Almost Barefoot Running

by Almira on July 13, 2010 · 0 comments

I love to trail run. I didn’t, however, always like running just for running’s sake. Hmm…perhaps my lack of desire to run came from some negative reinforcement: when my siblings and I were naughty, we had to run 1/4 acre “laps” on our property as a punishment. Despite my disdain for laps, when I “grew up” I let bygones be bygones and got into running primarily for the weight-loss and the overall health benefits. I am, however, a very environment-dependent exerciser. I detest running if not surrounded by interesting and beautiful scenery and the perfect conditions—unless its pouring down rain. There’s nothing better than running madly in a decent storm. And though I recently wiped-out rather nicely on some sharp gravel while trail running last weekend, I am not deterred. As crazy as it may seem, I will continue to run in the rain.

As a girl, I ran around barefoot like a gypsy all day and developed calluses on my feet that allowed me to run on the sharp gravel that lined our driveway—sounds gross, but I don’t recall them looking grubby. When I heard about Vibram 5 Fingers and how they are supposed to be as close to barefoot running as you can get without running on naked feet, I was instantly intrigued.

Video not showing up? Watch the Barefoot Running video here

The first I tried them on they felt so light and fun, though it did take a couple runs to get used to having something in-between my toes. I took them for a run on my usual loop and loved feeling every bump and lump in the grass and cement. I ran for 20 minutes, feeling as if I could keep going indefinitely, and then it kicked in: a searing charlie-horse up my calves. The next day I could hardly walk down the stairs. Apparently, you’re only supposed to wear them for 5 minutes the first time you wear them, and then work up your time gradually, wearing regular running shoes in between barefoot running workouts. The reason for the pain has to do with how typical running shoes are built as well as the fact that I was striking on my forefoot. Remember this tip from my post on Chi Running?

“Don’t land on your forefoot. That will DEFINITELY create more stress on your calves and ankles. You want to land mid-foot, which is completely neutral and doesn’t require your calf muscles to fire. Try to remember to land fullfoot and keep all muscles below the knee relaxed the entire time you run.”

Though running in a golf course would be the perfect place to run (I would often run laps through a soccer field), I don’t have anything really manicured lawns nearby (just tick-laden fields), so I primarily run dirt trails with a few rocks, gravel, mud, and sticks. I’m careful to dodge anything sharp, and my feet do just fine. Thus far I’ve worked up to 60 minutes of trail running in them. I’ve improved my speed and agility, but my favorite thing: I just love how they feel. Running doesn’t feel like a chore when I wear them. I recently tried running in my trail running shoes and practically couldn’t run, they felt so clunky! I’m training for a nice and short 9-mile trail run coming up in October to test the Vibram 5 Fingers out in their first race. The most I’ve run in general is a 15K trail run, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that in my Vibrams.

Next step: muster the courage (or insanity) to run without any shoes at all and really barefoot run.

See this Harvard study:

Video not showing up? Watch the Harvard Study on Barefoot Running video here

PROS:

  • Washable!
  • Low-impact on joints
  • Improve balance
  • Get you to be a forefoot striker rather than a heel striker
  • Bring you back to a more natural and efficient stride
  • Allow chronic aches and pains to heal

CONS:

  • Blisters (at first)
  • Achilles and calf pain when first starting
  • Possible injury from sharp objects if you don’t look before you step
  • Price: $85

Our Story: The relationship I have with my Vibrams is built upon positive thinking: my Vibrams don’t complain that I look sickly and sweaty in the humid summer heat while running and I don’t complain that my feet and toes resemble those of a gecko. You see? It’s a match…or at least a great conversation-starter while standing in the checkout line at the grocery store despite all of your attempts to get in and out incognito.

See more videos on Barefoot Running at RunFearless.

What do you think? Would you try them out?

Learn more with these reads: Born To Run and Barefoot Running: How to Run Light and Free by Getting in Touch with the Earth. Ask your barefoot running questions here.

Looking for something other than Vibram 5 Fingers in the realm of barefoot running? I have something for you, if you’re savvy. Stay tuned.

Photo by Vibram 5 Fingers

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