Thursday, November 25, 2010

Barefoot Running

So, what is the deal with barefoot running? We have all heard great things about it, but also a lot of horror stories.  There was a lot of hype in the media a year ago about the miracles associated with barefoot running: now, a year later, we are starting to see the benefits and problems associated with this activity.  The problem with jumping into something like that is that every foot and every experience is different.  Every runner has “a friend” who ran some marathon with no shoes (meaning completely barefoot), and who was perfectly fine;  or some other friend who could not run anymore, and was “cured” by barefoot running.  We all want to be like the Kenyans, but here is the difference.
Every body is different, and barefoot running is a great training tool, which must be adapted to your biomechanics.  Our foot did not evolve to run barefoot on concrete and asphalt: it evolved for the smoother and softer ground in the African savanna.  Even though some of us can train our bodies to do pretty much anything (hence the crazy uncle who can run on rocks with no shoes), we have to be careful.  Here are my tips on how to give barefoot running a try in a safe way:
1)    Before you purchase any type of barefoot shoe, try running barefoot on grass.  This will save you some money, and keep you away from harder surfaces like concrete.
2)    Try running barefoot once a week after one of your weekly runs.  Find a smooth grassy field, like one of the playing fields, and carefully inspect the area you will be running.  Then, run back and forth a few times.  Begin with 2-3 minutes and GRADUALLY work up to 10-15 minutes.  When you feel stronger, you can do it twice/week
3)    After about one month, you can start with a racing flat.  Racing flats still promote landing on the ball of the foot, but have a bit more protection than the barefoot shoes.  Use the racing flats for one of your weekly runs.  You calves might be sore for the first few runs, and that’s normal
4)    If you decide to try the barefoot shoes, I would always alternate them with normal shoes or racing flats.  The healthier way to run is to use different shoes depending on your need for that specific run.  If you’ll be running a lot of rocky, technical downhill, you might want to leave the barefoot shoes at home.  More importantly, listen to what your body is telling you, since it always knows best.
5)    With all that said, barefoot running might or might not work for you.  If it does not, don’t be discouraged: there are still lots of great ways to work on your running form that do not involve barefoot running.

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