Saturday, 12 June 2010

Barefoot running =


Of course it does.... what else did I expect from the pounding of bare soft flesh around a concrete quarter mile circuit this morning.

The background to why I tried this and am interested in barefoot running stems from a book I've just finished reading called Born to Run ( Its not actually about barefoot running (not for the most part) but about an ancient mexician tribe called the Tarahumara ('the running people') who are the best ultra runners on this planet. They live and run in the most hostal terrain in the depths of cooper cannons of southern mexico for 100s of miles at a time with little more than old tire rubber strapped to their feet. Its well worth a read.

There's another element of the book which explores why runners get so many injuries with the author Christopher McDougall trying to answer the simple question - Why do my feet hurt? and looking for answers to his own running injuries. It focuses on the humble running shoe and outlines many studies and research carried out over the past few decades that conclude that it is the way running shoes effect the way we run (e.g hard heel strike) rather than a lighter forefoot strike which is why 8 in every 10 runners get injuried every year. And the finger is firmly pointed at Nike who invented the modern running shoe in the early 70s with its cushioned heel (which never existed before then). The result - running form fundamental changed from this point forward as these shoes allowed runners to heel strike with much greater forces on the body than ever before. Of course the cushioning makes for a very comfortable ride, and thats the problem. Whilst its comfortable at the time with the cushioning masking the impact forces that running on the heel creates, the result is a much greater risk of injury effecting our ankles, shins, knees, hips and lower back.

So what's the solution!? Well that's why I was up this morning running barefoot because there is a growing movement whose spokesman Christopher McDougall believes that barefoot running is the answer. I went to a talk by the author in London on Tuesday with a few friends and listened to what he had to say. A good speaker and a nice chap who tells some great stories (taken from his book), and provides a very convincing arguement that supports the above case. But what was missing for me were real answers on HOW to run barefoot. He talks about just going out there and doing it, running on feel and listening to what your feet and body is telling you. So that's what I did this morning. I went out to the track which is a nice smooth surface and did about 6 laps barefoot. It felt different but not uncomfortable, and immediately you notice that you do run on the forefoot (despite me being a heel striker in shoes). You really don't have any choice as heel striking would be far too painful. After six laps (1.5 miles) the trainers went back on so I could complete a speed session with reps of 400m / 300m / 200m repeated 3 times. I was knackered after that.

So I'm home now and nursing blisters on both feet due to running just 1.5 miles barefoot! So where from here? Is that it? Do I take this as a signal that despite the rehtoric the reality of barefoot running is blisters, sore feet and very low mileage. Or do I try again? I'm not sure yet.... All I do know is that on tomorrow morning's long run I will be lacing up my shoes as normal and hitting the trails once again.


  1. I have experiemented with this on softer terrain (grass) at the end of a short run but don't intend to convert 100% to barefoot.

    I am gradually moving into more minimalist shoes and am about to order the Inov-8 Flite 230's for trail and 220's for road as I believe we don't need the clunkiness of modern shoes but I think barefooting is not a magic bullet as you have to take into account executing good running technique, intensity of sessions, weight etc. So many variables. I think Inov-8's philosophy is something I like quite a bit.

    Also have a read of this article. Very interesting and provides a balanced view on the subject

  2. Rich - i love innov-8 too! got the 315 roclites and newer 296 roclites which were superb on the fellsman. thks 4 link to article. must read.

  3. Stu, will we see you in Cornwall this October for the ACC? Reckon you'd fly round the course the form that you're currently in! Great blog.

  4. hey Gaz. now following your blog too! great stuff. I did the ACC last year. a great event with superb views and terrain for the entire 3 days! Are you doing it this year then Gaz? I'm new to all this ultra lark so always looking for events not done b4 rather than the same ones. but ACC was special so never say never :-)