Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Day 3 of the 30 Day Winter Barefoot Running Challenge: Why Barefoot Running?

 "So wait, you run barefoot? Like, without shoes? You're not wearing those toe shoes or anything?


It's a conversation I've had countless times over the years. 

Back in the early days, I used to give people an upbeat sales pitch on why barefoot running was a good thing. I'd talk about the intrinsic joy the tactile sensation with the ground provides. I'd talk about the hypothetical health and injury prevention benefits. I'd talk about the very real benefits of learning to run with near-peak efficiency. I'd talk about the problems with posture-changing raised-heel, motion control running shoes and how they tended to cause shin splints, knee, hip, and back pain, and plantar fasciitis.

I'd field all the follow-up questions. You avoid glass, hypodermic needles and dog shit by watching where you run and stepping around it. No, your feet don't get really calloused; the opposite actually happens. Yes, you can run races; you put the timing chip on an ankle bracelet. And so on.

It was a long spiel. 

Now? The explanation is a lot more direct.  

I shrug and say something to the effect of "Yeah, it's weird. But it helps solve a lot of shit that makes running terrible."

It's a short, simple answer that hits the nail on the head. But what if people ask if they should try it? 

That gets a little more complicated.

"Why Should I Run Barefoot?"

In all honesty, most people shouldn't run barefoot, at least full-time. It take a while to learn to do it well, it makes you slower, and it limits your distances. And it's looks really, really weird. 

It can, however, be a wonderful tool to help you learn to run better.

To explain why, think of shoes as protection that radically increases the margin of error for running with terrible form. With the right shoes, you can run like a giraffe with rickets and still be able to conquer that local 5k fun run. 

But what if you have some real running goals that require you to reach a degree of performance or sustain running by avoiding injury? Learning to run better is the key, and barefoot running is the royal road because it completely removes the margin of error AND provides immediate, accurate feedback.

The very first barefoot running class I ever ran (about 15 years ago) was a four hour marathon spread over two days. Here's a tiny sample of what amounted to a lecture series:

Contrast that approach to my last foray into teaching when I was teamed up with Merrell:

The process was distilled down to a two minute video, 50% of which is marketing fluff. 

Since the Merrell Bareform vid, I distilled the process even more to:

1. Take shorter, faster steps, and 
2. Land with your feet flat on the ground.

Simple, simple.

Day 3 of the 30 Day Winter Barefoot Running Challenge Intermission

I almost forgot to post the day three video. It's worth noting work and family obligations have kinda delayed the writing process. The videos and accompanying blog posts are obviously not being published on consecutive days. If you're following along in real time, I apologize. :-)

In the video, I talk about the noise I'm making, which is one of the cues I use to determine running form efficiency. Generally, the quieter we are, the better. Having not really run barefoot for quite a few years, my form is relatively shitty, ergo the loud-ish slapping. In later videos, you'll notice I get A LOT quieter. 

It's also notable that this run was not comfortable. Due to the cold and the roughness of the asphalt, my feet were pretty sensitive. This also changes with time, which is a process of my brain adjusting the perception of the feeling under my feet. It's the same "systematic desensitization" process that causes us to "get used to" smells we've been exposed to for a period of time, which causes us to stop perceiving them even though they're still there. Another example - ever notie when you get fuzzy new socks? You slide them on and they feel fantastic! But after about 10-20 minutes, you stop noticing their fuzzy goodness? Same process. 
I'll probably write an entire post on this process in the near future.

Back to Barefoot Running

Learning to run barefoot is as simple as taking off your shoes and running. I've found about a third of the people who try this can do so without any issues and immediately see results. Another third usually have some issue that, after watching them run for a few minutes, is easily fixed with a few simple adjustments. The final third, though, usually require a bit more coaching. 

I'll be running a few classes locally here on Colorado's Western Slope:

I don't have a schedule yet, but stay tuned to this blog (or find me on Facebook); I'll be posting about the plans in the not-too-distant future. 

Until then, if you have any questions about barefoot running, leave a comment! I'll answer them as soon as possible.



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