July 21, 2016 by Ed Kennedy
I Jog, I Run, and Barefoot Running sounds Good: Where do I Start?
Charles Darwin may not have mentioned in Origin of the Species exactly where it happened, but at some point once humans got out of the water, ditched the gills, and grew toes on our feet – we resolved running was a fab idea. Whether hunting for food, running away so we don’t become something’s food, or even just seeing if we can outpace our best bud caveman Bob in a race to the nearest woolly mammoth – for thousands of years running has been where it’s at – just as sure as we’re set to do it for a long time yet.
Over the years running has continued to evolve, with barefoot running having enjoyed an explosion in popularity during the past five to ten years. While this form of fitness dosen’t literally mean running with no shoes, it it is one that does away with the traditional chunky in your sneakers for a flatter more level tread. With this design comes the promise – that though this shoe has less buffer and support – because it is a less-artifical construction on our foot; a more natural run can be had using them.
The Benefits of Barefoot: Why a transition is worth the trouble
The benefits of this can be wide and varied. From a more efficient running style, to less injuries, to simply put: a more enjoyable and natural flow to your run as you’re closer to the ground without a heel getting in the way of your spring and landing each step you take. Undoubtedly though, barefoot running requires some planning to transition properly. How to get started then?
1. Consider why you want to do it
Now, if you are a regular runner looking to change up your running style, a shift to barefoot can be wise. If you haven’t ran since track team in high school 20 years ago though then resolving to run a four minute mile tomorrow in any shoe may is surely not a wise idea. So, yes, barefoot shoes offer a newer style of running – and offers a more ‘natural’ feel – but is not a substitute for exercising safely nor a shortcut to quick results.
Enthusiasm for running is great, but it can take a while to return to form if just getting back into the swing of things. So, first step for a runner looking to transition to barefoot: if unsure check it out with the doctor. Once your certain all is sound, you can begin looking at that big hill behind your house with ambition as you plan a speedy summit.
2. Recognise adjustment takes time
Even if you are a seasoned runner going from a standard pair of nikes or adidas with a chunky heel to a shoe with a zero inch drop is sure to be an adjustment to your body and running style. So, while every runner is understandably excited to crack open the box and lace up a new pair of shoes, if new to the barefoot running style then using your new shoes for shorter runs – and mixing them into a regular rotation with your current regular running shoes – is best.
Not only does this allow your legs and body time to adjust to a running style without a heel, but also minimises the risk of injuries to your body as you switch off to a cadence that is and gentler in landing and lifting off.
3. Know post-adjustment you’ve less support
Dependent on your body type and running style you may find after the transition period that you can run as long and comfortably in your barefoot shoes as you did your old big-heeled pair. On the other hand though, if you are doing long distances or have a heavier built (whether attributed to muscle mass and height or otherwise) then doing a race pace 15km or 20kms in your barefoot shoes on regular roads and tracks is perhaps not a good idea at the start; and may never be. Instead, for many people barefoot shoes are at their best for shorter runs OR longer runs that are done at a slower pace with less impact placed upon the feet and legs.
3 Pairs Worth Trying
For someone with a regular pair of running shoes the switch to a barefoot like Nike is a good starting point. While they are defined as barefoot – and will feel different from your current running shoe – their lightweight construction and spongy tread on the bottom will guarantee you a run that leaves you feeling closer to the earth as you clock up the minutes over miles.
The only possible drawback of the Nikes is their flexible base can see a lot of stones and other matter get into the concaves, which over time can start to tear the tread. This is an easy fix though: just inspect your shoes after each run, and dig out any stones embedded with a car key. That’ll keep them in fighting form.
Once you’ve gotten used to the Nikes – and know you’re becoming a real barefoot runner because there is simply too much heel in even the Nike Frees – the New Balance Minimus Trail Glove represents a solid next step. With a 4mm drop there is almost no discernible heel to speak off, but still just a little bit of extra protection that leaves you feeling level and flat with any path you run while still having some ‘give’ in the shoes to take a hard step or two over that kerb or tree in your path.
With this, as the names gives away, while the Minimus can be used for road there are at their best on softer trails – that even though they may have the odd rock or tree to run over (why the tread at the bottom of the shoe is flat but strong) – their use on flat road can lead some runners to find over many miles the pain begins to add up in their legs and feet. So, if unsure, use the minimus but start slow.
The Trail Running Gloves can be seen as the last stop for those who wishes to transition to barefoot. While they actually offer a harder core at the base by virtue of a shock absorption plate installed in the bottom (sure to protect you from any rocks or sharp edges you come across in your running) with a zero drop these are the shoes that bring you closest to the ground when you run.
To some, a pair of vibrams are the articles of liberation in your running life. To others, they are too close to the edge, and a world of endless icing of the knees and constant facebook updates with humble brags, e.g ‘oh man, I ran a killer 10kms today (and thank goodness for my core strength and six pack abs that saved the day) but totally sore right now’.
I know right. At first this shoe looks like the answer to a question nobody asked – and certainly no one hanging about a catwalk in Berlin, New York, Melbourne, or Milan may be spotted rocking these. Yet, despite their odd look the Five Fingers do win serious cred in the running world for their construction, given they provide a very genuine barefoot feel without having you risk your feet getting scratched and abraised on a run.
So, if you are one of those souls who has no issue rocking fluro running gear or a kickin’ eagle tattoo on your leg or arm – by all means go ahead and get onto the five fingers if you love how they sound (are are cool with a few stares in line at the supermarket). In seriousness though: if you like em and you think they’ll help you run: go for it. Nobody will laugh when they see you blow by them with a superhero speed thanks to your new and extra efficient barefoot style.
Putting your best foot forward
When it goes wrong the speedy sneaker business is not good. Its 7am, your cold, its barely daylight outside – and the damn garbage truck just splashed you as you start a cheeky 5km. Yet, runners dont do it for these days – they instead run through them – because soon it will go right.
Whether the sun is shining or otherwise (for sometimes you’ll run best in the dark and cold), when you’ve got the movement in your legs, the air in your lungs, and the pace to your kms running (alongside cycling) is surely one of the life’s great pleasures. So, ensure you’ve the right footwear to back you and you’ll be set to get on with racking up the miles and kilometres injury-free.Ed Kennedy is a journalist and web designer proudly from Melbourne, Australia. Say hi to Ed via firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Edkennedy01