The Embarassing State Of Barefoot/Minimal Running

By Barefoot Dawsy

I’ve been running barefoot now for four years, and blogging about it for two. I admit that I started out, alongside many others, after reading the now famous book ‘Born To Run’.

At that time, the barefoot running resurgence was just starting out, amid criticism of the large shoe companies. The majority of this criticism was centred on the question of whether or not they were misleading the public as to the safety that their shoes provided.

There was an interesting study that came out of Newcastle University[1], in Australia, which basically stated that despite a huge and time-consuming search, there was no evidence that the pronation and motion control features of modern running shoes had any benefit at all.

This questioning of a hitherto nearly universally accepted truth was one of the fundamental drivers for the barefoot/minimal revolution, which saw the exponential rise of the minimal shoe, and the unprecedented uptake of barefoot/minimal running.

Here was our chance. There was a vacuum of useful, relevant data and proper studies, which was damning in its absence. The shoe companies were lying to us, and we were all being played for fools.

I, like many others, embraced the new style of running, and waited impatiently for the inevitable mountain of studies and evidence demonstrating the superiority of barefoot running.

It never came.

In fact, just recently a new study did come out[2], and it was woefully reminiscent of the Newcastle study. This one, however, tells the story of a lack of evidence that barefoot running has any benefits at all. It points to the few studies that exist, most (all?) of which are poorly crafted, and even unscientific.

Barefoot had a chance to become something more than a fad, and become the next big thing in running. Instead, its legacy is more overpriced shoes with questionable usefulness in injury prevention.

So, what do we do now? We can’t sit back and hope that somebody, somewhere manages to get the funding together to put together a clever, well-crafted study. Or hope that someone publishes one that proves conclusively, one way or the other, which style is better. 

What we can do is to take responsibility for our own testing and assessment of whichever style of shoe, or lack thereof that, we choose. We need to stop looking to major corporations to hand us the magic pill that will stop us getting injured. We need to take the time to learn how our own bodies want to move, and what style of running feels right, whether shod or unshod.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions in running. Each of us has slightly different styles, preferences, pain thresholds, etc, so it’s on us as individuals to intelligently weigh up the options and make the best choice for ourselves.

What brought you to try barefoot running? Have you got any views on how the scientific community or running shoe industry are handling things? Let us know in the comments!


[1] C E Richards, P J Magin and R Callister. 2008. Is your prescription of distance running shoes evidence-based?, Br J Sports Med 2009 43: 159-162 originally published online April 18, 2008 (doi:10.1136/bjsm.2008.046680)

[2] Hall JP, Barton C, Jones PR, Morrissey D., 2013. The biomechanical differences between barefoot and shod distance running: a systematic review and preliminary meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2013 Dec;43(12):1335-53. (doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0084-3)(Pubmed: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23996137)

Review: Merrell Trail Glove

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Merrell1As far as I’m concerned, 2013 is the year of trail running. Trails offer such a great opportunity to improve your technique and become a better, stronger runner.

One thing I have discovered along the way, however, is that some trails are better tackled with some footwear. Where I live, there are a lot of trails, and many of them are barefoot-friendly. However, there are certain tracks that, unless I want to pick my way slowly and painfully, I prefer to do in minimal footwear.

With this in mind, I jumped at the chance to try out a pair of Merrell’s Trail Glove.

Merrell2The Trail Glove is part of the Barefoot series of shoes that Merrell have become famous for over the past couple of years. Unlike some of the other shoes in the line however, the Trail Glove includes several features that make trail running a little bit easier on the soles, even if they do sacrifice some of the barefoot feel that the other shoes offer.

 

Looks

Merrell3One thing that I noticed straight out of the box is that these are some nice-looking shoes. They have a well-put-together appearance, and there’s no question that the design team spent a lot of time thinking about this aspect of the shoes.

Merrell4

 

 

What I really liked is that despite having a large toe box, the shoes don’t have the ‘clown shoe’ appearance of some other shoes I’ve tried out with the same feature. This is a real plus.

 

 

 

Construction

Merrell5The Trail Glove’s uppers are made of a very lightweight, breathable mesh, which is attractive and functional. It is one of my favourite features of the shoe as it is very comfortable and allows ample air to flow in and out of the shoe (a necessity when going sockless).

Merrell6The soles of these shoes are a little bit thicker, creeping in towards the 10mm mark. This is the upper end of thickness that I prefer in a shoe, but it is a huge help on the tough trails. Made by Vibram, they feature a reasonably aggressive tread, and a contoured design.

Merrell10Merrell9With the thicker sole usually comes rigidity, however these soles have been designed in such a way as to allow a fair bit of flexibility. This flexibility is mainly uni-directional however. I could lift my toes up without any trouble, though bending downwards meets a bit of resistance. For a road shoe, this is not normally a problem, however I did find it a little bit restrictive on some trails.

The shoe does not contain any insole. Instead, the interior of the shoe is seamless and very foot-friendly. This was a nice surprise, and is typically a sign of good design and construction.

Performance

We’ve had some pretty variable weather here in Sydney lately, so my poor Trail Gloves have been through a bit of everything. On the whole, I was very pleased with their performance.

Merrell7Where the Trail Glove shone, in my opinion, is wet weather. The tread pattern is medium-aggressive, and held on well, even in slick conditions. The mesh uppers allow water to flow in and out without much trouble, allowing my feet to dry out pretty well.

I found that I needed to take them off ever half hour or so to let me feet dry out a bit, but I never got any blisters from them, which is a good sign.

The wide toe box was a pleasure and went a long way to providing a comfortable ride.

Merrell8If there was one aspect of the shoe that I didn’t like, it was the sole’s built-in arch. It’s quite rigid, and I was aware of it the whole time I was running. I felt that it was a bit too long for my foot, and caused a little bit of discomfort. I’d love to see this feature removed in future versions of the shoe, as it did detract from the overall enjoyment of wearing these shoes.

That being said, I did have a good time testing these shoes out, and it’s always a big plus when a pair of minimal shoes is socially acceptable in the looks department. I’ve had several strangers comment on them, and they have been included in my ‘going-out’ pile of shoes, as well as having a place in my trail running kit.

It’s great to see high-quality minimal shoes finally start to take off in Australia, and I look forward to seeing what Merrell will be coming up with down the track.

Beginning Barefoot would like to thank Merrell for providing a pair of Trail Gloves for review. To find out more, visit the Merrell website, download the Barefoot Challenge app, and/or visit your local retailer!

Merry Christmas From Beginning Barefoot!

Beginning Barefoot will be taking a well-deserved break over the holiday season, but fear not! We have all sorts of great articles and reviews planned for the New Year. Of course, #BareChat will also be back too (January 9th 7pm MST), so we’ll see you there!

We wish you all a safe and happy holidays!

To say thanks to all of you for your support, here’s a little poem I wrote for you last year 😉

Merry Christmas!

TwasTheBarefootNightBeforeXmas

Hot-footing It: How I Finally Learned How To Run Barefoot

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

As a change from the usual advice and reviews, I thought it would be nice to tell you a story. Most people that you talk to who took up barefoot running later in life will tell you about a ‘eureka’ moment, when the whole thing finally clicked into place, and running barefoot became fun, pleasurable, ad something they would strive to keep up forever. What follows is how the penny finally dropped for me, after a couple of months of full barefoot running.

When I was first learning to run barefoot, it was hot. Really hot. Australia hot.
Normally I would do my running in the very early morning, when the ground would still
be wet from the previous night’s end-of-hot-day storm. The coolness of the ground was
lovely, and made running a pleasure.

Then I decided to go for an afternoon run.

It was about 30 degrees Celsius out (~85F), and the ground had been hammered by the hot sun all morning. As soon as I stepped out my front door, I knew that this run would be
a short one.

I started to run, and as I stepped, I swear I could feel the blisters starting to form
on my feet. After only a few metres, I was already thinking about turning around and
heading home.

Then something strange happened.

I started stepping really quickly. I don’t think I was consciously doing it, rather my
body had overridden my mind and was running on its own. With each step, I only touched the ground for a fraction of a second, then whipped it up so that it wouldn’t linger on the hot pavement. I was taking a lot of very short, very quick steps.

Then the strangest thing happened. It stopped hurting. The blistering sensation went
away, replaced by a cooling breeze under my feet, caused by the action of my stride. I
was moving quickly and lightly, and it felt like everything just clicked into place.

I ran a lot more afternoon runs that summer, and even did my first barefoot 10k race in 34 degree heat. I’ve never blistered since, and my form improved dramatically, even on the colder days.

The funny thing with barefoot running is that it’s often the discomfort that makes us better runners. It’s tempting to do every run in shoes (minimal or otherwise), but if you really want to learn how to run better, there’s no substitute for taking off your shoes.

How about you? did you have a ‘eureka’ moment? Still looking for yours? Leave a comment!

How To Buy Minimalist Shoes

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Are you in the market for a pair of minimalist shoes? If you are, then best of luck to
you! Unlike just a couple of years ago, we now have hundreds, if not thousands of styles
to choose from. Selecting the best pair for you can be a daunting task, so I’ve put
together this guide to help you out.

A lot of the new shoes that are being marketed as ‘minimal’ these days just plain aren’t and this can be very confusing. Below are a few criteria that make up a true minimalist shoe, and are things that you should look for when you go shopping.

Weight

Weight is really the big one. This is where minimal shoes really give runners a big advantage. The average ‘normal’ running shoe can weigh between 10 and 20 ounces (ounces seem to be the standard measurement of shoe weight out there, so for now I’m going non-metric). Minimal shoes, on the other hand, usually weigh less than 8oz.

This difference in weight allows us to run more efficiently. Every time you lift your foot, you of course lift the shoe you’re wearing. Over a few steps a couple extra ounces won’t make much difference, but as you run more and more, this small difference in weight can really add up.

In my experience, running in lighter shoes has enabled me to go further and faster than I ever had before. Look for the lightest shoes you can find. Usually the best ones are less than 5oz.

Drop

One of the fancy terms that you will no-doubt hear as you shop for minimal shoes is ‘zero-drop’. The ‘drop’ is the difference in height from the back of the shoe versus the front. Generally this will be a positive number as most shoes have a built-up heel. So, for example, a shoe that’s 12mm thick at the heel and a 4mm at the toe will have a Drop value of 8mm (12-4=8).

Basically the idea is that having a Drop value of 0 means that there’s no slope to how your foot sits, so your foot sits more naturally. Beware though, as there are a number of tricky little tricks that shoe companies will try to make their ‘zero drop’ shoes sound more minimal than they are.

Zero-drop is usually defined as anything less than 4mm, so right off the bat, you may find that your shoes have a built-up heel, even when it is suggested that they don’t. So make sure that you check the actual drop in millimetres before you make your purchase.

The other thing to watch out for is that just because a shoe is zero drop, doesn’t mean that it’s zero padding. A shoe with a 12mm heel and a 12mm toe is still technically ‘zero-drop’, but certainly not minimal (I’m looking at you, Nike Free).

Ground-feel

Which brings us to ground-feel. As you might have guessed, this is an indication of how well you can feel the terrain beneath your feet. It’s a very subjective value and can be difficult to ascertain in the flat, featureless landscape of a shoe shop.

Ground-feel is very important as it will give your body feedback that it can use to adjust your form with. The more ground-feel your shoe allows (ie, the closer to barefoot), the better, as you can never have too much feedback.

A simple test that I use to get a rough indication of ground-feel in the store, is to step on a shoelace while wearing the shoes. In a nice, thin pair of minimals, you should have no problem feeling it underfoot. If you can’t feel it, then you may as well be wearing 10 pairs of socks for the amount of help your shoes are going to be to keeping your form in check.

Flexibility

When you buy minimal shoes, you want to find a pair that allow your feet to move as freely and naturally as possible. Flexibility is really important as it will help you strengthen your feet and run as your body intended.

Like ground-feel, flexibility is pretty subjective, but you can test it out by trying 2 quick tests.

The first is to touch the toe of the shoe to the heel. Your shoe should definitely be able to do this when bending them upwards, but the best shoes pass this test in both directions.

The second test is the Twist test. Grasping the heel in one hand and the toe of the shoe in the other, give them a twist. You should be able to do at least a 180 degree twist, or better yet, a full 360 degree twist for maximum flexibility.

Fit

The last major consideration is to make sure that the shoes fit correctly. There are a lot of different styles out there, and each of them fits a little bit differently. This is where going to an actual store comes in handy, as the staff should be able to help you ensure a correct fit.

This is really important, because even if you buy the best shoes out there, if they’re too big or small, then you could really do yourself a damage. Beware of online sizing
and make sure you go out and try a pair before you buy.

By following these guidelines, you’ll be able to avoid a lot of the major pitfalls of shopping for shoes, and make your next pair a valuable addition to your running toolbox.

How To Become A Runner (For Non-Runners)

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

It wasn’t long ago that I viewed runners as a bizarre mix of health nuts and madmen. The thought of running down the block, let alone running a marathon was absurd and laughable. And these people say they even enjoy it! Uh huh. Keep telling yourself that, guys.

Then the bizarre happened. I became a runner.

Wait, what? How do you go from hating and ridiculing an entire sport to loving it to the point of writing about and extolling its benefits? Well, I’ll admit, it was tough at first, but I found a bunch of tricks that made it fun and easy, and it wasn’t long until I was hooked. Want to know what they are? OK, here ya go!

Be Honest With Yourself

If you’ve never been a runner, or used to run but haven’t in years, you’re going to have to face the fact that you’re probably more out of shape than you thought. This may even be the case if you’re otherwise active since running is a different motion to  other sports.

Once you accept that you’re an absolute beginner, it becomes easier to make the right choices when you learn how to run. As much as you’d probably like to do it, you’re probably not going to head out the door and knock off 5k nonstop. The reality is that you’re likely going to find that 30 seconds of running is a challenge.

Take it slow at first. Book in 30 minutes of exercise for each session, but don’t expect to run this whole time right off the bat. Start by walking 5 minutes then lightly jogging 30 seconds, then repeating. Once you’ve done this, you will have a better idea of where you’re at, and you can play with the walking/running bits until you find the right combination.

Improve At Each Session

One of the big mistakes that new runners end up doing is picking a route and just running it, then going home. They ‘put in the hours’ running, and think that’s enough. The problem with this approach is that all it does is get you used to running one distance at one speed.

To get better as a runner, you need to be constantly pushing your limits.

So, for each of your running sessions, aim to improve on your previous best. Run a little longer, or a little faster. Each little improvement will get you one step closer to being a good runner, and once you’ve achieved this, you will almost certainly find that you actually enjoy running!

Track Your Progress

It may feel like you’re not making any progress, but when you look back and see just how far you’ve come, it can be a real boost. A great way to help you gain this perspective is to track every workout.

Get yourself a journal or open a spreadsheet and track your distance run, and time running. You can be as simple or fancy as you like, but the main thing is to try to give yourself some record of your progress.

In as short as 6 weeks, if you stick with it and push yourself a little each session, I guarantee you’ll look back and laugh at how bad you were and smile at how much you’ve improved.

Go Slower Than You Think You Can

Another big mistake that new runners make is to take off as fast as they can, or faster than they should. They start at a good pace and it feels fine, but within a short time, they’re huffing and puffing, and probably swearing and cursing the sport of running.

So, when you’re first starting out, just take it easy. A neat little trick is to make sure you’re breathing only through your nose. If you find yourself needing to mouth-breathe, it means you’re pushing a little too hard. Slow down, get your nose going again, and keep on jogging.

Alternatively, if you are running with a friend, try to keep a pace that allows you to speak to each other as you run. This will make sure you’re not overdoing it, and let you run further.

Take Small Steps

When you start running, it’s best to get into good habits right away. This will help you avoid injuries and run more efficiently, which will in turn help you become a better runner faster. There are millions of lines written about good running form out there, and once you’ve become addicted to it, you’ll find the resources you need.

In the meantime, focus on just one thing: small steps. Taking small steps will automatically improve your form and stop you from making a number of very common mistakes in form. Your feet will land under your centre of gravity, and you will run a little slower.

As you get more confident and your running base builds, you will find your stride naturally lengthening, but at first, try to keep those steps small, and you will be rewarded.

Make It Enjoyable

Lastly, when you run with a smile on your face, it’s hard not to want to keep going back. There are a lot of ways to make running fun. Try running with friends, or signing up for a race. There are a lot of fun, themed races, like Zombie runs, mud runs, and obstacle courses. Likewise, there are scenic runs, and runs that attract thousands of people.

If you’re a big nerd like me, you might find that tinkering with your form as you run is enough of a distraction to keep you interested.

Once you get through the first 6 or so weeks, or hit one of the big mile markers like the 5k, running becomes truly addictive. Give it a chance, work within your limits, keep improving, and try your best to make it enjoyable, and you too will become one of those crazy running people you’ve heard so much about!

A Beginner’s Guide To Racing Barefoot

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

There’s something unreal about running your first barefoot race. It’s hard to describe, but even for people who have completed dozens of shod races, the first barefoot one is something special.

Racing barefoot is an amazing experience, but it can be quite different to racing in shoes. To help get you through your first race, here are a few tips that will help ensure that your first race a safe one, and make your experience one to remember.

Training Is Essential

Before you even think about stepping foot on that race course, it’s essential to do your training, and do it well. When you’re out there amongst the push of other racers, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and overdo it.

Training lets your body get used to the stresses and strains involved in barefoot running and will help you keep your head when you’re racing.

When training for a race, it’s great to have a plan that incorporates distance running, speed work, and hills. It’s also important to get a feel for the pace that you intend to run during the race. This can be really important to ensure that you don’t get swept up by the crowd and have your race plan go out the window.

Extra training for barefoot racing would also need to include running on similar terrain to that which you expect to encounter during the race. This is essential, especially for trail runs, as it will help prepare your soles and supporting muscles for the demands required on race day.

Know The Course

For barefoot runners, the unknown can cause serious trouble. If you know what to expect, it’s much easier to prepare for it, or avoid it, than if you don’t. Never is this more true than with race road conditions.

Knowing what sort of terrain to expect in a race is possibly the most important consideration that must be met before signing up for a race. So often, barefoot runners sign up for races that are well within their abilities distance-wide, but that prove to be too tough for their soles to handle.

This is often the case with city-based runs that may seem easy on the surface. Running on pavement is generally easier on the feet than running on trails, but all it takes is one long stretch of rough asphalt to turn a fun race day into a nightmare.

Find The Best Spot

Half the battle when racing barefoot is choosing the best spot to run. When you’re training, it’s easy to select the best route and to clearly see the path ahead of you.

When you’re racing, however, your visibility is limited by the people in front of you, your path may be blocked by others, and you may even get your feet stepped on.

The biggest challenge will come at the beginning of the race when everyone is all bunched together. At this point, your focus should be on finding the right groove to run on. For a road race, the best spot is often right in the middle, where you can step on the lines that are painted on the road. These lines can be a life-saver on rough roads, so keep an eye out for them.

Another trick for navigating the early stages is to sneak in behind a pair or side-by-side runners. There will usually be a gap in between them that will allow you to see more of the road up ahead. This will help you avoid debris while keeping your head up as much as possible.

Once you get through the early stages and runners begin to drift apart, take the opportunity to find the best, most comfortable route, and turn on the speed!

Use Your Senses

Even in optimal situations, when running barefoot, it’s really important to be aware of your surroundings. In the chaos of a race, this is even more essential as it can mean the difference between a fun and safe race, and one with the potential to cause injury.

Start by leaving the iPod at home. For longer races especially, the allure of music is very appealing, however it can lull you into a false sense of security which may pose problems.

When you have your ears open, you will be able to hear marshal instructions and more easily spot trouble. As an added bonus, you can also hear the cheers of friends and family at the sidelines. Don’t be surprised if you get asked a ton of questions, even in the middle of the race. You’ll probably find that most comments are overwhelmingly positive, but if you hear any negativity, just ignore it and focus on your race.

During your training, work on running without earphones to get used to it. You’ll likely end up finding that once you give it a go, you’ll never go back.

Hearing is important, but sight is even more so. We touched on this above, but it bears repeating. You’ll want to be continuously scanning the ground for debris, and finding spots that allow you to see further.

By being aware of your surroundings you’ll decrease the chances of stepping on something bad, or being stepped on by someone else.

Don’t Forget The Usual Stuff

When focusing on barefoot running, it can be easy to forget some of the simple things. During the race, pay a mind to your hydration and food intake, especially for longer races.

Get to the start line early and find a good spot.

Oh, and don’t forget to go to the bathroom beforehand!

Racing barefoot is exhilarating and can be just the thing to rekindle your interest in racing, or give you the impetus to get out there and run your first race. The key is being prepared and mindful of your environment. Do this, and you’ll have a great time, and will have a memory that you can cherish forever.