Should I run barefoot?

Well? The real question should be, why do you want to run barefoot?

With new brands appearing overnight and the big players bringing out proprietary new technology that is guaranteed* to make you go faster, the real question should be why would you want to run barefoot?

Let’s get past the hype. Barefoot running won’t miraculously make you faster. It’s not going to injury proof you and it probably won’t make you a better runner than you were to start with. The discipline does have many passionate advocates, but it also has many disenchanted past users. So, if you are playing with the idea, here are my metaphorical 2 cents worth, but we need to add some context which most skip over. Let’s start at the very beginning.

I grew up in South Africa, and while many of the stereotypes are not true, one is. I did play and run around barefoot as a child, and I mean like a lot! Even at my privileged school, lunch break and after school were for playing on the field. Shoes and socks were used as goal posts and 60 minutes of frantic play commenced, be that football/soccer, rounders or any other devious game that young boys could come up with. Why is this important, you may be asking…? Well, my feet have had years, if not s few decades to develop on the grass and dirt, and that matters. Our bodies take a long time to change and adapt, muscle adaptation can take up to 12 weeks. This is the time frame to grow new fibres and make new neural connections in out brain. My body had adapted to barefoot activities at a young age and had this input for a long time.

This is where so many would be barefoot athlete end out going wrong. As already accomplished runners, they do too much too soon and end up with stress fractures in their feet. Their bones, muscles and tendons have developed around running in shoes, possibly from a very young age.

Step One to becoming a barefoot runner:

Let the adaptation begin! If you grew up in shoes, this may take longer, but start slow and start on grass (real grass!). Take the shoes off, get some grass between your toes and start running. Let your mind wander to the freedom of youth, the unhindered pleasure you got for being outside in the fresh air. Now that’s over look to do as much grass barefoot running as you can squeeze in. if possible swap track session for grass running (you can still do the track work out). If you play sports see ow much of it you can do barefoot, even if it is only the warm-up/cool down parts.

Step Two to becoming a barefoot runner:

Don’t rush the process. It takes time. Many of the diehard advocates will have decades of barefoot knowledge hardwired into their body, don’t expect to get there in one week. If anything the barefoot sessions may be the most fun you have on both your legs during the week, so go with it and enjoy it!

Step three to becoming a barefoot runner:

You are now a barefoot runner! Congratulations 😃 However you may have desires to take this to longer distances and even go on the tarmac sometimes… so you will probably want some form of protection for your feet. The Vibram Five Fingers are probably the archetype of barefoot running shoe, but any shoe with a very low profile will do. Go for something super light, airy and form fitting so you still get the barefoot feel. This sounds counter intuitive? Wasn’t the whole point of barefoot running to get away from shoes? Which leads us to…

The Crux

Barefoot running is as much about the style as it is about the kit. When you run barefoot, you automatically run further forward on your foot, heel strikes hurt! To achieve this you lean forward more, bring your feet under your hips and use the muscles and tendons in your calves and thighs to propel you forward. This change in running style will feel strange, and faster, and hurt a little, ok, if you haven’t had stiff muscles in a while, it will hurt a lot for the first few days!

Muscular pain is good, joint or bone pain is bad!

This is important. Stiffness in the calf muscles is natural as you are using them as springs to propel you forward. A bit of stiffness in your foot arch it also good, as your foot stretches through the stride. Pain in your knees, hips, heel, or foot id bad. If you start to feel this pain, stop straight away and go speak to a physio. This is generally sharp, shooting pain that comes over instantly, whereas muscular stiffness will happen after the event and last 2-3 days (DOMS). They will no doubt chastise you for doing something as silly as trying to run barefoot!

So there you have it, throw away your running shoes, spend a few months playing on the grass and then buy new running shoes! Barefoot running has never been simpler or easier to get into!

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