Friday, August 17, 2012

Barefoot or Bust

Vibram Five Fingers

Quite recently I have switched to minimalist running. About a year and a half ago I listened to a book tape called Born to Run. It is a fascinating, if not one sided story of a man and his search for answers as to why some people seem to be able to run forever without getting injured, and why the rest of us always seem to get hurt.

It is an inspirational book filled with interesting facts and even more interesting characters.

But before you strap on you huaraches (barefoot running sandals of the Tarahumara Indians).and try and run 100 kilometers. I have a few tips.

1. Be realistic

If you are like myself, and you have been running in standard running shoes for your whole life. there is going to be transition time needed. So dial down your distance and get used to the changes in your stride and let your feet toughen up a bit. 

2. Size matters

Someone who is 120 pounds might find it easier to slap on some minimalist shoes and giv'er a good 10k run no sweat. I however am about 205 pounds. That is a healthy, active 205 and I have to say, if you are capping 200 pounds you'll have to watch yourself. No matter what you do you are going to hit the ground with more force. This is not a bad thing as it quickly becomes apparent where things are uncomfortable and you can correct your technique at an early stage. My main issue is for the first couple of weeks my calves felt like I had inflated them with a bike pump. I was starting to get concerned, but with patience and rest they relaxed becoming accustomed to the forefoot strike I changed to from my original heel strike style of running. My calves have complained for a little while, but my knees and my back have been thanking me since I've made this change.

3. Turf wars

One of the most helpful things I have done to help condition my body to the changes in running style is to run on grass. I have a park close to where I live and I cut my distance from 7-10k down to about 2k. It may seem a bit drastic. But when I originally made the running style change, I tried to keep the distance similar to my old distances, and that I believe led to the increased discomfort of my calves. I have been doing this 2k circuit at the park for a number of weeks and recently I have been able to increase my distance to 4k. I am now alternating park runs with pavement runs as well. The great thing about running on grass is you can ditch the shoes entirely if you like. Although, I have been cautioned by a friend that stray nails and broken pieces of glass have been known to lie in wait in many a field. So go barefoot at your own risk. I generally keep my shoes on.

4. Patience is a virtue

Everybody is different and is going to develop at a different pace. This style of running is not going to make you some kind of superman. However I believe the benefits described in Christopher MacDoogall's book Born to Run are worth a little time and effort. All aches and pain I have experienced have been based on my misconception of what my body can do and how long it would take for it to adjust to minimalist running.

In the picture above you will see my Vibram Five Finger KSO's. These are just one pair of the many minimalist shoes that are being produced. They look goofy but as the name suggests they fit like a glove. You can find minimalist shoes that look more like standard runners from companies like Brooks, Merrell and New Balance.

For those of you interested in running and wanting to try something new, or in this case new/ancient (modern running shoes have only existed for about 40 years) pick up Born to Run, see what you think and if it strikes your fancy, give this style of running a try.

Stay golden Ponyboys and girls

No comments: