salmon- I really wish I could get on board because I understand the benefits, they are just too icky for me.

  23. South Beach Steve says:

    I am barefoot more than I wear shoes at home. Of course, at work it isn’t really accepted. :-) I do walk some barefoot, but I don’t run. My feet, even with years of walking barefoot, are so tender. I know this sounds crazy, but walking in the grass is ticklish to me.

  24. Carrie says:

    At Rich’s first half marathon (in the rain) the pacer ran barefoot and he said he does a marathon every weekend during marathon season and he does them all barefoot. Since it was raining that day, he claimed he was the only one without water logged socks and shoes. Rich isn’t taking up barefoot running anytime soon, but would like to try Vibram fivefingers.

  25. Kyle says:

    Considering the surge of available minimalist footwear to the marketplace, you can experience the alleged benefits of barefoot running along with the comfort of having some protection. That being said, I use traditional running shoes, but simply concentrate on having a fore to mid sole impact.

    Since I have also seen science v. science published on mid v. heel strike contradicting each other regarding both efficiency in running style as well as injury/effect on the body, I lean towards the “barefoot” philosophy while still maintaining your same sensibility towards running protected.

    Keep running Miz!

  26. Jody - Fit at 52 says:

    I have read mixed reactions on this trend. I can see doing it on the sand at the beach BUT on asphalt or sidewalks where there is all kind of crap on them.. NOT!

    Also, if you have bad feet like I do.. flat as possibly can be, wide, bunions - I need the support to protect them. It is hard enough to just walk in bare feet around my house with these feet of mine!

  27. Tessa says:

    Yesterday I punctured the sole of my foot whilst walking barefoot on my sisters wood decking. It hurts like hell when i walk (BIG splinter) let alone run. And i have thick soles because i nearly always walk barefoot in and around our house (!).

    I can wholeheartedly advise against running barefoot. Auch! There simply isn’t enough time to watch out for potential hazards whilst you are running. And you don’t want to run whilst staring at your feet.

    Apart from the potential puncture dangers our ancestors probably didn’t have to run on solid pavement. Our ancestors also didn’t litter as much dangerous crap as nowadays people do.

    Not everybody has the luxury of a pristine beach or lush meadow for their running pleasure…

    • Chris says:

      Some of us have to make do with the streets of Manhattan and Central Park! 400 barefoot miles there so far an not ven a blister. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

    • Chris says:

      Some of us have to make do with the streets of Manhattan and Central Park! 400 barefoot miles there so far an not even a blister. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

    • Chris says:

      Some of us have to make do with the streets of Manhattan and Central Park! 400 barefoot miles there so far and not even a blister. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

  28. Aubry says:

    Why do I applaud that you passed? ;)

  29. MrsFatass says:

    I like the IDEA of barefoot running. Alas, even on the beach I wore my shoes though. I’m with you on being a bit grossed by the sole-thickening. I mean, I what would my pedicure lady say?

  30. DestinationAthlete says:

    I’ve seen a few people entering my clinic with injuries from barefoot running…usually plantar fascitis or puncture wounds. None of which are pretty (at all).

    While I do think that the whole concept can hold its’ weight, the problem is that NO ONE likes to be patient and GO SLOW. And therein lies the problem - it takes TIME to be able to run or walk barefoot, esp on varied surfaces and with dealing with items that aren’t normally found on the ground (IE trash, cut glass, screws, etc).

    I know you’ve tried out the Vibram 5-fingers, which has been deemed by many to be “the next closest thing” that’s out there….curious to read your review (dareIsaytomorrow)?

  31. Evan says:

    I saw your pink feet tweets. Is that fixed?
    Would dirty feet be better? ;)

  32. JavaChick says:

    Even ignoring the icky-ness factor (sidewalks are dirty people), I need arch support. Even walking around my house I generally wear flip flops that have arch support (FitFlops or Okabashi - I have a collection going on).

    On the other hand, I do have a couple of Ellen Barrett’s Barefoot workout DVDs and I do enjoy them.

  33. Miz says:

    Ahhhh the pink feet.
    I’m working on fixing that ;)

    More to come….

  34. Kyra says:

    And to think, I try and KEEP my soles from thickening with ugly calluses. And the ick factor of germs. We saw a guy in NYC, not a street person either, last week walking with no shoes on. EEWWWW. There’s nasty stuff on the ground out there that I wouldn’t want to step in. I’ll keep my lovely ASICs on my feet, thank you very much.

  35. Hannah says:

    I hate wearing shoes- as soon as I get inside I take them off. I love the idea of running sans shoes, but the injury (puncture) factor scares me too much. I have run barefoot a ton on my treadmill and it taught me so much and I adjusted a lot. I love working out at home because I rarely wear shoes when I do it- something that I can’t really do at the gym :)

  36. 'Drea says:

    I do try to walk around the house barefoot at times since I heard that it strengthens the feet but I’m so accustomed to wearing shoes that I even forget to do that and, yeah, I don’t know if I would be running or walking barefoot outdoors anytime soon.

  37. Nita says:

    Twice in my life I’ve had my heel land on a small rock. It developed into a rock bruise. Then it developed into plantar fasciitis. I’m still dealing with the second incident.

    And both happened while walking. Can you imagine how much worse it would be with the impact of running?

    It’s a nice concept, but I won’t be doing it. Plus. . . I learned years ago that I have to keep shoes on my feet or I break my little toes on everything. I got tired of doing that and haven’t done it since going into shoes full time.

  38. debby says:

    I like the idea of running barefoot. But I am curious as to whether they are promoting running on our hard concrete surfaces. I noticed that destination athlete mentioned plantar fascitis, which is so painful and so difficult to get rid of. And I can tell the difference when I walk on my dirt road and the concrete regular road-the dirt has a little ‘give.’ But I can’t imagine walking barefoot on my dirt road. So many small rocks and pebbles and stuff. But still, I like the idea…

    Looking forward to tomorrow’s post. Did you do it???

  39. cammy@tippytoediet says:

    I don’t seem to run very well WITH shoes; maybe I’d do better at barefoot running. Or maybe not.

    I’ve been reading a lot about this lately via researching ‘chi running’ which advocates a different style of running and less shoe (thinner sole, less rigid, etc.) Maybe that’s a good way to transition to barefoot running?

  40. keila says:

    When I am at home I seldom, if ever, have shoes on. Even in the yard I would prefer to go barefoot. In the wintertime, I will go so far as to wear my Ugg flipflops out to get the mail and take the dog out. But when I’m working out I NEED the support of a good shoe. So, barefoot running? I don’t know. Maybe on the beach. Now if I could just get to the beach. . .

  41. Miz says:

    Im so curious about that as well, Cammy.

    Im drawn to the idea of how Chi running mixes the inner focus/flow of Tai Chi with the GOGOGOenergy of running.

    shall we blog less and CHI more? :)

    try it together?


  42. Karyn says:

    I wear my vibram five fingers while running. They are just like being barefoot but you have the add protection of a rubber? sole. They are amazing, plus I love the look on peoples face when they see my ape feet! LOL

  43. Lori (Finding Radiance) says:

    I’m too freaked out about broken glass, sharp rocks and whatnot (or even worse, dog doo in between my toes!).

    I look forward to tomorrow’s post!

  44. Nyal says:

    I am a barefoot runner and I understand the concerns. May I add a few things?

    1. It will not take you 3 to 4 weeks to complete the transition. It will take you much, much longer. I am working my way up to my old distance of 6 miles. I am 4 months in and will finish the process in August. That’s the bad news. The good news is you only have to do this once, barring you leave running for years or something. I am up to 3.3 miles again.

    2. It is possible to run on many more surfaces than you might think. I run about a third on asphalt, a third on gravel roads, and a third on trails. Your foot and all its good bits will be able to handle them all, WITH proper form and lots of patience. Most everything I run on feels very good to the touch, especially mud. Gravel roads, however, are trickier.

    3. Many claim barefoot running is better for you and will cure or prevent injuries. I suspect this is anecdotal, but consider that A. your feet will hurt if you are doing something wrong and tell you how to fix the problem B. you will learn to REST and listen to your body in ways you never have before. Patience will direct your efforts. c. You will be focused on proper form that always helps. I don’t know about all the studies, but many suggest good things. I have been able to shake a severe splint from this winter.

    4. Barefoot running is a whole different sport than regular shod running. It is different in so many ways, has such different goals, unique rewards, and a brilliant outlook. I fell in love with running again after 10 years and will not go back to using shoes.

    5. I lied, I am going to put shoes on this winter. I don’t live in the tropics, I live in Norway. We have winter here. I will be using floppy minimalist shoes in the snow. Oddly enough, BFR are obsessed with shoes, finding the right sandal or VFF or water shoe. Barefooting about learning to run better, funner, and challenging yourself.

    If you try it, you may also agree. a

  45. POD says:

    You know I’m not a runner but an owner of creepy toes that need protection from the elements outside. Running barefoot sounds Utopian…in a perfect world where no broken glass or metal shards or cactus spines can lodge in your feet once you pounce your full body weight upon the object. I’m not supposed to even walk around my house barefoot because you haven’t lived until you’ve got an infection from an open wound and running a fever of 105 in the ER.

    I know this doesn’t happen to everyone but I’m not everyone. I’m with you on taking care of the feet with shoes intact. If you have to do something bare, shower.

  46. Tammy says:

    I would love to check out the five fingers. Barefoot? No way.

  47. Shelley B says:

    Your feet would melt, running outside in Texas during the summer. Yeah, this isn’t for me…I remember stubbing my toes when I ran barefoot as a child, I stepped on a nail - shoes were invented for a REASON! :)

  48. Joanne says:

    I love going barefoot but would never try running barefoot. There are too many little rocks not to mention glass that could put a damper on a long run.
    I have Saucony Fast Twitch which are light with little support and those are close enough to being barefoot for a run in my mind. Even with those, I use them for short races only.
    Good for you for not falling for it.

  49. Amy says:

    I understand the concept, ick & ouch factor aside. However our ancestors live span was much shorter and the compound issues that arise with age didn’t exist.

    I go barefoot far too often. I have even run barefoot (short). Right now I am suffering from the beginging of planar faciitis. Could it be from new wood floor & barefoot (3/10), treadmil 6mo straight, begining running (6/10) who knows. My bet is being barefoot on the wood floors too often.

  50. Caroline says:

    I definitely want to get close to barefooting it sometime, but not until I can afford to buy a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. I couldn’t imagine running on concrete or asphalt shoe free, especially at these temperatures, and there aren’t many parks in my town that would provide enough grass to get any real distance out of.

  51. Amy says:

    I love that I am your shoe porn purveyor. I am, however, a bit appalled that I was mentioned in a post about NOT WEARING SHOES! That is full of crazy! :)

    (I’m glad you’re not taking the barefoot running outside yet!)

  52. Mary Meps says:

    Hmmm, I love being barefoot when it’s warm enough to walk around the house so. But having to take off my shoes at the airport makes me squeamish. Cinders hurt. It’s all lava around here - rocks that cut you like glass. So, no outdoor running for me sans footwear. Besides if that cougar comes back, a shoe might make a handy weapon. Does it? Hmmm, maybe I’m cougar food.

  53. chelseaj says:

    My husband has been barefoot running for 4.5 years now after he killed his knees running a marathon (he qualified for Boston, but still). He wears the Vibrams. They just came out with a new shoe actually designed for running, but I hear it is hard to find in stores due to popularity. All of his running problems have basically been solved by switching running forms.
    We both recently listened to the audio version of “Born to Run”, and while I agree that we evolved to run and walk barefoot, I don’t agree with the idea that humans have had any evolutionary pressure to be runners, vis-a-vis catch your food or starve, in the last 10,000 years. There are many people (myself included) for whom barefoot running would not solve genetically caused barriers.
    I definitely recommend you try the vibrams-they last forever, so we have saved a ton of money on running shoes.

  54. Katie says:

    I run barefoot sometimes on my treadmill. I also run in Nike Frees, which are suppose to help maintain a running form closer to barefoot running. If you run in a shoe similar to the Frees or a racing flat you’ll find that you run more on your forefoot as opposed to the heel toe motion that most running shoes enforce. I do think running barefoot helps show us a more correct running form, but it’s not as easy as some of the barefoot fanatics will have you believe. The biggest obstacle for me is my calves. My calves get so sore when I run barefoot. In regard to running barefoot outside, I agree with you. There’s glass and rocks…I don’t plan to run outside barefoot.

  55. Bringing Pretty Back says:

    Barefoot or with shoes… I need to get moving!

  56. Blake Michael says:

    Hi,thanks for the great quality of your blog, each time i come here, i m amazed.

  57. Alyssa says:

    Oooooooh, I’m jealous! I keep sneaking peeks at these (I’m really not trying to rhyme, it just happened, I swear!) at these whenever we go to REI.
    Of course, I’m not a runner, so I can contribute absolutely nothing of worth to the debate. I just like the shoes.

  58. charlotte says:

    I am so loving watching you do this experiment! I tried barefoot running once. I did two miles and paid the price for weeks afterwards. Owowowow. Apparently you’re supposed to work up to that. Build up callouses and whatnot. As Adam Sandler would say: “Things that would have been useful to know YESTERDAY!!!” (Do you love Wedding Singer like I do?)

  59. Cyndi says:

    Stick with your shoes at this point in your marathon training. I was doing well in my training and put stupid in Vibrams - I absolutely loved them too much too quickly and got me a good stress fracture that put me out of commission for 10 weeks. Though I biked during this time, my running sunk and I am now just at one mile on a track. Now I just wear them out and about, don’t know if I will ever run in them again, if so, very slow build up.

  60. Dave says:

    I ran barefoot on grass for several years in the 70′s and suffered no related injuries during that period.

  61. Suzeeeeeee says:

    Im thinking the “proper” running form is also called the “Pose Method”? I run with Vibrams only on the beach….never on pavement…..but I am not a heel striker even in my runnies….but I do notice the the heel strikers in races are always the fastest.

  62. vibram five finger says:

    This is because your five fingers shoe do the work, your legs and feet should do.http://www.fivefingeronline.com/

  63. ana says:

    I know some people from cross country who run barefoot every once in a while, but I also know that most of the time they wear flat bottomed sneakers with no padding similar to racing shoes. and then they don’t wear socks. this protects there feet from the rocks. just thought I’d share.

  64. Vibram Five Finger says:

    Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon. Thanks!

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