I read Born to Run around December of last year. Much like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Pushed, Born to Run passed my sniff test of what human’s are meant to do naturally. We’re constantly trying to fix food by reducing whatever thing we think is bad at the moment and adding in whatever is good today. We try to “fix” childbirth when it was never broken in the first place. And we try to improve running by putting people into an unnatural position that actually weakens the bodies natural ability. It just makes sense to me.
Born to Run talks about the positive change in people’s running ability and attitude toward running as they made the transition to barefoot running. I regarded much of this as the typical fanfare that is included in any book about a topic. However, I completed my first real barefoot-style run last week. It was the culmination of about three months of “preparation” and was noticeably easier then the same run a month prior in a more traditional running style. It wasn’t until half way through the run that I consciously thought, “Wow, this is easier. Could it be because of the barefoot-style?”
I made a New Year’s commitment to run to work once per month as motivation to progress toward barefoot running. I don’t run much, but this was something I wanted to try. I started researching and watching videos about barefoot running (I like this one: http://vimeo.com/12551218); there’s enough instructional information on the topic around the Internet to keep you busy for a weekend. I began running very short distances on the treadmill in slippers. I ordered a pair of Vivobarefoot Dharma shoes and wore them to work every day (my work commute involves a one mile walk each way to a train station) to strengthen my feet. It was important to not heel strike even when walking in these shoes. This strengthened my calves and the top and bottom of my feet. I then ordered a pair of Vivobarefoot Evo shoes and did short runs on the treadmill and around the neighborhood. Never too much; building up gradually.
This all happened over the course of three months. My first run to work was in traditional running shoes. I incorporated some barefoot-style where I could in the run but not much, and it was much more difficult in the traditional shoes. My second run was again in traditional shoes. Same thing. I just wasn’t confident enough yet in the strength of my feet to withstand the long run barefoot-style. My last run in March was in the Evos. I finally felt comfortable enough to do the whole run barefoot-style. And I must say it was phenomenal. The whole run was easier, and I completed the run with my best time. I rode a high all day. It was really really good. I’m one step closer to being a believer.
For me, all of the research I did on barefoot running boiled down to a few principles that worked well for me and allowed my body to naturally pick up the style (or at least I think so; I haven’t had anyone verify that I’m doing it correctly). Those principles are:
- Don’t heel strike. I let my body do what naturally occurred when I just focused on not heel striking.
- Straighten up. Don’t lean forward.
- Lift your feet up. Focus on lifting your feet off of the ground and not on pushing off of the ground. This along with straightening up naturally made my gait speed up.
And I guess a fourth one would be:
- Go slow. Don’t rush your body. Your feet are likely not used to the stress you’ll be putting on them.