Stepping In To Barefoot Running

The Works Sport KiltIf you’ve found your way here, then you’ve probably heard a little bit about running barefoot and are intrigued enough to want to know more. Like most people, you probably have all sorts of questions running through your head:

  • Won’t I step on glass?
  • Will me feet get ugly?
  • Do I have to grow a beard?
  • What will my girlfriend/boyfriend think?
  • Is it OK to wear shoes when I’m running barefoot?
  • Can I ever wear shoes again?

Every barefooter before you has had similar questions and have found a variety of answers (especially to that beard one). In this post we’re going to talk about some of the risks and rewards of running barefoot, what you need to do to get ready to take your first steps, and a few other tips and tricks to get you started off right.

So, to begin, let’s start by dispelling a myth.

Now, you may have heard that running barefoot will cure your plantar fasciitis, put an end to injuries forever,  grow hair on your chest, bring about world peace, etc. I’m afraid that as much as I would like all this to be true, if you’re looking for a magic cure-all, then you may be disappointed. Like any physical, outdoor activity, there is a chance you will aggravate an existing injury or even obtain a new one. Transitioning to barefoot (or minimal shoes) is notoriously risky and if done incorrectly can cause serious damage (see pretty much every article on this site for tips on how to minimise this).

However, though running barefoot isn’t a 100% cure for running injuries, it does offer a number of very worthwhile benefits.

To begin with, it’s FUN! Really, really fun! I honestly think this is the top reason why so many runners find their way into running barefoot. It’s hard to overstate the enjoyment of throwing off your shoes and running down a beach, or sloshing your way along a muddy trail.

What barefoot running offers is a change from the increasingly common mentality of needing to experience pain and discomfort for the sake of exercise. One thing that barefooters seem to have in common is the uncanny ability to smile throughout their runs. It sounds cheesy as hell, but it really does give you a spring in your step, and can bring back the enjoyment of running to those who have lost it.

Apart from sheer pleasure, there are many physical benefits to running unshod as well. Once you learn how to do it correctly and safely, it is a great way to stretch and strengthen your feet. Our poor feet spend a lot of time in shoes that, frankly, aren’t fit for feet. The damage caused by office shoes in particular, especially high-heels (or so I hear) is appalling.

By running au naturelle every now and then, it’s possibly to strengthen the arches of your feet and even reverse some of the damage caused by shoes. Your feet will start to change, and many barefooters, myself included, have experienced widening feet as their toes spread apart. Once you get to this point, the idea of cramming your piggies back into a pair of hush puppies is abhorrent.

What I’ve found really surprising about learning to run barefoot however, has little to do with feet at all. As you scan the ground in front of you for broken glass, thorns, dog poo, etc, something strange happens to your brain. You start to notice more, be aware of your surrounding more, and even begin to feel more ‘present’. It’s something akin to mindfulness meditation, and can have a major affect on you, even when you’re not running. Barefoot running is meditating without needing to meditate, and even more than shod running, can snap you out of a funk like you would not believe.

Now there is one concern that new barefooters have that can’t be dismissed. It’s the totally justified fear of stepping on something sharp. The fact is that when you leave the protection of a pair of shoes behind, you open your soles to the possibility of damage. At first this seems like a really dumb idea, but in practice, it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Think of it like parenting – you can wrap your kids up in cotton wool to protect them from ever getting hurt, or you can let them roam free and collect the bruises and scrapes that will be inevitable. By protecting the child, they never learn how to deal with bumps and bruises, so when they eventually grow up and get their first scrape, the world seems to be coming to an end. For the free-roaming kid, they’re likely to get bumped around a little bit initially, but they learn from the experience and develop the skills and resilience to manage or avoid similar situations in the future.

The same goes with feet. Sure, you might get the odd scratch or bruise, but this will make you more aware of your surroundings and more careful about how you run. It forces you to treat your body and environment with respect which, in the long term, pays off huge dividends. And don’t forget, your feet evolved to do this, so they’re actually very well equipped to deal with outdoor terrain.

Initially, when the shoes first come off, your feet will likely be soft and weak. You’re going to feel every little stone and stick, and it’s probably going to be a little bit uncomfortable and even painful. But by slowly exposing your feet to more and more time in direct contact with the ground, your brain will learn how to filter out the unimportant signals and focus in on what’s important.

Many people think that by running barefoot all the time, you just end up with big, nasty callouses, and that this toughening of the skin is what makes it easier for long term barefooters to cope with the sensations. In fact, after seven years of barefoot running, I have got very little callousing on my feet, and in fact I think it’s actually less than when I always wore shoes. Despite this, I can run on gravel now that would have stopped me in my tracks in the early days.

Barefoot running is not for everyone, and that’s fine, but it can be a very rewarding way to spice up your running, improve your foot health, and allow you to feel more attuned to your surroundings. You don’t have to do it for every run, and you don’t have to run marathons unshod either. All you need to do is take off your shoes, slow down, and enjoy the experience.

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

Barefoot running is not for everyone and has associated risks that may not be suitable to your individual situation. Please see out disclaimer regarding information shared on this site.

4 Simple Tips To Increase Running Cadence (Guest Post by Cara Haley!)

The following is a guest post by our friend Cara Haley from Fitaholic Gear

Running, as all runners know,  is quite a repetitive sport, and also one associated with a wide variety of possible injuries. The running cadence is the number of strikes made by your feet for a set period of time.

By increasing your running cadence, you increase your speed and improve your performance. Also, by improving your running cadence you decrease the risks of shin splints and other running related injuries, and improve your ability for long term, healthy running.

To determine your running cadence, count the number of times one of your feet steps on the ground for one minute when running. Multiply it by two and you will get your cadence. You should do that to determine both your training cadence and your racing cadence. Of course, your cadence is affected by the terrain you are running on, the conditions, as well the length of your running stride.

The majority of the runners consider 180 steps per minute to be the cadence to strive for.

There are ways to increase the running cadence. Here are 4 simple tips to help you do that:

  1. You need to determine your running cadence in order to attempt to increase it.
    So, measure it, and re-measure it periodically to calculate your cadence. Consider wearing fitness gear, such as a watch with enabled GPS which has a metronome and accelerometer to keep track of your cadence and your progress.

    When you first start to increase your cadence, your running will feel different than usual. Do not overdo it, and try to increase the strikes of your feet slowly. This will make the progress feel more natural and will not hinder your performance or increase the risk of injuries.
    Try increasing your cadence by 5% at a time. Once you are used to the increased cadence you can opt for another increase of 5%. Take it slowly but surely.

  2. Try listening to music with a faster rhythm while you are running.
    You will find that your feet will tend to follow the rhythm, and this can help increase the cadence naturally as well. All you need is a small mp3 player such as one of these here. There are various websites which provide playlists and music which is suitable for increasing the number of steps you make per minute.
  3. You can also use a metronome to provide you with the pace rate you are striving for.
    Just follow the beats or clicks to increase your steps per minute.
  4. Visualize your running cadence in a mental rehearsal of your run.
    By visualizing the result you want to reach you train your brain and it will in turn train the body to automatically adjust to the new cadence. You can also try running in place in front of a mirror with your feet at a shoulder-width.

    Position your arms as if you are running, and start running in place. Bring the knees half way up and run as fast as you can on one spot. The knees need to be pointing straight ahead, and your heels shouldn’t touch the ground as you are doing that. Run for 20 seconds and rest for a minute after that.

    Keep track of the number of foot strikes you make for each run. Repeat the running twice. Do this exercise two times a week, and keep track of your progress. This exercise helps train the feet to leave the ground as soon as possible when running, which leads to an increase of cadence.

Remember the 5% rule, and stay safe at all times when working on increasing your cadence. This is the best way to do it, and will keep you safe from injuries from overtraining.

Written by C.Haley: Cara is addicted to running, fitness, preparing healthy food, and spending time with her family. She blogs for Fitaholic Gear, Comfort Hacks and a number of other sites, as she wants share her passion for fitness with those who are looking to make lasting lifestyle changes.

XeroShoes Do It Again With The New Prio

They’re here, They’re finally here! 

Ever since I saw my first glimpse of the new XeroShoes Prio, I knew I had to have them. Their sleek design and barefoot pedigree made them shoes to be sought after, and now, here I sit, with the box open on my lap, and I have to say – I’m not disappointed.

I expected the Prio to be light, and they are. I expected them to be flexible, and they are. I expected them to be breathable, comfortable, and affordable. Tick, tick, tick.

What I didn’t expect was that these shoes would be so much better than the competition.

Here’s a company that has been around since the beginning of the minimalist/barefoot running movement. They started with a very basic, DIY sandal, with a sole that was designed to be lighter than a car tyre. Basically it was a slight modernisation of the Huarache sandals famously described in the barefoot running classic Born to Run.

Fast forward a little less than a decade, and this tiny operation has grown up and is now producing shoes that other companies would charge upwards of $400 for (I’m looking at you Vivobarefoot).

 

Designed by barefoot runners, for barefoot runners, the Prio is an engineering marvel. It still follows the basic design of a huarache sandal, with the strapping cradling the shoe in a familiar crisscross pattern. But within that layer of strapping is now a lightweight mesh upper, which provides comfort and protection while still allowing maximum airflow across the foot. Most minimalist shoes these days have mesh uppers, but somehow, the Prio manages to get it just right, to the point where it’s easy to forget that the mesh is even there.

The protective covering doesn’t just stop at the upper however. Underfoot, there is a soft, yet thin fabric layer, covering the wafer-thin FeelTrue rubber sole. Unlike its sister shoe, the Hana, this soft inner sole features hidden stitching, which makes them more aesthetically appealing, and much more comfortable, even without the optional insole which is included in the box.

To top it all off, the Prio features one of the nicest toe boxes on the market. It is spacious enough for a full range of motion, even for wider feet, but doesn’t have the “clown shoe” effect that many wide-box shoes have.

With all of the new features in the Prio, it’s also comforting to see many of the building blocks that make XeroShoes sandals and shoes so great. The simple, yet effective grip underfoot, and the sensible lacing system make for a shoe that can be taken anywhere – off-road or on the streets.

Performance-wise, I can’t fault these shoes. I admit, I haven’t done much running in them yet (damn you, Cyclone Debbie), but the few K’s I’ve clocked up have been very pleasant, both at running and walking pace. I was very surprised at how much of a marked difference they made in running as compared to the Hana, which until now has been my go-to walking shoe.

When running in the Prio, you can literally feel the breeze blowing across your feet, and the ground underfoot, but with the security of knowing you’re not going to come to harm by the occasional rogue thorn or sharp rock.

As you can probably tell, the Prio has done more than impress, and is hands down the best minimalist shoe I have worn to date. I’m hoping they wear out soon so that I can buy another pair!

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

Beginning Barefoot would like to thank XeroShoes for providing us with sample shoes for testing. to purchase your own pair, and show your support, please visit their site at xeroshoes.com