This post is the second in a series about my experience of transitioning to running barefoot. In my last post, I explained the reasons why I personally want to try this and the general theory behind why running barefoot might help me with my goals. In this article, I share my experiences of my first week of barefoot running.
Goal: Avoid Barefoot Running Exuberance Syndrome
This was my first week of incorporating barefoot running into my training routine. I would like to preface this by saying that I am NOTORIOUS for overdoing things when I am excited about something. So a key goal for me is taking it slowly to avoid: BRES… Barefoot Running Exuberance Syndrome.
Too Much, Too Soon
BRES is a term coined by ‘Barefoot Ken Bob’, one of the first people in the West to start writing and teaching about the benefits of barefoot running. (Incidentally, this week I also read his book: Barefoot Running Step by Step – it was pretty good!)
From this book, and other sources that I have read, it seems that the major issue in transitioning to running barefoot is people trying to do too much, too soon. The typical story seems to be that people try barefoot running to escape knee and hip injuries (thats me!) and end up causing themselves lower leg injuries instead.
Lower leg Injuries caused by too much barefoot running
Common complaints seem to be:
- Plantar fasciitis
- Heel pain / stress fractures
- Achilles tendonopathy
- Metatarsal stress fractures
So, how to avoid these?
The answer seems to be:
- Focusing on good barefoot running form, and…
- Building up the volume and intensity slowly.
Running Barefoot with good form
There is a ton of information out there about running form. There seem to be some “right” and “wrongs” but there also seems to be lots of personal variation in running style, even on the issue of heel strike vs. forefoot strike (Check out this article from The Guardian). However, here are some common themes across all the sources I have encountered:
- Overstriding (taking overly long steps) is bad.
- Running with very cushioned shoes, or barefoot on very soft surfaces (e.g. grass) muffles the nerves in your feet so they can’t give you feedback about how much impact your form is creating.
- Running barefoot on hard surfaces allows your feet to feel whether or not your form is right.
- Running barefoot on hard surfaces seems to naturally encourage a mid- or fore-foot landing in most people which appears to reduce the impact on other joints in the body.
OK, so the take away for me was to begin running barefoot on hard, firm surfaces, and try and let my body re-discover what good form feels like. Part of me thinks, yes, this is totally logical! Another part of me wonders if my body, shaped by years of modern footwear, furniture and habits will still have the natural instincts to run “naturally”…
I guess there is only one way to find out.
My running “schedule” for week one of my barefoot transition
I admit, there wasn’t much structure in my barefoot running workouts this week. In all my research, I can’t seem to find a definitive answer for how to build up the volume of running in a safe way. I guess this is because it is such a personal thing. Everyone has different strength and weakness patterns in their body to start with, so will cope with the transition in different ways. It’s up to me to find out how much barefoot running my body can cope with, and what pace to progress at.
My main intention for this week was to get out there and see what happened. How would my knees feel? How would my foot skin cope? How would my plantar fascia and achilles feel about the new demands placed on them?
Here’s what I ended up doing:
DAY 1 – Ran to the local track (about 3 minutes run from my house), ran round the track a few times, resting and doing ground movements in between. The running felt amazing: no knee pain at all! I stopped when my foot skin began to feel sore. I probably ran less than a kilometre.
DAY 2 – Rest. I felt good after the day before, and part of me wanted to run again, but I restrained myself.
DAY 3 – Made the poor decision to run after work at 4pm – the tarmac and the track where boiling hot and I ended up with two large blisters on the sole of my right foot and several smaller blisters on a few of my toes. I probably only ran about 500m in total!
DAY 4 – Rest.
DAY 5 – Blisters felt like they were healing surprisingly quickly but decided it was best to take another day off.
DAY 6 – 3 loops of the block (less than a kilometre), stopped when foot skin felt ‘done’. Felt light and quick on my feet.
DAY 7 – Ran down to the track and ran about 800m there. Arch and achilles on left foot quite sore after this. Perhaps I’m not ready for two consecutive days.
Lessons learned from week 1
- Running barefoot does indeed feel easier on my knees!
- My foot skin is the limiting factor (this is probably a good thing, my skin stops me before I’ve done too much and it’s better to have superficial skin injuries than soft-tissue injuries that become chronic or worse – stress fractures)
- For me, right now, running four times a week with two consecutive days was officially too much.
- The pavement is still way too hot at 4 pm on a sunny day. Duh.
- It was fun to just explore the running, but moving forward I think I want a more structured way to build up the running so I know how much I’m doing and that I’m progressing in a safe way.
Are you making the transition to barefoot running, or have you already made it through to the other side unscathed? If so, I would love to hear from you! And be sure to check out my free natural movement fitness starter guide. it’s full of tips and ideas for starting your own natural movement practice.Keep moving!