Some advice for the aspiring barefoot runner

In Barefoot running, Born To Run, Injury problems, Life, Luna sandals by All This Running Around2 Comments

So, you’ve read Born To Run. You’ve looked at some Vibrams on the internet, or maybe some huaraches. You’ve been on Barefoot Ted’s blog. You’re desperate to give this whole barefoot thing a try. And you know what? You should definitely go for it. But before you do, a word of warning. Be careful what you read.

When I started to take an interest in barefoot running, I spent ages devouring every article I could find about it online. To be honest, there is some good stuff out there, but a lot of it covers the same ground. There is an excellent blog called Feel The Dirt (http://feelthedirt.co.uk/, well worth a look). One of their writers recently talked about articles on barefoot running basically following the same pattern over and over, and it’s kind of true. They will talk about running with injuries for years, then suddenly becoming injury free. They will talk about the brief history of running shoes, and the vested interest that many large companies have in keeping runners shod. They will probably mention human evolution and how we ran for thousands of years with little or no support. They will, in short, try and condense as many of the points Christopher McDougall made in Born To Run as they can, but often into about a thousand words. The result being that you’re left with the sense of having learned nothing new about barefoot running.

This is until you start reading the comments. The comments section will be populated with dozens, sometimes hundreds of people, each of whom appears to have made it their life’s mission to teach you something new about barefoot running. Comments tend to eminate from one of the spectrum or the other; there is not much in the way of middle ground. Below are a few comments that have caught my eye, and my thoughts about them. All of these were taken from the Guardian’s website, which just goes to show that not everyone who reads that paper is a tolerant, open minded and free thinking individual. (Or ‘hippy’, in other words.)

[quote]”Barefooters and minimalists on running forums are like the Mac fanboys on computing forums – a small but vociferous minority, much louder than their numbers deserve.”[/quote]

You know what? I probably shouldn’t have started with this one because I can see where this dude is coming from. I can remember getting my first Mac six or seven years ago, and I can remember smugly informing my friends that ‘it just works’ (gah!) and laughing at their frequent virus attacks and sytem failures. I have tried very hard not to be like that about my Lunas, mainly because making the transition from regular shoes to sandals (or nothing) is a damn sight harder than turning on a Mac. But he has a point. You will see barefoot converts gleefully mocking their shod brethren. These people are to be ignored. Make up your own mind.

[quote]”Ignore the stuff about barefoot running. Go and get your gait analysed. Buy and wear shoes that will support your gait (yes, this will cost money…). Run naturally, using the right kit…”[/quote]

Hmm. I have a couple of problems with this. But again, there is something to be said for getting your gait analysed. A whole lot of people out there did just that, and got shoes that they run in quite happily. Unfortunately, it’s not always the way. Have a look at any running forum, they’re littered with stories of people not being sold the right shoes and getting injured as a result. I could argue a semantic point about the last sentence. It’s kind of like saying ‘swim naturally, using the right fins’. But my real issue is the first part. Ignore the stuff about barefoot running?! Is that an order?! Fuck this guy! Make up your own mind.

[quote]”Barefoot runners are officially barking, yes we weren’t born with shoes on but for anyone who has lived their entire life wearing them, it simply is an exercise in masochism running without them. All you are doing is transferring the point of the injuries… the idea that you magically fix everything by going barefoot is nonsense.”[/quote]

Once again, if you can past the overbearing assholeyness of this man (has to be a man), there are some points worth picking out. If you’ve been wearing shoes your whole life and suddenly start going barefoot overnight, then yes, that’s probably not a great idea. But a cursory glance at any website, book or article will tell you that the transition has to be made very gradually. As for transferring the point of injuries, there’s some truth in this also. I used to have shin and knee pain, now I don’t. But I do have intermittent top of foot pain and have suffered pretty badly with blisters. But I’m getting past it. You can’t expect to change your form (irrespective of footwear) and not have to deal with a few aches and pains. If they never get better, you need to get checked out. But if they’re part of the process (as they have been for me) then go with it. His last point about magically fixing everything by going barefoot being nonsense also has truth to it, because it’s a gross over simplification. It’s not a quick fix, it’s the oppposite of that. But you know what else is nonsense? Blindly accepting the opinion of a total stranger without taking the time to find out for yourself. Make up your own mind!

I could go on with the comments, but I won’t. The extremely laboured point I’m attempting to make is that everyone is different, and everyone is capable of experiencing broadly the same things in different ways. You will never get a true sense of the worth of anything by reading someone else’s opinion, whether it be running, music, art or whatever. You have to experience it for yourself, on your own terms. Find what works for you. Running should be something you enjoy, if it isn’t then you won’t stick with it.

Example: I’ve read in many places that when running, one’s cadence should be 180 steps per minute. I can’t do it. Just cannot. I found a song that was 90bpm, stuck it on and ran on the spot in my living room. It didn’t feel right, but I thought I’d give it a go outside. (Fortunately the song is one I have listened to several thousand times, so not necessary to use my iPod – it’s locked in my brain.) My breathing was all over the place and I wasn’t comfortable. So I slowed my cadence, but I know my stride is probably too long. But you know what, so what?! It feels good and I enjoy it.

If there’s just one piece of advice that I’d give, and that has been proved invaluable to me time and again over the last few months (even though I didn’t always follow it), it’s this: listen to your body. If you’ve been running in shoes all your life, you’ll know when you can tough it out. When you first change to sandals (or whatever), you won’t. Be patient. I’m nowhere near there in terms of having changed my form for good, but I’m making progress. And, more importantly, I’m enjoying my running.

In case you were wondering what song I was referring to above, it was Stripped by Depeche Mode. You need to take five minutes out of your life and watch this, right now. Don’t try running to it though. If rip a DVD clip and upload it to YouTube, it plays 4% quicker when you watch it online. That equates to about a semi tone, or 187.2 strides per minute. And if you try and run at the pace, you will cause a negative reality inversion, the universe will implode, whizz around a bit and then disappear up Dave Gahan’s arse. And that’s an actual fact. He was 50 yesterday. That’s an actual fact, too.

Until next time, fact fans. (Fan.)