Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why I Chose to Run Barefoot

It seems funny to say that because for the last several months I really haven't been able to run barefoot. But even in minimal shoes these last couple of months have been the most rewarding period of running. I've run more days per week and more miles than I ever have been able to do before and felt better doing it than ever before. And let me preface this with the fact that I am still a beginner. I don't have all the answers. I still have questions. I'm still working on my form. I'm a newbie. But I love it and want to share it with whoever wants to listen.
It really has evolved, as most things do, from years of little things that culminated in the final decision. I am one of those chronically injured runners. My IT bands were almost always the culprit. But I've had a TFL injury, piraformis issues, and calf problems. I always thought that it was because I would increase my mileage to soon, run too many hills, or try to go too fast. And that may well be part of it. But after a lot of research on the internet (I love you, google) and talking with my chiropractor last summer, I came to the conclusion that running wasn't hurting me, I just wasn't running correctly. I really believe that if we run properly, and coincidentally, efficiently, that we should be able to run pain free for years and years. And I'm not thinking 20 or so years. I'm thinking until I die type of years. And by running efficiently I should be able to feel good while running more miles. I'm not looking to break any world records, or even place at events. I just want to run pain free for life. This is where I really started focussing on a mid foot strike. All the research I had done pointed me in this direction. When you strike the ground with your heel first a lot of things happen. First you land in front of your body with your leg mostly straight. Your heel comes in contact with the ground and because it's in front of you, it has a braking effect. All the force from the contact with the ground then radiates up your legs to your knees,hips and back. When you land mid foot with your leg mostly under your body and your center of gravity, your arch, ankles, and knees all act as shock absorbers. You aren't braking either and when you lift your foot you are continuing in a constant moving motion rather than the stopping and starting associated with heel striking. I combed through years of past running photos and found that I was a heel striker. So I started practicing landing mid foot. But I found that even when I thought I was watching my form and trying to land under my body, I was still heel striking. And trying to force myself to run on my mid foot was almost exhausting. It was hard work. That's when my research led me to barefoot running. I read that by taking off the shoes you would automatically start to run properly. It's not fun to land on your heel without all that cushioning. It's painful. So your body compensates and helps you to land correctly. I decided that I would give it a try and just learn to run properly so that I could run in shoes the right way.
Last September I ran my first mile barefoot. Actually it was 2 miles on a treadmill and I couldn't walk the next day because my calves were so sore. And we did Disneyland that day. I hadn't done all the research that I should have and though I knew I should start out small, I didn't realize how small, small really should be. Like as in around the block kind of small. I gradually started replacing my miles with barefoot miles or miles in socks. And my form improved. Somewhere along the way I found that it was just plain fun. I had a smile on my face while running. My body didn't hurt anymore. I started running more frequently with great results. While my original plan was to just run properly, I found that I didn't want to put the shoes back on. Unfortunately it got cold really quickly and before long I didn't have a choice. Running with numb feet isn't fun and really doesn't do you much good because you don't get good feedback. However, I found some good minimalist shoes that allow me to have good form along with protection from the snow.
If you are interested in learning about barefoot running and proper form I would suggest a couple of videos from Jason Robillard founder of Barefoot Running University. And of course check out his website. I have found it invaluable information that I refer to often.

Here's a few things that I have learned along the way:
*Take it slow. Slower than you would think. The muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones are not used to this. They've been confined in shoes for a long time. But they will become stronger and work as they were intended. But if you go too soon, too fast, you will end up injured. Barefoot running is not a cure all for injuries.
*Be prepared for some sore calves. And sore feet. Every single time you up the mileage or the speed. But know that it won't last forever and you're only getting stronger.
*Listen to your body. Your feet will tell you everything you need to know. Blisters and hot spots and where they are located on your feet will tell you that you are not doing something right.
*Relax. Envision your legs and arms are wet noodles.
*Think light and easy. Imagine the back of your head is being pulled up by an invisible thin thread. Your posture will improve immediately. Your lungs will be able to take in more oxygen.
*Short quick steps help the process. Aim for 180 steps or more per minute.
*Lift your feet. If you concentrate on the lifting motion, your landing will take care of itself.
*Run on ice. There is no better form check. You simply can not push off and stay upright.
*Start on hard surfaces. Grass can hide small objects and won't give you the feedback you need.
*Smile. This one takes care of itself. It's fun being connected with the earth. It's fun feeling the different textures beneath your feet.

I have loved my experience with barefoot and minimalist running. It has been a joy! I can't wait for some warmer weather so that I can enjoy it even more.

Have you ever thought about trying barefoot running?
Do you think it's a fad or the next big thing?

20 comments:

Julie said...

I loved all this information and you obviously love it because I got a smile just reading it.

Also...your polish made me smile. LOVE. IT!

Sam {fitnessfoodandfaith.blogspot.com} said...

thank you so much for this post! i'm just getting into it and still adjusting to my vibrams. i've been doing a lot of walking in them and only 1-3 miles at a time at a slow jog. can't wait to build up that strength!

Sarah said...

I am so glad to read this post. I have been considering some vibrams and ,alothough my gut feeling is telling me barefoot/minimalist running is the way to go, I'm scared to take the plunge for several reasons. This is really helpful.

Sarah
Uberlibrariana

Korin Lopez said...

Thank you so much for this post! It answered a lot of the questions that I have had! I have really been wanting to get some new shoes and I think I am going to go for more of a minimal shoe! I am super excited!

misszippy said...

We have such similar paths! After all of my injuries (and the ITB that is still keeping me sidelined!) I am headed to minimalism. I recently got rid of orthotics and have spent the last month going barefoot as much as possible. I am also doing lots of exercises to strengthen my feet and calves to prepare for the transition. I'll be following along on your journey, for sure!

Oh, and the ice suggestion is crazy, but I'm sure good! I think I'd be afraid of that right now...

Jess @ Blonde Ponytail said...

WOW! I had no idea of the details and prep involved in barefoot running. The shoe companies appear to be on board providing more and more minimalist shoes.

And, here I thought ordering narrow shoes served me better!

Pam said...

This is all so interesting, but I'm just not ready to ditch the kicks yet.

Julia said...

Thanks for this post! I am not sure I am totally ready to go completely without shoes but I am interested in trying some minimalist options at some point (especially with my recent feet issues)...this was all so interesting though and I really enjoyed reading all of the information! Thanks for sharing. You really are so hard core!

ashley & sundance said...

this is so interesting! I rememeber when I saw a guy at Top of Utah run by me barefoot and I was in shock. I had no idea that it was even done! I had seen the Vibram shoes and thought they were just some goofy new gimmick... hmm. I was wrong. Like Julia said, not sure i'm ready to ditch my shoes, but it's definitely good to know there are other options!

Alma said...

This is a great post. I got your recommendation about the Robillard videos but haven't watched them yet. I'm still doing the barefoot just ~5min every week or two and my calves are used to that much but in the beginning - whoa!! sore! I'm interesting in pursing this but as you say, SLOWLY. In Sept, I injured my left ankle I think from this new running style I've been working on (almost a year now). It just uses different muscles than I am used to so I have a lot of strengthening & loosening up to do yet. In time...

Kathie said...

great post!!! i love it and all the information you provided. im going to have to look at those videos you recommended.

Stephanie said...

My feet are so sensitive to little rocks and things. Will this go away after doing it for awhile?

The Hungry Runner Girl said...

Definitely the next big thing!! I LOVED this post and I love that you are able to do more mileage than ever...you are a rockstar. Disney after your first run barefoot...ouch. MY CALVES KILL after I do a vibram run but I have had less injuries than ever when I wear those or my drop zero shoes:) You are my hero, hope you are having an amazing day and thank you so much for the scale comment you left...you made me so happy!

Korin Lopez said...

I ran barefoot today (well in my socks)!! I was so excited! I loved it! I wanted to call you and tell you thank you!!!

Rachelle Wardle said...

Thanks for the detailed information. Running is so indvidual and that is what I love about it. I am so glad that barefoot running has worked for you and I think you are incredibly hard core. I cannot imagine running barefoot at this point but it may be something I toy with in the future.

Thanks again for your insight. I am excited for you to have all spring/summer to try it out longer.

Mamarunsbarefoot said...

You know what I think! YAY for you!!!!! Keep spreading the love!

Hannah said...

Such a fun read to hear your take on barefoot running! I've never really considered it - have just had other goals happening. But it makes complete sense why you started, and I admire the patience. It is obviously paying off for you, and you sound so confident and happy in your decision. That is awesome.

Lauren said...

Such great info! After reading Born to Run, I needed new shoes, so I got minimalist shoes (saucony kinvara). I have noticed my form changing, and I pay attention to it more. After a treadmill run the other day, I did the last half-mile completely barefoot, and my calves were SO sore the next day. Sore in a good way though.

Penny said...

Hey Jen, I found you on Angie bee blog. I had been doing a lot of races and I have been noticing these funny shoes. So I started to ask people about them. I like what I was hearing. So decided to get some VFF'S love them. You are right my calves killed me after 3miles. Oh how I forgot the word was start SLOW. It was just so exciting and the way I felt running in these shoe was amazing. But like you the cold weather comes and it is alittle harder to get out. I have been running on the treadmill with the VFF'S and have got up to 8 miles and my calves were sore the next day. I just keep plugging away. I hope to run a race soon in my VFF'S. Thank goodnish for warmer weather. How I met Angie bee lives 30 from me. I found Angie on facebook and contacted her about bf running. She was a wealth of information. Than I got to meet her at the IMT Des MOINES mARATHON EXPO. She is awesome. I also got to run with her during the marathon. Good luck on your bf running. Look forward to reading your blog.

wendy said...

I actually have thought of barefoot running, but I admit it scares me a little. Probably because I am a newbie runner to begin with. You inspire me to try it this summer though. Like around the block. ;-) I think if I weighed less I would be a lot more willing to do it.