Barefoot or ‘barefoot’?

In Born To Run, Injury problems, Luna sandals, Running by All This Running AroundLeave a Comment

I started this blog because I wanted to document not just my new found enthusiasm for running, but also my forays into trying the barefoot/minimalist way of doing it. Like a lot of people, I was totally enthused after reading ‘Born To Run’. It made me question my motivation for running, and opened my eyes to something that, despite having been a sporadic runner for a good few years, had escaped me. Joy. (I just did a bit of sick in my mouth after writing that, but it’s a price worth paying.)

It’s very hard to read ‘Born To Run’ and not get excited about the possibility of running barefoot. Naturally I wanted to give it try, and as a result of having read about the exploits of Barefoot Ted in his Vibrams, as well as the huarache-clad Tarahumara, I immediately looked into ¬†getting some Five Fingers or sandals. (Apropos of nothing, I’d like to just make a brief interjection here in order to tell you that the spell checker on Chrome is advising me to change the word ‘Tarahumara’ to ‘Taramasalata’. Make of that what you will.)

Ok, cards on the table. I love my Lunas. Except for when I’m at work, I wear them pretty much all the time. I didn’t like the idea of the Vibrams, although I may have a go with them at some point. Having my feet encased in rubber does not appeal to me one bit, but I suppose I can’t judge them until I’ve had a go. But my Lunas are fantastic. I just love running in them. The only thing that I find slightly frustrating is that whilst the pair I have (the Originals) are fantastic on roads, footpaths and very light trails, they’re pretty hopeless when it comes to proper cross-country running. A lot of the paths and trails around where I live get pretty overgrown and are not in a brilliant state. The 6mm sole and lack of tread can make things hard, particularly when it’s wet. Which, this being England in the summertime, it always is.

However, that’s not really a criticism of the sandal itself, since I knew way before I bought them that that would be the case. Luna produce a whole range of sandals for different conditions, so I’ve no complaints. My Originals do exactly what they’re meant to do and that’s fine.

In terms of the physical side of running in sandals, it hasn’t been plain sailing for me. (Although I’m happy to report that as I write this, everything feels great.) Like everyone that makes the transition to a barefoot running style, my calf muscles were the first problem, but one I got over fairly quickly (the odd hitch aside). The next thing was blisters but again, once I’d been through the initial wave of them, that was it. Finally, it was the dreaded ‘top of foot pain’. (And the sooner somebody comes up with a handier term for it than ‘top of foot pain’, the better.)

This has probably been the hardest thing for me to manage. Recently, I had to stop running for about three weeks in order to completely rest my right foot. The pain was bad, and getting worse to the point where I was starting to hobble a little bit when walking. So whilst resting my foot, I spent a good few hours researching the problem online. What I found was interesting, in that there was no definitive explanation for it, nor was there any definitive cure. I trawled the internet for articles, and ended up reading a lot of exchanges on running forums about the issue. Like everything else in the world of running, it seems everyone’s got a different opinion. But one article really stuck in my head. I found it at barefootrunning.com, and you can read the article here. To sum it up very briefly, it suggests that switching from a normal shoe to a minimalist shoe might actually give you problems that you wouldn’t have if you went straight to barefoot. The reasoning behind this is essentially that whilst running in a zero-drop, thin-soled shoe will inevitably cause you to alter your form, it might also mask some of things you shouldn’t be doing. The logic being that if you are fully barefoot, it’s hard to get caught in the ‘too much, too soon’ trap, since your feet will be screaming at you immediately, rather than after a period of time. It’s worth reading the article for the proper insight, of course.

With that in mind, I’m going to start incorporating some actual barefoot running into my routine and see what happens. Nothing too serious in terms of distance or anything, certainly not in the short term. I’ve got a nagging thought in my head that my problems were being caused by my continuing to push off with my right foot, whereas this would effectively be impossible if I had nothing on my feet. We’ll see, but whatever happens it’ll be fun to give it a go. I still don’t feel like I’ve ‘got’ barefoot running, but that’s probably a good thing. To be honest, I’m leaning towards using a variety of different shoes and a bit of barefoot for good measure. I was a bit too eager to label myself a ‘barefoot runner’, although it’s something I will always do. I think I’d rather just be a runner for now, and see how it goes.

Having said all that, everything is fine right now in terms of injuries. What isn’t so great is my overall fitness. After a three week lay-off and then easing myself back into things (ie. 2-3 runs per week maximum), it’s taken a dive. I’ve been kidding myself that everything is ok by doing longer, slower runs without difficulty. But last night I tried to really push it on a 5-mile trail run (during which I got stung to buggery by massive nettles) and there was just nothing in the tank. I walked an uphill and managed to finish the last couple of miles reasonably strongly, but much work needed. Which is fine if it would just stop bloody raining.

Anyway, I’d like to leave you with a completely unrelated video. Here are Adam Buxton, Joe Cornish and an impossibly boyish Louis Theroux dancing to ‘Groove is in The Heart’ in 1990. It’ll make you smile, trust me.