Barefoot Running

Earlier this year, I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and found it to be one of the most inspirational running books I’ve ever read.
One of the most important points the book makes is how our history of running in the modern world has been built up by a bunch of theories which were ultimately proven to be false, which also have been extended by a number of big corporations dedicated to creating running shoes. And all this can be prevented by going back to basics, which is to run barefoot.
But first, what has happened with our affinity for wearing shoes? In this great, detailed and very geek work, Shoes, Sitting, and Lower Body Dysfunctions | Eat. Move. Improve., it shows how we humans have completely atrophied or overstretched and weakened essential muscles which would allow us to run without injury. Not only have we done this simply by wearing shoes of all sorts, but our sedentary, sitting lives have also messed up our bodies quite a bit.
Mostly all these amazing support muscles nature has given us have just wasted away, making running a difficult activity when in fact it should not be.
Enter the barefoot running craze. After reading Born to Run, I went out immediately looking for my pair of Vibram Five Fingers. Anyone who has looked for a pair will note that it is near impossible to find a pair. They are so popular now that you can barely find them anywhere. So far, REI has some occasionally in stock, but if you’re down in Los Angeles area, Adventure 16 on Pico Blvd always seems to get a lot every week so check back frequently.
The fit is pretty particular so you need to go in and try them on. I was actually a size larger than the sizing chart recommended so you really have to make sure they fit right. Also, I first bought a pair of KSOs which were pretty good for cooler weather, like sub-60 degree temperatures. But the panel of fabric over the instep made getting them on not so easy. So I also bought a pair of Sprints which were much easier to get on, and I use them for the warm-enough days.
At the moment, I am up to walking around in them as much as I can. I have tried running very, very short distances just to see what it feel like. But I have not quite gotten there yet. I am training for the Honolulu Marathon right now and intend to race in my old dependable ASICS.
I am still a fan however. Many of my friends are starting out trying barefoot running and have asked me about it. So I thought I would post all the resources I’ve found so far on barefoot running. Here they are:
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall – the best inspirational running book I’ve read in a while, and big on barefoot running.
Shoes, Sitting, and Lower Body Dysfunctions | Eat. Move. Improve. – again, a very complete analysis of all the atrophy our bodies have undergone due to our shoes and sitting.
Running Times Magazine: Transitioning to Minimalism – a great short article on making the change to barefoot running, and a survey of the minimalist running shoes available now or soon.
12 Step Program to Run Barefoot – nicely setup step by step program to running fully barefoot that you can follow.
I found two books on Amazon that were specifically for barefoot running:
Barefoot Running: How to Run Light and Free by Getting in Touch with the Earth by Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee – I just ordered this one and will check it out.
The Barefoot Running Book: A Practical Guide to the Art and Science of Barefoot and Minimalist Shoe Running by Jason Robillard – I just got this on my Kindle and think it’s very concise and excellent.
I think these DVDs are excellent, and I generally like these better than books, which they also have:
Pose Method
Evolution Running
All of these advocate forefoot running, which is the cornerstone of barefoot running. Forget that heel strike crap that anyone is feeding you. Heel striking just beats up your body.
Most people I talk to angst or whine about how they can’t change the way they run. I’m sorry but if you’re running wrong, you will end up injuring yourself eventually and then give up. So is it really that “you can’t” or “you won’t”?
Here are two really great books on getting people to realize that it takes a lot of focus, dedication, and hard work to burn new habits into your body:
This Year I Will…: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True by M. J. Ryan – A great step by step and inspirational book to help you figure out how to change, and burn new and better habits into your lives.
Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success by Matthew Syed – some people think that all these talented people we see out there were born gifted; this book debunks that theory. Many of the things that we see others excel in were simply born out of THOUSANDS of hours of practice. It also means that if we put in the time and effort, we too can be really good at the things we want to be good at….like running injury free.
There you have it; all I can tell you about barefoot running. My hope is that someday I’ll get there, although I have short term goals which may mean that my barefoot running training is interspersed with running shod with normal running shoes. Suffice to say that it takes a long time to get there, and the time to adapt is highly dependent on your respective fitness, bodies, and muscles’ state.
My program is similar to the 12 Step Program; I will walk for many months. Then I will start jogging short distances and gradually lengthening them. I will watch my body’s response to the stress carefully and back off if something is tight or sore.
Already, I go to ART and Graston every week to help restore function to tight muscles. I also use Kinesio Tape and RockTape and the RockTape Taping Method to help the curative process as well as support my muscles during training. During my transition from crappy heel strike running to fore/mid-foot running, it took a lot of work with tape and my sports medicine docs to help me through that in one piece. Now I will go through that process again, going from shoe running to barefoot.
But hey, I’m going to be 45 this year and my body doesn’t have the ability to just adapt to new stresses overnight. They take a LOT OF TIME. I am patient, focused, and going as fast as my body allows.
Re-training my muscles is one aspect; re-training my nervous system is the other. Now I am focusing on precise foot placement as I run, putting each foot deliberately down as gently as possible, and trying to keep my feet gliding as low to the ground as possible. Doing this over and over again, and while I get fatigued, means that my nervous system must make this an unconscious habit. Only after hundreds, if not thousands of hours of training, can I burn this new habit into my body.
I am still early in this process and hope to post more about it as the months go by. Good luck in your own adventures with barefoot running!

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