Sunday, March 27, 2011

What's the deal with barefoot running

Hi All,

Running is a sport that many of us participate in weather it is our main activity, part of a multi-sport pursuits, or just a way to augment training. There has been a lot of press for idea of barefoot running and I will sgare my experience transitioning from traditional running to "barefoot" running.

Now I am not an expert on running, I don't claim t0 really have more than a basic comprehension of the bio-mechanics of running. I currently run about 2-3 days a week indoors as a part of a greater cycling training plan. I usually run 45 min as part of a 1.5 hour workout. I have run since childhood as part of other sports, so I guess I have always been a runner. In fact I would even say I enjoy running (please don't tell my cycling friends).

So let's first talk about the concept of barefoot running.

What is barefoot running you may ask?

Well it has become very popular along with the book Born To Run by Christoper McDougall. The argument being, humans were designed to run barefoot as our ancestors did.

A quick Google search comes up with this definition.

"Barefoot running is running while barefoot—without wearing any shoes on the feet. Running in thin-soled, flexible shoes such as moccasins is bio-mechanically similar, and often equated to barefoot running.

Harvard research on the bio-mechanics of running are provided in the below link.

They find a positive correlation to barefoot bio-mechanics and reduced injury rates.

Here is an excerpt of the findings

"Our research asked how and why humans can and did run comfortably without modern running shoes. We tested and confirmed what many people knew already: that most experienced, habitually barefoot runners tend to avoid landing on the heel and instead land with a forefoot or midfoot strike. The bulk of our published research explores the collisional mechanics of different kinds of foot strikes. We show that most forefoot and some midfoot strikes (shod or barefoot) do not generate the sudden, large impact transients that occur when you heel strike (shod or barefoot). Consequently, runners who forefoot or midfoot strike do not need shoes with elevated cushioned heels to cope with these sudden, high transient forces that occur when you land on the ground. Therefore, barefoot and minimally shod people can run easily on the hardest surfaces in the world without discomfort from landing. If impact transient forces contribute to some forms of injury, then this style of running (shod or barefoot) might have some benefits..."

So I am interested. I have never really loved the way I fell after running in my current shoes. I was fortunate enough to be provided a pre-release set of Merrel Trail Gloves, so I decided to give it a shot. My regular running shoes were a pair of Pearl Izumi X-Alps.

So after doing some research on changing over I found one common issue. Everyone starts too fast and injures themselves. So I decided I would be smart and make it a gradual transition.

The first thing I did after getting the shoes in late January was just wear them around the house. I wore them for about 20-30 minutes at a time and did this a few times before running in them.

After a few days of that I took them to the gym, along with my regular shoes. The first day I did 10 minutes of my 30 minute workout. The feel of the shoes is very different. You really notice the lack of padding, and the increased role of the mid-foot in the gate. Upon changing back to my PI shoes I noticed that I did strike my heel every step when I wasn't concentrating closely on my stride.

I gradually started adding time every few workouts. So the second time I went I did 10 minutes, and the third time I did 15 minutes in the Trail Glove. Everything was going great. I was feeling good. I was really enjoying the shoes, they felt natural, and comfortable.

After building up to 20 minutes I made the classic mistake. I jumped up to 30 minutes, and worse I did a real killer workout. I was in pain just as soon as I got off the treadmill. I felt just fine while running, but as soon as I started cooling down I realized I had done something bad. I had a quite tender calf in my right leg. I went to bed feeling sore, and work up barely being able to walk with tightness from my toes to my hips. Luckily it got better quickly and I did no real damage. I was lucky.

After taking 2-3 weeks off from running. I decided to get back into it. I started slow, and have been doing well. I am now running all 45 minutes of my long workouts in the barefoot shoes. I have done harder workouts, and I feel good.

Overall my impression is that barefoot running has its merits. I like the feel of the shoes. They are very responsive. I like the way I feel after running. It seems like without the heel strike induced by overly padded shoes I don't have as many aches as I used to. I really notice that I am more on my toes in the barefoot shoes. I feel like I have good spring in my step and better balance. I definitely am liking running more with these shoes and can't wait for the trails to dry up so I can try them outside.

So the moral of the story is take it slow and have fun out there with or without shoes!

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