Learning To Barefoot Run

LearningBareFoot.jpgIn the past 6.5 weeks I’ve run 282 miles, all but one run of ~18 miles has been done in my Vibram FiveFingers. They are looking a little worse for wear now two toes have a puncture repair patch on them, one on top of an old one. I really must save up and get myself a new pair.

It’s been a slow build up to thisa point but about 7 weeks ago some tipping point occurred where I just didn’t want to run in normal shoes anymore. It was way more fun running in the FiveFingers. Strictly it’s not barefoot but I’m using the term for minimal running. The running just felt more connected more natural. I’ll admit I was slower. It was something I wasn’t very public about but it was pretty clear that my pace was slower in my Vibrams. it was especially the case at the start of runs. However, it felt right, it made you start slow and speed up as you got warm. There was no hammering out the door.

I trusted to a firm belief that this was the right way to run. When you hear things like “he’s a natural heel striker” it really doesn’t make sense. If it’s something thats done with shoes on then it’s not “natural” unless that person was born with shoes. I find it difficult to imagine anyone “naturally” landing on their heel when running if they have no support (ie barefoot). I found myself running slowly but comfortably, rapid foot strikes, mid to forefoot is how it felt. I was not concerned about pace just running and enjoying it. I certainly found that I tired less, more regularly feeling strong at the end of the run.

In the gym I’ve found that my strength at calf raises has increased. not surprising really. I’ve been working on that and together with more forefoot running it seems it was bound to happen.

So last week I did this 18 mile run in racing flats ( more on why later) and completed it in 2:20. Yesterday I went out in my vibrams and did it in 2:16. The last hour of that running being the fastest and I felt strong. I finally felt like I was running fast in vibrams. What an awesome feeling. I still started slow but it’s now for a shorter period. If you saw me run from my house down the road you’d be unimpressed but if you saw me a KM later through the park I’d be running well.

One the reasons running in vibrams feels so good is that you have to think about what you’re doing. You can’t just go putting your foot anywhere. Normal shoes / running shoes just remove your from that connection with your environment probably making you unaware when you’re doing something thats doing damage. With vibrams you have to place your feet and if you get it wrong you know immediately and react surprisingly quickly. Hit something a little two pointy and I’d do a quick step and minimise the pain. This reaction seems to improve. It means on rougher ground you adjust your stride much more which I feel helps reduce the stress of running. This is very similar with fell running. This connection and having to be aware of where you’re putting your foot does have it’s downside especially as you adapt to this type of running. In the past few week I had two such occasions:

First time was on my long run two weeks ago. I was on the towpath doing my long run when I hit a small stone which produce a pain under the ball of my right foot. It felt like it was bruised.  I completed the run but took the next day off running then had to do my long run the day after in normal runners. That felt OK and was good to do just in case I have to run in trainers at Kona. However, that run felt much more draining in my legs and as I ran I just felt I should stick with the vibrams and if it’s uncomfortable just not run. It’s my body telling me to rest. This I did and a couple of days later I was back running.

The second occasion was taking my bike to the bike shop. Just walking in my vibrams I managed to bash my little toe on the edge of a display unit. Boy oh boy it hurt. It calmed down and I later went for my run. 30 minutes of no discomfort then enough there to stop me running. That night and the next morning it was so painful I was limping and walking very slowly. At swimming the next day, Mike mirrored my thoughts when he said it might be broken. It was that painful. Then that afternoon I was out running and it felt perfect. I’ve not had the slightest pain since ! If I’d not experienced this myself I would never have believed I could have gone from that much pain walking to no pain in such a short period of time.

Running minimalist has given me the joy of running back. I don’t care for what people tell me the research is. I can’t be bothered to go checking if there’s been “no research showing supportive shoes cause injuries” or vice versa or whatever. We’re so influenced currently by “research” that we switch off from common sense. If an “expert” tells us there’s no research supporting such and such a thing how can we challenge it ? We’re not the expert, we’re not taking the time to look through it all. Who’s funding the research ? In this capitalist society we need a profit and since there’s no one out there manufacturing and selling feet I’m guessing most funding is supplied by those with a vested interested in a particular outcome. Remember – there was a time when there were lots of experts with lots of research telling us all that the world was flat.

For me this is logical but you don’t even need that … it’s a very simple thing to try yourself. Just remember though that since the moment you could walk you were encouraged to wear shoes with support so it may take some time to get back to your natural state. Just take your time and decide for yourself.

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