Stomp of Approval

Barefoot TJ with Zola BuddOne of the best things about barefoot running is how it can bring people toegether. I don’t know what it is, but as soon as you take off your shoes, people just start talking to you! One of the best places to chat with other barefoot runners, and even meet up with them in real life is the Barefoot Runners Society (BRS) website, the world’s largest barefoot running community.

BeginningBarefoot.com was lucky enough to receive the BRS Stomp of Approval (see that lovely logo to the right?) and added to the Stomp Roll alongside a collection of excellent barefoot running blogs. In honour of this, I had a chat with Barefoot TJ, co-founder and president of the BRS:

Dawsy: For those of us new to the barefoot running community, can you please tell us a bit about who you are?

TJ: I am 45, married to the greatest guy I have ever known, and blessed with two precious little boys age 9 and 5.  I used to work in IT as a Network Administrator for a major airline before becoming a stay at home mom.  I am also the president and CEO of the Barefoot Runners Society, of which I am pleased to share that we are the largest barefoot and minimalist running club in the world with almost 3,900 members and nearly 90 chapter clubs located around the globe.

Dawsy: What first attracted you to barefoot running?

TJ: Running in shoes became so unbearable, that one day, after suffering great pain on a 10K run, I had no choice, thank God, but to take my shoes off and complete my run without them.  I instantly knew I was onto something new and exciting.  It felt awesome!  It felt natural. It felt right!  That was over three years ago.  After that first barefoot run, I found out that the shoes I had been wearing and running in had caused me to develop four neuromas in my feet (two in each).  The condition is called Morton’s Neuroma, and it is quite debilitating.  I found that I could run much farther barefoot than with shoes before the crippling pain would set in, so out went the shoes and in came the feets.  😉  I have surgery scheduled in January to have the neuromas removed once and for all.  Wish me well!

Dawsy: What’s the BFR (BRS) and how does it benefit members?

TJ: The Barefoot Runners Society was founded on November 1, 2009, and is an all-volunteer organization with many, many resources to help runners learn how to safely shed their traditional shoes and run barefoot and/or minimal at no cost to them.  Some of our resources are:

Forums:  The most active forums going on barefoot and minimalist talk.   Learn and grow with other members, new and veteran alike, as you transition to healthy running.   We have forums for Barefoot & Minimalist Running;  Barefoot & Minimalist Triathletes; Ultra Barefoot & Minimalist Running; Ask the Docs; Gear & Footwear; Health, Nutrition, Injuries & Medical Conditions; Mileage Reporting; New Member Introductions; Races & Events; the Barefoot Pub; and state/country forums as well.

Chapter Clubs:  Join in on group runs and races with other members in your area or head up a chapter in your area and arrange meetups.

Calendar of Events:  Stay informed on the barefoot and minimalist running, racing, and meetup events taking place around the country, in your area, and where you may be traveling to.

Ask the Docs Forum:  Get answers from medical professionals about your barefoot or minimalist living and running health.  Each of our three doctors are well-known in the barefoot and minimalist running community:  Dr. Michael Nirenberg (Podiatrist), Dr. Mark Cucuzzella (MD), Dr. James Stoxen (Chiropractor), Dr. Stephen Gangemi, a.k.a., Sock Doc (Chiropractor), and Dr. Andrew Klein (Chiropractor), and each one is a barefoot runner, so they can really relate to our members!

Map of Barefoot-Friendly Doctors & Specialists:  Find a doctor or specialist near you who won’t treat you like an outcast for your running-style, or you can share those barefoot-friendly docs you learn of with the rest of us.

Member Map:  Put yourself on the map, and locate friends and mentors in your area to run with.

Map of Barefoot Running Instructors:  For those who need an extra bit of help and some one-on-one instruction.

Product Reviews:  Share your experiences and rate a product you may have tested–gear & footwear–and read what others are saying about products you may be interested in buying; footwear can be rated by Weight, Flexibility, Zero Drop, Toe Box Width, etc., etc.

Course Reviews:  Rate a course, trail, or race on barefoot-friendliness you have experienced, so others will know what to expect should they want to run it too.

Home Page News:  Stay informed on the latest in barefoot and minimalist running and the news that impacts our sport.

Blogging:  Share your experiences with others, or learn more about your friends’ personal triumphs and trials in an all-inclusive place.

Library:  Review our Library, fast becoming THE go-to source for academic research and info on the benefits of barefoot and minimalist running, review how-to instructionals, and learn safe transitioning through Barefoot Running 101.

Mileage Clubs & Mileage Reporting:  Be inspired and motivated by logging your barefoot and/or minimalist running miles and inspire and motivate others along the way.  Earn a merit award at the end of the year to display proudly or keep as a memento of your hard work and efforts.

International Barefoot Running Day:  Annually, barefoot runners get together all over the world to share camaraderie, express unity, and share with the world an alternative, viable way to run.  We will be celebrating our 2nd annual IBRD on Sunday, May 6, so stay tuned for details on an event near you!

Stomp of Approval Program:  The BRS’s Stomp of Approval is given to those individuals, organizations, and running events that show support for barefoot and minimalist running to display on their sites.

Communication:  Communicate with other members through private messaging.

Dawsy: Can you tell us a little bit of the history of the BFR (BRS)? (Eg:How did it get started, and where’s it headed?)

TJ: After establishing the Barefoot Running forum at Runner’s World, I really felt the need to connect with the friends I was making online.  It was great being able to talk to them through the forums, but I wanted more, I wanted to run with them.  I knew that if we could run in groups that we wouldn’t be looked at as odd, but instead, we would be seen as intriguing.  I needed support, and figured there were others out there who did too.  I thought it would be cool if we could actually establish a club and create our own site.  Jason Robillard and Victor Palma, two of my closest BFR buddies were some of the first to help me found the BRS.

Dawsy: What’s your stance on Minimal Shoes?

TJ: Jason said it best, Shoes as Tools.  It can’t be said any better.  But to answer your question, I take this directly from our About Us section on our site:

We are a barefoot AND minimalist running club.  We support both the barefoot AND minimalist runner.  We prefer people to FIRST LEARN (or relearn) TO RUN BAREFOOT before donning any footwear and only doing so after they have learned to run with proper form first.  This is why we chose the name Barefoot Runners Society… ..

We believe that the best way to decrease your chance of injury is by starting over, literally from scratch, and allowing your plantar skin to take you only as far as you are physically capable of and safely able to go.  (Increasing from there can be learned by listening to your body and all the great advice you will receive from the many resources within this running club.)

There were six of us that started the BRS.  Two of us were purists, two of us were minimalists, and two of us were somewhere in between.  When we started the BRS, it was important to include all flavors of the barefoot/minimalist movement, not just focus on purism, and this is why…

We understand that not everyone can run barefoot at all times under all conditions.  Some people may not be able to run completely barefoot from the get-go.  We got that.  They may have health conditions (severe osteoporosis, diabetes, neuropathy, ciculatory conditions, etc.) that would prohibit them from doing so; others may live in areas where the terrain is always extreme, and most of us live where we experience extreme weather/temps at some point during the year.  We also realize that in the end, most people are not going to choose to run truly barefoot 100% of the time or at all.  Therefore, we believe it is very important to provide our members with information that will help them to make informed, healthy decisions about what to put on their feet.

Dawsy: What have been your best/worst experiences with barefoot running?

TJ: I always try to reflect positively on the run, even the most difficult ones.  The difficult ones are the ones that are most important as they humble us and teach us the most about ourselves, what our limits are, what we can and can’t get away with.  I refuse to waste a run with negative thoughts.

Dawsy: Have you got any advice for folks new to barefoot running?

TJ: Take your shoes off and leave them off until you have found a safe, proper, healthy form that works for you.  By then, hopefully, you won’t want to put them back on, and if you do, may it only be when you truly need to wear them.  We have learned through our combined experiences that our musculoskeletal system progresses at about the same rate as our plantar skin conditions, so our soles help to prevent us from overdoing it.  Minimalist running shoes tend to make the wearer believe they can run farther and faster than what they are ready to, thereby increasing their chances of getting injured.

Set your racing goals aside.  Understand that upfront you will need to make sacrifices to your distance and your speed, although you will once again regain both, if not exceed in both areas.  Expect to learn a lot about yourself through this journey, and when you are ready, you will be amazed at how far and fast you can go.  Most importantly, join the Barefoot Runners Society at http://www.BarefootRunners.org for a wealth of information and tons of support from others both veteran and new alike.  😉

I’d like to say a big thank you to TJ for taking the time out to answer a few questions. I’d also like to highly recommend heading over to barefootrunners.org, signing up for a free membership, and taking part.

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6 Weeks to Barefoot Running

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

The hardest part about learning to run barefoot is the actual learning to run barefoot part. It’s not as easy as just taking off your shoes! Without carefully easing into your feet, there’s a very real risk of injury that can put back not only your barefoot running, but also shod running as well.

The reason for this is that your feet have become accustomed to being supported on all sides by soft, cushy shoes. Even if you’ve never run before, chances are you’ve worn a pair of shoes nearly every day of your life since you could walk. All this mollycoddling has taken its toll and your feet are going to need some serious rehab before they’re ready to take to the streets.

Over the next 6 weeks, I’m going to walk you through the steps required to strengthen the muscles in your feet and get your soles used to touching actual ground. You can follow along with the program from week to week, but don’t worry if you are unable to complete each stage in seven days. Each of us are different, and even if it takes a year to transition comfortably, then that’s fine…better to take too long than to risk an injury do to transitioning. I can’t promise that there will be no discomfort involved or that you’re not going to want to just start running, but I can promise that if you follow this plan you’ll stand a much better a chance of safely adapting to barefoot running than you probably would without it.

The key to this program is following it as closely as possible and not rushing through it, even if you think you can do more than is prescribed. I can pretty much guarantee that once you have your shoes off you’ll want to hit the road and start running, especially if you are already used to running in shoes. But hold back, follow the program and take it slow. There is nothing more disheartening than doing too much too soon and finding yourself sitting on the couch for 3 weeks waiting for an injury to heal.

For the next six weeks, there will be a weekly training article that will talk a bit about barefoot running and suggest some exercises to ease you into it. At the end of each week’s training plan, you’ll find a scorecard. It will contain a couple of questions that will determine if you’re ready to continue to the next stage. Only once your scorecard is successfully completed should you continue onto the next stage.

If your scorecard tells you that you are not ready to progress to the next stage, simply repeat the previous week’s exercises until you can pass and continue on. Remember that there are no points for getting to the end the quickest. This process will teach you to listen to your body and not over-extend yourself early on. Once you make it to the end of the program, you should have the skills and awareness to continue your training in a safe and comfortable way.

With all that said, let’s move on to week 1’s session: Baring Your Soles