“Yeah, the bugger got them and is running away. Can you help me catch him?”. That was my reply to what I got asked often when running completely barefoot. Most people looked confused at that reply, or laughed, with a “You should be in an institution” type look on their faces.
Are You Insane?
What was going through my mind to think that running without any shoes on was a good idea? It all started because I had run a half-marathon, and was planning on running a full marathon, but I kept getting injuries – particularly relating to my calf muscles and even more my Achilles tendon.
Why didn’t I go to a physio or pop some pills to take care of it? Taking your shoes off and running seems a bit extreme? I am a big believer, right or wrong, that the body has an incredible ability to heal itself, given the chance. Recently read a book that described the problems that running in comfy, springy, padded training shoes causes to the body. I was also having a few weeks rest, in an attempt to recover again, and I’m a very impatient patient!
Let The Barefooting Begin!
So my thinking was this, I’ll take them off, and go either a few hundred meters or until I can take no more, then either jog back, or walk, or crawl. Or phone my wife. What happened blew me away – running did not hurt my Achilles tendon at all, and although I could feel a bit of tension higher up my calf muscle, that felt like a “good ache” – if there is such a thing.
So, I ran again, extending out to a 1 km total run. Usually, I would have a day to let my feet recover a bit, before running again.
Watch for the Ouchies
I also found that when you’re running and there is stuff on the path or road, ouchies, you increase your cadence – you make more steps more frequently, shorten your pace. What this does is takes the impact out of your footfalls, so you don’t feel the “ouchies“. Once you realize this, your running starts to feel more like floating. It’s a very cool feeling!
I feel like I’m Floating!
This was the thing that got me to continue – as I ran more on my toes and got used to the new running style, I found that it became almost trance-like with the running, felt like I was really in the moment, floating along. It felt awesome – like I was in the flow.
I built up to being able to run 10kms on concrete paths, and roads without any problems. Something that happened as I got better was that my tendon on my big toe was tightening up, which could well have been because of running too much on my toes. This had the effect of tightening my calf muscles up. I was also training with training shoes on, for the upcoming marathon. That tightening of my toe tendon caused a lot of problems, but I really enjoyed the experience of running barefoot, and sometime soon, I will do it again, but this time get some barefoot shoes to run in – you do get used to the blisters, but would be nice if you didn’t get them in the first place.
If You Have Niggly Issues Maybe This Will Help?
If you have any problems like plantar fasciitis or back problems, and Achilles or calf muscle issues when running, I recommend you give barefoot running a try. Take your time building up if you like it, and be careful, as you adjust your running style your muscles will also need to adjust, which could be uncomfortable initially but is awesome once you feel that flow.
I intend to run with very minimal barefoot shoes intermittently, as I believe it will improve foot strength, in addition to running in my normal trainers. I expect that I may get to the point where I will run more and more in the barefoot/minimalist training shoes, which I believe would be beneficial overall.
What About Blisters?
There’s no doubt about it, from the first time I started barefoot running, I got blisters. You do get used to them. You get blisters on blisters. But your feet get tougher. Although this might sound strange blisters are good – it means you’re running without proper form. The friction that creates causes blisters, and you feel it immediately and can adjust your gait. I haven’t tried them yet, but I’d imagine minimalist shoes like Merrill Vapor Glove, or Vibram Five Fingers would probably help a little there. I’d expect they’d be uncomfortable in the short term. I will try some of these at some point, and report back.
But You Don’t Run On Concrete, Right?
Concrete is the absolute best. Because if you run wrong, it hurts, and you know about it. You get blisters (see above), or your feet become uncomfortable. Even though it sounds strange, I wouldn’t want to run on grass, as you don’t know what is underneath. Glass would be a problem, so you need to be watching in front of you as you run, and keep your cadence high so that the pressure on the soles of your feet is lighter.
Once you start to get used to the fact that some thick piece of foam will not protect your foot, you run differently. A lot lighter. It’s an amazing feeling, but it takes some time to build up to.
Take Your Time Getting Used To Running Barefoot
Don’t rush it, you will get an injury. I’ve heard of people getting fractures in their feet from overdoing it. If you don’t run with a forefoot strike, you will need your calf muscles to build up to be able to successfully do barefoot running. The tendons and muscle structures within the foot also start to get used, instead of being artificially supported by training shoes. You have to build up a lot slower than you would with training shoes on. Listen to your body, if it’s starting to get sore – anything other than blisters. It’s okay to walk or slow down. At the very least you should be thinking about your form, and see if small adjustments can get the discomfort to go away.
The Book That Got Me Thinking
And if you ever want an interesting read about how a tribe in the Sierra Madre are incredible ultra runners, and the footwear that they use. It is an incredible book, called Born To Run By Christopher McDougall.