Barefoot Running

Introduction

Ssshhh - don't tell anyone, but this could be the answer to a running lifetime free of injury!

Barefoot running, also called "natural running", is the act of running without footwear or very minimalist footwear. With the advent of modern footwear, running barefoot has become less common in most parts of the world but is still practiced in parts of Africa and Latin America. In some Western countries, barefoot running has grown in popularity due to perceived health benefits.

Scientific research into the practice of running barefoot has not reached a clear consensus regarding its risks or its benefits. While footwear might provide protection from cuts, bruises, impact and weather, proponents of barefoot running argue that it reduces the risk of chronic injuries (notably repetitive stress injuries) caused by heel striking in padded running shoes.

The barefoot movement has prompted some manufacturers to introduce thin-soled and flexible shoes such as traditional moccasins and huaraches for minimalist running. Products have now been supplemented by companies like Vibram Five Fingers, Vivobarefoot and even Nike.

Running Barefoot vs. Running in Shoes

The big difference is in how your foot strikes the ground.

Runners who wear shoes tend to strike the ground with the heels first. This gait, called a heel strike, generates a force up to three times the body’s weight, which can lead to injuries such as Achilles tendinitis and stress fractures.

In contrast, barefoot runners land on the balls of their feet, generating less impact when their feet strike the ground.

Videos


Barefoot Running, The New York Times


Lee Saxby, Barefoot Running Coach

A Personal Experience

by Simon Townsend

Less is More? (April 2018) “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results” - Albert Einstein

Are you suffering endless running induced injuries? ... bad hamstrings and/or knees, painful feet, neck, back and hip pain, and so on. Very frustrating isn’t it!

I, like many other runners, was suffering with many of the above and to cut a long story short, I went from wearing Hoka maximal cushioning shoes through to zero drop, minimal cushioning shoes with results that I think are worth sharing.

I started running in my first pair of Vibram Bikila Five Fingers in January 2016, and within a couple of weeks had completed my first 5k Parkrun; with no ill-effects. Wanting to do some trail and offroad running, I invested in my second pair of Vibram (Trek Ascent) shoes, and these worked great too.

Boyd on by my continued lack of injuries, I decided to enter the Darwen Heritage Half Marathon, which is a tough, hilly, tarmac 21km run. With no training for this longer distance, I completed the distance in a reasonable time (for me) in my trusty Bikilas, and had no pain during or after the event.

Why should zero drop shoes, with minimal padding and protection, help a runner? One of the main ideas behind the use of zero drop shoes is that it encourages good running form. A number of key points were consistently mentioned...
- Foot strike beneath the body (ideally try not to heel strike)
- High cadence (fast, light feet, rather than over striding)
- Running tall (body form not bent)
This all results in less shock and stresses being transferred to the body, meaning less injury.

Possibly pushing too much, I then was hit by achilles injury. This lasted several months, so meant that I ran more in normal training shoes. In retrospect this was not a good idea, because this aggravated an old knee injury which I am currently part way through the medical journey to resolve it. However, by experiment I have found that running in my zero drop shoes has far less ill-effects than running in ‘normal’ shoes.

If the look of Vibram Five Fingers is not to your taste, there are many other types of zero drop shoes. I have started wearing a pair of Vivobarefoot Gobi (vegan) boots/shoes for work and they are really comfy. Vibram Five Fingers Q&A Being a barefoot running shoe, are they really painful? I have had no problems with my feet being damaged. Initially, I did suffer some calf stiffness.

What size is right for me? Ignore your current shoe sizing, and follow Vibrams guide to measuring your feet.

Do they smell when using them without socks? Yes, mine did, until I started wearing toe socks. They are easily washable.

Do you need to ‘transition’ to running in zero drop shoes? The answer is probably yes, but the length of time will vary greatly by individual.

Are they difficult to put on? Initially, I found them tricky to put on but it does get much easier. Once on they are very comfortable.

Are they cold in cold weather? Yes because of the lack of insulation, but socks do help.

Do you they get noticed by others? Yes, but most people are interested in them and ask about benefits.

Do your feet grow in size? With less constraint they do seem to reform into a more natural shape; making traditional shoes feel tight and uncomfortable.

Would you recommend them? Yes...I love them :)