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?