Barefoot running has exploded in popularity over the last few years, thanks in part to the development of affordable “almost barefoot” shoes such as the Vibram range of barefoot running shoe. People who practise barefoot running often refer to themselves as minimalist runners or natural runners.
There are many benefits to running barefoot. It forces you to run with good technique, and can help to treat chronic running injuries such as IT Band Syndrome, shin splints and runner’s knee. If you want to learn how to run properly, using a natural fore-strike gait instead of the heel-strike that people use when they run in trainers, then running barefoot is best.
On the surface, barefoot running may fly in the face of modern wisdom in terms of sports science and biomechanics – after all, modern training shoes are designed to support your feet, correcting pronation and other gait issues and reducing the impact each time your foot hits the ground. However, the problems that modern shoes correct are problems that are, in a way, created by the shoes themselves. Our ancestors ran perfectly well without shoes, and there are accomplished athletes that run incredibly well barefoot. Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia set a world record in 1960, running a marathon barefoot in 2:15:17.
Getting Started with Barefoot Running
Just as getting started with the Paleo diet can be a shock to the system at first, getting started with barefoot running takes time too. If you are a seasoned runner, then you may find that you have to re-train your gait too run comfortably barefoot. Don?t expect to be achieving your usual mileage the first time you run barefoot. Start with short distances on a treadmill or running barefoot on the beach. If you must run on hard surfaces, start with just a mile or so and consider wearing minimalist running shoes to protect your feet.
There are many people who run barefoot in the streets without injury. Once you are accustomed to barefoot running, you get used to watching the pavement for hazards and the soles of your feet toughen up. It takes time to reach this stage, though, and in the early days you may feel some pain in your calves and feet.
If you are a natural rearfoot striker, and you find that after a few weeks of trying to run minimalistic-style your body is failing to adapt, then you may find that running barefoot puts too much stress on your Achilles tendon. In that case, you should stick to running in shoes most of the time, and limit your barefoot training to supplementary exercise.
If you are a fan of the Paleo diet, then it makes sense to try to get one step closer to nature in other ways too, but exercise caution on your first few runs. Use minimalist shoes if you will be running in areas where broken glass or sharp stones are a common hazard, and take some time to re-learn how to run before you try to tackle that 10km or marathon.