Not sure if I’ve shared this yet, but I am and barefoot runner. More than that, I have a love affair with barefoot!
For those who are unfamiliar, no, this does not mean that I run in completely bare feet, though I have before. It means that I wear minimalist shoes, most frequently Vibram FiveFingers that help me to run in a more natural way – like you would do as a kid running barefoot through the grass.
I guess it just sounded appealing to start – Natural – Barefoot – Minimal. And who can beat the brightly colored, odd-looking shoes that EVERYONE asks about. So, I bought my first pair, Sprints, about 20 months ago and decided to give it a tri. Now, I’ve never had any issues with my knees, feet, etc. or my running (other than feeling like I was plodding along), and I didn’t plan on these shoes changing any of that. I just wanted to tri it out!
I did a little online reading, learning about form and foot-strike from those with experience in the barefoot world. The biggest thing I learned was to change my foot-strike to be more forward on my foot. Thus, leaving my heel to simply tap the ground as my ankle does it’s job absorbing the impact, relieving my knees and hips of that duty. THAT took some getting used to.
If you decide to give it a tri, you’ll quickly see that this is far more calf-intensive than your regular heel-strike gate, so you’ll have to take it slow. Probably a lot slower than expected. As my husband has said, “once you think you are ready, you’re not.” How slow are we talking? We’re talking about starting with a half mile. If you want to run more than that, throw on the sneakers that you’re used to before finishing you run. Then, increase by a quarter to a half mile gradually in your minimalist shoes. Eventually, you’ll hit the point where you can go out and do whatever distance you want, but I’d encourage you to start slow. I can’t tell you how many mornings I woke up with calves so sore that I could barely walk to the bathroom.
So “why go through all that?”, you might ask. When I started this transition, I noticed something right away. I felt more forward momentum in my running. Not that I was necessarily faster, but that I wasn’t “undoing” my previous step with the start of the next one. People use the phrase “digging your heels in” as a way to say “putting on the brakes” and that’s exactly how I feel about heel-strike running today. Each time you put press your heel into the pavement, you are using a breaking motion, rather than a forward pushing motion, and it’s just the opposite with a fore/mid-foot-strike. Other than that, I love how light my feet are in my shoes and I also love spending less money on shoes.
Don’t get me wrong, barefoot shoes will run you at least as much as a pair of regular tennis shoes. However, they can last at least twice as long. My past pair was a pair of Vibram Bikilas and I had them for a whole year until I wore a hole into one of the toes (I’m used to replacing shoes every 6 months or so). And I still use them for things like Warrior Dash, mud runs and working out at the gym.
I know I’ve done a lot of talking about Vibram FiveFingers, but they aren’t the only good minimalist shoes out there. I also have a pair of the Merrell Pace Glove, which I like and I’ve been itching to try the New Balance Minimus. The trick is finding a shoe that you like and being fit properly.
About 6 months after I started my barefoot journey, my husband decided to give it a try. Unlike me, he’s always had problems with his knees and he’d recently developed plantar fasciitis. A few months in, he noticed a big change and now he runs with minimal pain and far less plantar issues. I’m not sharing this to say that barefoot will cure all that ails you, but more to say that anyone can give it a tri!
I’ve tried to stay away from all the “scientific” analysis surrounding barefoot running in this post, but there’s plenty out there if you care to read it. This is just my take from my experience and my feelings on a running style that has changed my outlook on running!