My Dad is all about running. At 40 he competed and performed well in the Kona Ironman Triathlon. He’s run several marathons and countless other unimaginable distances. Unimaginable to me anyway.
You see, I kind of enjoyed running growing up, but it was probably more about bonding with Dad than the freedom and rhythm of flying feet.
At eighteen, during a race, my left knee began talking to me, then screaming. I finished the race, but ever since, I haven’t been able to run more than 3 miles (or cycle more than 25 miles) without the pain returning. Its called Patella Femoral Syndrome. It sucks.
I did the exercises, wore the braces, and iced a lot; all to little avail. Mostly, I just didn’t run.
Until last year when I stumbled upon the book, Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. The book is a hilarious adventure story, barefoot running primer, and daring exposé of the running shoe industry. It is sure to be interesting and applicable to runner and non-runner alike.
At the time of reading, mid-winter, my horribly sprained ankle was not fully weight bearing. Filled with excitement at the possibly of being able to run again and enjoy it, I started to do many of the strengthening and stretching exercises you can find on YouTube.
Somewhere around May I began to test out the new form and my still recovering ankle. Per suggestion from Barefoot Ken Bob‘s book, I started small. Really small; like, 5 minutes. Then 5 minutes two days later. Then 10…and so on.
Working my way slowly up to longer and longer runs by August, I experimented with various footwear along the way. Cue record scratch
“Wait…what…footwear?!” You say. “What happened to barefoot?”
I know, its true, but there is actually a “barefoot shoe.” Its totally an oxymoron. More accurately, they are barefoot feeling shoes because they are extremely minimal. Its a total gray area in one respect, but really you’re either wearing a shoe or not.
Well, sort of; I ran in socks once when it was cold and dry. And there are running sandals. Hey, gravel can be sharp!
So, what it really comes down to is the change in form. For starters, there is the footfall. Shod running with cushy heels allows you to strike the ground heel first with the foot way out front. For some, not all, this leads to all manner of injury. For me it did.
Barefoot footfall is not a “strike” at all, but a landing, like if you were to run in place. The first part of the foot to land is the mid-foot or ball, then the toes and heel. The theory is that with a more upright stride, the feet (with its two arches) and legs (bend those knees!) absorb the impact. This allows you to run with less stress and fatigue.
Many people make the mistake of not letting the heel drop. You won’t be able to ascend a staircase the next day if you don’t.
Running shoe companies will tell you that you should transition from a larger “heel drop” (traditional) down through all the various models until you find your sweet spot. But, take it from Ken Bob, master barefooter, running bare is a completely different sport and should be approached as such.
Take baby steps and let your feet be your guide.