I have decided to share my transition to barefoot running
Over the next several months I hope to make the transition to running barefoot. Yes, completely barefoot, outside, on pavements, tracks and trails. Barefoot running is growing in popularity and a lot of my clients ask about how to make the transition.
Since starting my natural movement fitness practice I have done a small amount of running in minimal shoes, but I feel that it is time to bite the bullet and go for the full barefoot running transition.
Over the coming weeks, I will share my experiences as I try to gradually build up my foot strength, toughen up my foot skin and improve my running form. I’m hoping that my transition goes smoothly and I avoid setbacks due to injury, but I’m going to try and be completely honest even if things don’t go 100% to plan.
Why barefoot running?
Running used to be a big part of my life. I ran middle-distance in high school and played field hockey in college. But by the time I finished college my body felt pretty broken. I could barely walk downstairs my knees hurt so much – at age 22! I was told by multiple experts that my running form was to blame. However, no one could tell me precisely what to do to fix it.
I started wearing minimal shoes for walking and for my natural movement fitness practice and have loved them for this purpose. My feet have become much stronger, and I know this has improved the condition of my knees. I do some running in minimal shoes, and it certainly feels better than when I used to run in sneakers and turf shoes, but if I am 100% honest, something still is not quite right about my running form. I have a tendency to get plantar fasciitis and my knees still hurt after running for any length of time.
The theory behind barefoot running (it seems odd to call it a theory when humans have been running without shoes for tens of thousands of years, but you know what I mean) is that it helps your body to auto-correct your form. The harsh heel-strike that is common among runners wearing thick-soled, cushioned shoes is not possible with bare feet. Instead, your arches, perfectly formed through evolution, absorb the shock of each stride, reducing the impact on your knees, hips and back.
I have done extensive research on barefoot running and transitioning to barefoot running. I have read books and papers written by experts and also the experiences of normal people who run barefoot.
Here is an extremely boiled down version of what I have learned:
- Running barefoot encourages better running form.
- Better running form reduces risk of injury.
- Running in minimal running shoes is not the same as running completely barefoot.
- In theory, almost anyone can transition to barefoot running given enough time.
- In practice, a lot of people do too much, too soon and suffer over-use injuries as a result.
- It’s often not possible to tell what is too much, too soon until it has happened.
- Because every individual has different strengths, weaknesses and running form to start with, it isn’t possible to create a perfect road map for transition.
- A smooth transition relies on listening to your body, which is hard (see point 6.)
I find all of this both encouraging and daunting. It is possible, but will it be possible for me? Especially given my tendency to do work hard rather than work smart? But either way, I am determined to try.
Next week I will be writing about my first barefoot runs and how I plan to make the transition.
Wish me luck!