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.

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Think You’re Too Slow? Here’s Why You’re Wrong.

StopwatchIt can be disheartening when you’re training as hard as you possibly can, but you’re still not seeing results. Maybe you’re in peak physical shape and you just can’t shave off one more second. Maybe you’re on the other end of things and questioning if you’re even meant to be a runner. Either way, you’re probably a lot faster than you think you are. Here’s why.

When you look at average times for a mile or whatever distance you’re looking to hit, typically these trackers don’t take into account how much inclines change or how many terrible hills you’re pushing yourself to run up. They don’t take into account your weight, level of fitness, or natural ability. In general, they’re just misleading. It might be corny, but the fact is that you can only measure yourself against yourself. That’s the only running time that really matters. And if you can’t get any faster, that’s probably your body saying, “Hey, this is how fast you’re supposed to be running. Quit pushing yourself so hard – you’re going to get injured if you do.”

Running calculators are just as inaccurate as apparent “average times.” Consider the Riegel calculator, a running calculator which attempts to figure out how fast you’ll run based on one race time when you add or subtract miles. It sounds straightforward enough. But imagine comparing your pace in a short sprint to a marathon. A calculator can’t possibly predict how your body will move from a sprint to a long distance run. It’s been proven that some people are natural sprinters and others are more inclined for long distance running. If this is you, you could either be running much faster or slower than that calculator predicts you will. This is yet another reason you’re faster than you think you are: if you’re not a natural long distance runner, you’re going to struggle a bit harder than the natural. It’s in your genes, man.

Another issue with running calculators is that almost all of them are based on the times of elite athletes. The way an elite runner runs is much different than the way the average runner runs when it comes to pacing, gait, and all sorts of other factors that determine how fast you’ll finish a race.

All of the above have been technical ways that measuring your speed just doesn’t work when it comes to determining how fast you are. Because of this, you’re probably faster than you think you are. There is of course more to it, though.

One way that you can run faster than you think is by mixing things up. Long distance runners focus so much on long distance running that they don’t realize how important speed training is. Tempo style workouts just aren’t enough. What you need to become faster is faster running exercises. Think sprints and interval training. If you’re not trying out different strategies to speed up, you’re letting yourself down. You can run faster than you think – you just have to train smart.
Perfect your form and gait. If you’re working hard but have bad form, it doesn’t matter how hard you work. You need the foundation of a strong technique to become the fastest you can.

Beyond training adjustments, another way of looking at things is taking a key word from the phrase “you’re faster than you think.” That key word is “think.” There are numerous studies that back up the power of positive thinking, no matter how corny you may think it is. Visualise yourself running faster, running as if you could run forever. Listen to motivational speeches, encouraging high-tempo music, and even happy pop songs while you’re running. They’ll propel you forward, as will mantras that encourage you like, “I’ve got this,” “I’m a fast runner,” and “Just keep going.” You’re faster than you think you are because right now you’re too hung up on thinking you’re slow. And what you think becomes your reality.

Start believing in yourself now.

Once again, the focus should be on yourself. Running isn’t about competing. It’s about the enjoyment you get from pushing yourself hard, reaching goals, and living a healthy life. If you’re the type to look around you, challenge others to races, or talk yourself down, you’ve got to stop. All runners enjoy running: that’s what you have in common. What you don’t have in common is body type, various strengths and weaknesses, body weight and body fat percentage, muscle mass, and all sorts of other factors. Because of this, you can only race yourself. And you’re the only person you should be concerned with beating in a race, as you’re the only true measuring stick you have to go by. When you stop beating yourself in races, congratulate yourself: you’ve reached peak physical shape. That’s something worth celebrating.

This has been a guest post by Dan Chabert

Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, hchabertusband and ultramarathon distance runner. He spends most of his time on runnerclick.com, and nicershoes.com and he has been featured on runner blogs all over the world.

Ankle Mobility And The Floppy Foot Cooldown

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter in the barefoot underground lately about ankle mobility. It may be one aspect of your running that you have not spent much time thinking about, but in truth, it’s something well worth paying attention to. This is especially true for barefooters.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in the past, when we trade in our sneakers for bare feet, it transfers some of the impact created during running to other parts of our legs, especially the ankles and knees. Having nice, deep bent knees can help absorb this impact, and make for a smooth ride. When we bend our knees, naturally our ankles bend as well, to take their share of the strain.

What can happen, however, especially on longer runs, is that we run the danger of keeping our feet in a dorsiflexed (toes up, making an acute angle of our feet and leg) position for a long time. Habitually running this way can cause your ankles to tighten up, which will reduce their mobility and ability to respond to impact. This in turn can lead to all sorts of problems down the track. (I’m not a doctor or physio, but I have been affected by this in the past, so I’m speaking from personal experience. If you are experiencing pain that worries you, contact your doctor).

With a little bit of management, this condition can be easily avoided and needn’t stop you from enjoying nice, long, barefoot runs. The fix is something I call the Floppy Foot Cooldown (yes, I did just make that name up).

Basically what it involves is, once you’re finished your run, slow down to a walk. Now, as you’re walking, point the toes on one foot downwards, and give your foott a flick. The motion is something like flipping over a toy car with the top of your foot.

While you’re doing this, consciously relax your ankles, and try to feel the stretch where your foot meets the front your ankle. Keep doing this every step for about 100-200m and by the time you’re done, your ankles should be feeling nice and loose.

And that’s it! If you’re already cooling down after your runs, this is a simple little thing to add to it. If you’re not doing a cooldown walk, I strongly encourage you to do so, as it will help with all manner of ailments.

So how about you? Got any neat tricks that you do to stay fit and flexible? Any cooldown hacks that you want to share? Let us know in the comments, or post to our Facebook wall, or send me a Tweet!