Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Barefoot Running - Just Do It!

It's always fascinating to me when I can look back and recall a specific moment in time when my life took a distinct turn. As it relates to barefoot running it occurred on April 21, 2009 when I read The Daily Mile article The painful truth about trainers: Are running shoes a waste of money? 

Part of why I run is to challenge myself both physically and mentally. Something in this article spoke to the part of me that allows me to challenge myself and my long-held belief that in order to run I need to wear running shoes.

Hell, they're called running shoes for a reason right? 

Probably because that's how they were marketed. But I digress.

As with many moments where you make a sudden turn it's not immediately clear that you have and it's the little moments later that more clearly reveal the path you find yourself on.

These revealing moments happened over the next 11 months.

In June I bought my first pair of Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs). As I was in the middle of training for my first marathon it was July before I did my first runs. While I had embraced the idea of running barefoot I had not properly considered that I might need to learn how to run barefoot. The result was some blistered feet and low-grade shattering of my newfound illusion. I put the VFFs on the shelf for a bit.

Fast forward to December and someone recommended Born to Run which has become something of a manifesto for the barefoot movement. Like many others I tore through the book in just a few days and then began evangelizing the idea to those that would listen. I had begun to ramp up my training for the Seattle Rock N Roll Marathon and was preparing to start running in my VFFs. Unlike my summer training I read more on the techniques of barefoot running (my one complaint of Born to Run is that it did not get into the details of good running and diet practice), primarily focused on Ken Bob's site

As luck would have it I broke my toe the morning of the day I planned on making my first VFF run. Not only did this stop my training but it put a hitch in my plan to introduce VFF and barefoot running into my training. With six weeks off I knew I'd have to add miles to my training as quickly (and safely) as possible and so when the toe injury healed it was back to shod running. Sometimes it's just too easy to justify maintaining the status quo.

Along the way I've found more compatriots in the barefoot / minimalist running world. The news of the Prof. Daniel Lieberman study on foot striking has gotten a lot of press. Finally, I saw a screening of Running the Sahara in which Charlie Engle preaches to "just get out there and do it - what's the worst that can happen?" This movie and Charlie really have a way of getting you to challenge yourself.

So the worst that could happen is I went for a barefoot run tonight. One mile. And it was glorious.

The irony is all I had to do was follow the advice of the largest shoe manufacturer and "Just Do It!"


I should note that I may not have been terribly ardent in my advice to take any introduction to barefoot running SLOWLY. Regardless of how many miles you currently run you are almost invariably relearning to run as a barefooter. The most noticeable effect will be that your calves and ankles will be quite sore after your first several runs. I highly recommend reading the "beginning barefoot" and "how to run" posts on before your first barefoot run.


Anonymous said...

So, you're a convert, huh? I haven't considered barefoot running. Shoot...I do good to get the miles in WITH shoes! LOL The jury is still out for me in terms of barefoot running. I have Born to Run on the nightstand, patiently awaiting its turn. Will it convince me? :-) Keep me posted on how you like the shoeless action.

PS Glad to find another newbie blogger! Yours looks slick, yo! Nice work!

Brandon said...

Congrats on the first barefoot run! Just take it slow, as an setback due to injury is far worse than lower mileage to start off. I've run into issues a couple times with the Vibrams, trying to do too much too fast. Barefoot running will help prevent this as the bottoms of your feet will tell you to stop before the rest of your body is in agony. Just make sure not to "fight through the pain" :-)

Jeff in West Seattle said...

@Hendy - thanks! Born to Run really hit home after reading a fair amount last summer.

@Brandon - yeah, I really killed my momentum last summer by blistering up. One of my good friends is getting started as well and is literally taking it a mile at a time. I have a marathon in June so it will definitely be a combination of shod for training and limited, slow barefooting. Thanks for the advice!

Jenn said...

I think I'm buying into the VFF bandwagon after marathon #1. I'll be doing it slowly...a mile or two at a time, and likely even those will be treadmill miles at first. But I'm eager to give this a go!

Allie said...

I actually did my first barefoot mile on Friday. I did it on the treadmill and it was great. I'll probably be doing my shorter runs barefoot. Glad to hear you enjoyed it as much as I did. :)

Jeff in West Seattle said...

Allie - good for you! I ran a mile at the end of my speedwork on the track which seems to be a good strategy. The surface is a bit forgiving. One barefoot mile at a time :-) Enjoy!