The Art of Barefoot Running
The buzz phrase in the running community these days is “barefoot running”. No this isn’t a granola munching attempt to re-kindle ones spirit with the great outdoors (though there is nothing wrong with such an aspiration); this is a movement focused on utilizing the physics and bio-mechanics of the body to increase performance while reducing the risk of injury.
In fact, barefoot running has become so popular that the sport has been covered by The New York Times, Nature, Science Daily, and Harvard.edu.
People pick up the sport of barefoot running for a variety of reasons. Some are concerned with preventing injuries, others desire a competitive edge, while others are drawn to the primordial romance of a barefoot jaunt. Whatever your reason for picking up the sport, barefoot running is a sport and a community, that welcomes all who wish to participate.
Barefoot Running For Beginners (gear)
To begin your journey into the sport of barefoot running, you’ll most likely want to pick up a pair of minimalist shoes. This is because most of your life has been spent wearing pillows around your feet (i.e. running shoes), and a dramatic change from cushioned shoes to raw feet will most likely result in injury.
One of the hottest minimalist shoes on the market are the Vibram Five Fingers (VFF). VFF’s are synthetic shoes with a rubber sole that are designed to mimic and support the natural foot. The rubber sole provides a layer of protection for the foot, preventing stray glass or toxic chemicals from coming in contact with the skin.
Barefoot Running For Beginners (run)
Before you hit the pavement (or trails), you should spend a day or two wearing your minimalist shoes. This will give your body a chance to become acclimated to the new footwear as well as enabling your shoes to stretch and mold to your feet. It may feel awkward at first but push through it!
Typically, it would be foolish to run for more than 3 miles on your first outing in minimalist shoes. The first run will give your leg and foot muscles a chance to acclimate themselves to a new running style and almost certainly, a new foot strike.
You may notice when you first begin running barefoot, your foot strikes the ground differently than it would in a pair of traditional running shoes. This is because you are able to establish a natural “gait” to your running style. Running with a natural gait is key to preventing injuries from prolonged running and overuse. After all, this is how nature intended you to run.
Barefoot Running Long Term
Once you have learned the proper technique and have several miles under your belt in minimalist shoes it may be time to ditch the shoes and prepare for your first “true” barefoot run. Remain attentive to the changes in the bio-mechanics of your body. If you feel like you are straining or pulling a muscle or tendon in an unnatural way, slow down or simply walk. Also, watch out for gravel and glass as these elements can end an enjoyable run very quickly.
Some runners suggest running on dirt trails during the first 2 months of “true” barefoot training as this will be a bit gentler on your feet and allow you to develop the necessary callus to run on pavement. The key to running barefoot long term without experiencing an injury is to remain consistent in your training regimen. Pick out a local 5K race and prepare for that. Once you’ve completed the 5K barefoot, move up to a 10K, half-marathon, and if you’re really ambitious- a full marathon.
Barefoot running is an enjoyable sport that is open to any person with an open mind and a pair of feet. It is a sport that connects modern man (and woman) with the ancient art of running. It is a sport that celebrates thousands of years of evolutionary engineering and wonders where the next thousand years will take us.
If you are interested in barefoot running, I encourage you to give the sport a try, after all- what do you have to lose?