“What are those are you feet? Are you really running in those?!” Gasps, stares, and questions are all common for me when I’m running. That’s because I’m a barefoot runner.
Besides being a runner, I try to subscribe to a natural lifestyle in every aspect of my life, not just exercise. I know what you are thinking, “how is running not natural?” It might be surprising, but running shoes are designed to compensate for poor form and the additional cushion may weaken your leg and foot structure. Sure, shoes are necessary for some people, but for the majority of people, it’s not necessarily a requirement.
When I started running on a regular basis a few years ago, I was overwhelmed by the wall of running shoes at my local athletic store. There were shoes for pronators, neutral feet, people with ankle issues, people with balance issues, and the list goes on. After an hour and a half, in which I tried on about ½ of the wall, I finally settled on a nice pair of neutral shoes. I still to this day have no idea what a neutral foot is, but it sounded the most “normal” to me. As I got involved in running, my legs developed a very common running injury, the dreaded shin splits. I was devastated and started reading about treatments and possible solutions online, when I came across the seemingly revolutionary movement of barefoot running.
The concept of barefoot running is basically that all the technology, research and development put into running shoes actually counteracts the natural movement of your legs, forcing your legs into an unnatural and improper position and weakens your leg and foot structure. This can contribute to the development of common running injuries, including my very own ailment, shin splints.
So the theory is that by using our legs the way they are designed and for what they are biometrically designed to do, we can actually prevent common injuries and return to a more natural way of running and for that matter living. This sounded like something I should have already known about given my personal “be one with nature” mantra, so I thought sure why not give this logical “de-advancement” a try.
Now, barefoot running purest actually run without shoes no matter the conditions- in cities, on trails and everywhere in between. Elite runners have competed barefoot for years in international races, even the Olympics! I love being barefoot in my apartment or at the beach, but I wasn’t liking the idea of running barefoot on the streets of Washington, DC! So my barefoot journey began with a shoe designed for barefoot running,Vibram Five Fingers. These funny looking shoes actually look like toe socks with a very thin sole of rubber to protect your feet from the inevitable jagged rock, accidental step into dog poo, and other road hazards. But, while there is a sole, I can assure you it is not thick enough to cover up the uneven pavement or sticks you come across. You feel EVERYTHING you run over in these babies.
My first outing was brief, about one mile, as was suggested by the sales clerk. Boy was I glad I listened. At the time I was running six to seven miles per run and didn’t expect to feel anything with a short one mile jaunt. I was wrong, big time. I could actually feel all the tendons and ligaments from my toes to my hips working as I ran, the unevenness of concrete, and my legs compensating for improper gait.
The next day I woke up and was actually sore, for the first time in a long time. As I increased my mileage my calves, ankles, and feet strengthened and soon, I was back to my six to seven miles daily. My legs were feeling great and my shin splints were gone!
Almost two years later, I have trained and run three half marathons and two 10 mile races in my five fingers. There has been no return of those dreaded shin splints or symptoms of other running ailments.
Barefoot running is starting to catch on and is becoming more main stream, although you might not see but one in your average race, the theory is spreading like wildfire. So much so that in Spring 2011, several traditional running shoe companies launched a minimalist barefoot shoe.
Read our review of Vibram’s Five Finger Shoes!
Barefoot running isn’t for everyone, in fact, many podiatrists don’t recommend it for their clients. Others, like me, swear by it. Would you consider it?