July 21, 2016 by Ed Kennedy
Putting Your Best Foot Forward with Barefoot Running Shoes
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 decided running was a great 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 decade. While this form of fitness doesn’t (usually) mean running with no shoes, it it is one that does away with the traditional chunky sneakers with a thick heel, for a slimmer more level tread. With this design comes the promise that because it is a more natural match with how our feet move when barefoot, then a more natural and pain-free run can be had.
The Benefits of Barefoot: Why a Transition is Worth the Trouble
The benefits of barefoot running is varied. From a more efficient running form, to less injuries, to 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 every step you take. But barefoot running requires some planning to transition properly. So how to get started?
1. Consider Why You Want to Do It
If you’re a regular runner looking to change up your running style, a shift to barefoot can be good. If you haven’t ran since track team in high school 20 years ago, deciding you’ll chase a four minute mile tomorrow in any shoe isn’t a wise idea. Barefoot shoes offer a more natural feel, but they are 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, no matter what shoes you wear. The first step for a runner looking to transition to barefoot is to discuss the idea with a doctor. Once you’re certain all is OK, you can begin looking at that big hill behind your house with ambition to mow it down in your new barefoot kicks.
2. Recognise Adjustment Takes Time
Even if you’re a veteran runner going from a standard pair of Nikes or Adidas with a thick heel to a shoe with a zero inch drop will be an adjustment to your body and running style. Though every runner is understandably excited to crack open the box and lace up a new pair of shoes, if new to the barefoot style then it’s best to use your new shoes for shorter runs, and over time mix them into a regular rotation with your current regular running shoes.
Not only does this allow your legs and body time to adjust to a running style without a heel, but it also minimises the risk of injuries to your body as you switch off to a cadence that is gentler in landing and lift off.
3. Know Post-Adjustment You’ve Less Foot Support
Depending 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, if you’re doing long distances or have a heavier build (whether due to muscle or some kilograms you’d like to lose), then doing a race pace 15km or 20kms in your barefoot shoes on regular roads likely isn’t a good idea, and may never be. 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, such as on grass and soft sand trails.
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 they will feel different from your current running shoe, their lightweight construction and spongy tread on the bottom will guarantee you a run that leaves your feet feeling closer to the earth.
The only possible drawback of the Nikes is their flexible base can see a lot of stones and other dirt get into the concaves, which over time can start to tear the tread. This is an easy problem to prevent though: just inspect your shoes after each run, and dig out any stones embedded with a car key. That’ll keep them in good condition for the long term.
Once you’ve gotten used to the Nikes – and you’ll know you’re becoming a real barefoot runner when you feel there’s 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 there’s still just a little bit of extra protection. This shoe leaves you feeling level and flat with any path you run across, while still allowing for some ‘give’ in the shoes in the event you accidentally run over something hard.
The Minimus can be used for the road, but are at their best running on softer trails. As 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 a flat road can lead some runners to find over many miles the pain begins to add up in their legs and feet. So, if you buy a pair feeling a little unsure, start on softer trails.
The Trail Running Gloves can be seen as the last stop for those who wish to transition to barefoot. They actually offer a harder core at the base than other shoes due to a shock absorption plate in the bottom, which is sure to protect you from any rocks or sharp edges you come across in your running. But 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 using them means an endless cycle of icing of your knees and constant Facebook updates with humble brags, e.g. ‘oh man, I ran a killer 10kms today. Thank goodness for my core strength and six pack abs that saved the day – but I’m totally sore right now’.
I know right. At first this shoe looks like the answer to a question nobody asked – and certainly no one walking runway in Berlin, New York, Melbourne, or Milan will 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 to risk your feet getting scratched and abraised on a run. As its true there are some barefoot runners out there who do opt for a totally shoe-free running experience, even if its a recipe for stubbed toes and other risks.
So, if you’re 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 look. In seriousness, 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 is going wrong the business of running isn’t much fun. Its 7am, your cold, its barely daylight outside – and the damn garbage truck just splashed a puddle on you as you start a cheeky 5km. Yet, runners don’t 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 is one of the life’s great pleasures. So, ensure you’ve the right footwear beneath you, and you’ll be set to get on with racking up the personal bests injury-free.Ed Kennedy is a journalist, ghostwriter, and web developer from Melbourne, Australia. Contact Ed via firstname.lastname@example.org on LinkedIn or Twitter@EdKennedy01