Micro-runs…A Better Way To Transition To Barefoot?

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Arguably the hardest part of transitioning from shod to barefoot running is not the discomfort, or form changes, or any of the usual worries that new runners have. No, the hardest part is keeping your mileage low and easing into it. It is so hard to keep to a low-mileage regime, since barefoot running just feels so good and right, and makes you want to keep going!

The trouble with overdoing it is that if your body’s not used to barefoot running, you can run into some trouble, and in some cases may even get injured. There are a lot of tips and tricks out there on how to ease into it gently, but we all know that the reality is most people will just get out there and run too far too soon. It’s human nature.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and having recently recovered from a trampoline-related stress fracture, I’ve had a unique opportunity to re-transition to barefoot running from scratch. After a bit of experimentation, I think I’ve come up with the ultimate solution to the problem.

I call them Micro-runs.

Micro-runs are very short, very easy runs that you do wearing your everyday clothes. All you need to do is take off your shoes and run 50-200m. You don’t need to sprint or break any records. Just do a quick out-and-back at a leisurely pace, staying nice and relaxed, and listening to your body.

It’s that simple.

Don’t get into your workout gear, don’t worry about planning routes, and don’t worry about time or pace, or any of the usual distractions that tend to come with most running programs. Just do this once or twice every day for a few weeks, and reap the benefits.

There are several reasons why the micro-run approach is different to most other transitioning techniques, and why this makes them so much more effective while reducing the chance of injuries from doing too much too soon.

The first is that very few people feel comfortable sweating a lot in their non-workout clothes. Going out in your regular clothes will help you keep your sessions short and relaxed, which is exactly what you want to do when transitioning.

The second is that you can literally do them anywhere: on your commute home, on the way to the shops. Even on the way to the car (my favourite). Just nip up to the end of the block and back again before you head out!

Lastly, it lets you fit in more exercises than you probably otherwise would, since you don’t have the time overhead of getting your running gear together, or the pressure to stay out longer once you are fully dressed. You can even do more than one a day if your feet are up to it!

Micro-runs are a great way to supplement your existing training, and can give you a great indication of how well your feet are acclimating to being barefoot. After each run, pay attention to how your feet feel. At first they may feel a bit raw or tender. Wait for this feeling to subside before doing another micro-run.

I found that doing these, in conjunction with being barefoot at home, and elsewhere as often as possible, made the transition nearly painless and a lot more comfortable. Within a few weeks, I was ready to start running a kilometre or two a couple times per week, and have built up from there.

I’d highly recommend giving micro-runs a go if you’re new to barefoot running, or if you suspect you might be susceptible to overdoing it. I’d love to hear how you go, so if you try it, be sure to leave a comment and let me know how you’ve found it!

Happy running!

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So You Want To Run In Minimalist Shoes

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

So I spent most of this weekend fielding questions, comments, tweets, and emails about the recent Art Of Manliness article that came out last week. There were some excellent points raised, and I got the feeling that this is a topic that interests a lot of people.

One of the major themes that came up over and over was the question of injuries related to running in minimalist shoes. If you read the comments you will have seen a number of anecdotes from people who have hurt themselves learning how to run in them.

To address these comments, and in an effort to make it easier to understand the risks involved in minimalist running, I’ve put together this post, which I hope will help new runners avoid making injury-inducing mistakes.

Minimal Running Isn’t Barefoot Running

I think first off, that it’s important to make a distinction between minimalist running and barefoot running.

Barefoot running means that your bare feet are touching the ground as you run. This means no socks, no shoes, nothing.

Minimal, however can mean pretty much anything else. If we go by what the shoe companies tell us, minimal shoes can range from those made from the thinnest materials, such as paper all the way up to padded shoes that supposedly mimic barefoot running (such as the Nike Free).

When you run barefoot, the amount of sensation that you experience is huge, and though you get used to the signals and what is felt as pain initially dwindles, you will always retain the full range of sensation, no matter how long you run barefoot for. This increased sensation acts as a built-in checking mechanism that ensures that you don’t overdo it and cause yourself serious injury.

Similarly, when you slip on minimalist shoes for the first time, you will feel a whole new world of sensations. You may be able to feel the individual pebbles beneath your feet and get a range of motion that was impossible in regular running shoes. The problem is though, that this newfound sensitivity doesn’t last.

Before long, minimalist running can lull you into a false sense of security. They knock off a few of the rough edges and allows you to run further and faster than you would in bare feet. This may seem to be a great advantage, and treated with care, it is, but complacency breeds bad habits. Once you grow complacent, it’s easy to push yourself a bit too hard, or run a bit too far, and this is where injuries happen.

Avoiding Injury

It’s because of injuries and the reduced sensation that comes with minimal shoes that a lot of ‘true’ barefoot runners avoid them, and actively discourage people from using them. Exchanges can become heated, but largely this is an effort by barefoot runners to try to save people from themselves.

It’s human nature to push boundaries, and to (over)indulge in experiences that feel good. Minimalist running allows us to do both, which is where the problems start.

So can you run in minimalist shoes without getting hurt? Sure! But you have to be sensible. One of the major tenets of this site, and what I tell every new barefoot or minimal runner is to listen to your body. You really have to make a conscious effort to do this on every run.

On top of this, you will need to pay extra attention to keeping your feet strong. Walk barefoot as much as possible. Do feet and lower leg exercises regularly.

Most importantly, know your limits. If you can’t run a distance with perfect form, you shouldn’t be running it. This is where a lot of minimal runners get into trouble. It’s fun to sign up for races and push yourself to the limits. Everyone who has completed a race knows that they go a little faster on race day, and push a little harder. This is true of barefoot running, as much as anything, but the key difference is that in minimal shoes you can exceed your body’s limits a lot easier than you can barefoot, and this puts you at risk of injury.

The Second Transition

This site is targeted mainly at beginning barefoot and minimalist runners, but since we’re talking about the risks involved in minimal running, I think it’s a good place to bring up something that’s very common, yet little-discussed. I call it the Second Transition, and for most minimal runners, it seems to occur around the two year mark.

What happens is that the runner makes it through the initial transition into minimal running, and it becomes a habit. They will be running regularly, racing regularly, and generally having a great time of it. Encouraged by past successes, they will slowly begin to ignore the warning signs, and before they know it, an injury hits.

The injury involved will often be quite serious because of the distances and/or speeds that have been reached by the runner. I’ve heard stories of metatarsal fractures, ruptured Achilles tendons, and even plantar fasciitis.

This seems to be a turning point for many minimalist runners. It is here that they will either give up minimal running, be forced to take a break due to injury, or else take the next step and transition to barefoot running.

I lucked out in that I had heard of this phenomenon and transitioned to barefoot before it happened to me, but many people aren’t as lucky.

I don’t mean this to frighten you, but it’s important to highlight the dangers of becoming complacent and over-reaching when wearing shoes, even when you’ve become an experienced runner.

It’s Not All Bad

I don’t want to end this article on a down note, and deter future barefoot runners from giving it a go. Minimal shoes are an excellent way to give you the confidence to try out a new sport in a more familiar and comforting way.

Used correctly, you can have many years of injury-free running ahead of you, and I sincerely hope you do. Just keep in mind that barefoot and minimal running are more than just a fad or a neat party trick. It’s a serious sport and one that needs to be treated with respect.

So, get out there, enjoy yourself, and don’t forget to listen to your body!

5 Tips For Surviving Your First Run In Vibrams

By Barefoot Dawsy

There’s something about running in Vibrams that makes you want to run farther. Unfortunately, for most new Vibram wearers, this feeling can often lead to the dreaded sore calves that are the trademark of doing Too Much Too Soon (TMTS). The problem is that it just feels so good to run with light feet that can feel the ground beneath them!

The disadvantage to taking your first ‘barefoot’ steps in shoes versus actually barefoot is that Vibram makes excellent soles. What this means for you as a new runner is that you can run and run and your own soles won’t hurt at all. Try this barefooted, and your foot pads will be screaming.

At this point, the best advice is of course to go slowly, spend a good few weeks building up your strength and improving your form. This is great, and highly recommended, but the reality is that you’re probably going to get caught up in the moment and ignore the whole tranistion thing (shame, shame 😉 ).

With this in mind, I’ve put together a few tips to surviving your first Vibrams run. If you do nothing else but these things, you still stand a good chance of making it home with your Achilles tendons intact.

1. Stretch those calves!

Normally I don’t advocate stretching before a run, however if you are used to wearing conventional shoes, you’re  going to need a bit of rehab before hitting (caressing, really) the pavement. So, while you’re shopping for your first pair of Vibrams, making your mind up, etc, spend some time getting your calves ready. Every day, and especially before that fateful first run, do some simple calf exercises. 3 sets of 10 calf raises should be enough. This will let your Achilles tendon lengthen a bit and your calves develop a bit more strength. The longer you can do this before your first run, the better, so start now!

2. Take Small Steps

You’re making a big transition by moving from regular shoes to minimals, so you’re going to have to start catering for this. I can’t go through everything about proper form (see the rest of this site for details), but if you’re going to do just 1 thing to start working on this, it’s to take small steps. The smaller your steps, the more likely you will be to keep your feet under your centre of gravity. Doing this will reduce your tendency to heel strike and overstride, and will reduce the impact forces on your feet and joints as you run.

3. Take It Slow

You will be tempted to ramp up the speed on your first run. By all means, do a couple little sprints, but try to keep the speed down at first. The slower you go, the easier it is to tread lightly, make corrections, and to react to changes in terrain, etc.

4. Walk It Off

Waling is an excellent way to let your body recover from a run, and should especially not be excluded from your first minimal run. As a rule of thumb, once your run is done, walk for 30 seconds for every minute that you ran. This will help your muscles stretch out and cool down gradually, which will make all the difference to your recovery.

5. Take A Break

A lot of time with running, the day after is nowhere near as painful as the day-after-the-day-after. This is especially true when you’re wearing minimal shoes as there is very little protecting you from your own mistakes. When easing into running ‘barefoot’, make sure that you give yourself at least 2 days off after your first run.

There are thousands of tips that I gan give you to take with you on your first run, but if you stick to these 5, you will greatly improve your chances of making it home in one piece. Running in Vibrams (or better yet, barefoot) is a joy that has turned many a couch-potato into a distance runner (myself included), so get out there, and enjoy yourself!