Barefoot Running – Its Just Like Marmite

Have you ever wondered, why run barefoot? Doesn’t it hurt your legs, is it for everyone and why do people rave about it? Can barefoot running truly transform your form, making you a better runner? Well I gave it a try and two years later am here to share the experience with you all.

It all began like any other experiment, in a desperate search for answers. Knee pain which led to consistent layoffs drove me to the treatment room and a specialist physio. As luck would have it, hes virtually a barefoot running guide and keen advocate of the style. After some ear bending I ordered some Vibram 5 finger trainers. The plan was to aid my feet and leg strength as I tried to transform my poor posture and muscle imbalance.

I was also recommended ‘Born to run’ a brilliant, groundbreaking book! Christopher McDougal talks in depth about the Tarahumara tribe and their quirky, crazy style. From eating snacks which look like frog spawn to you guessed it, barefoot running. A lot of what it said made sense.

“we are endurance hunters…we’re one of the only mammals that can run and sweat to cool down”.

This statement makes so much sense on so many levels. We used to chase prey not to out sprint but to out run it. We literally ran until our prey died from over heating…and we did this barefoot. ‘Born to run’ is as close to a barefoot running guide as you will find.

My Vibrams turned up, it’s the only trainers I’ve ever bought which included instructions, I know right?! You have to ease gently into them starting with 100 meters and build up. My first run stopped at around 70 meters, calfs on fire the doubt crept in. But this is common place in bearfoot running, I was changing from a heel striker to forefoot runner and giving my body some real hammer.

I persisted and 100 meters turned into half a mile which turned into 5k and then 10 miles…you get the picture. It took a few months of gradually increasing my distance and plenty of patience but the results where there. Important side note, I carried out strength and conditioning to aid this process, which should be used by any Ultra distance runner regardless of running technique. But, not long after time was my only limitation and injury a thing of the past.

Vibrams can be fun in the gym too. Every exercise has to be done with grace or experience the sharp shudder through those bare bones. I attempted box jumps and landed so hard on my feet it nearly sent my bones through my knees. You need to remember you are not wearing cushy padded trainers and this helps teach you to be light on your feet which is far more efficient.

Every part of your body has to cushion the impact, something that can’t be taught wearing your modern day trainer. I now run as one whole unit using my arms, shoulders, hips, glutes, legs and feet rather than my old thinking of you run with your legs!! How wrong I was!

I hope this doesn’t come across as preaching barefoot, all I know is they’ve helped me get to where I am today. As technique goes, this is probably the hardest to accept and pick up, but for me personally its the best. Having said that, it’s a running form that’s like Marmite, you either love the idea or hate it. Like anything, there are pros and cons.

Barefoot Running – Benefits

  • One of the most efficient ways to build strength in your feet and legs.
  • Always a conversation starter if you wear them out and about.
  • Barefoot running forces a light footed stride.
  • Barefoot running teaches you how to use your whole body, cushioning the impact.
  • Forces heel strikers to run forefoot which is proven to be a more efficient running style.

Barefoot  Running – Negatives

  • Your legs and feet can take a battering if you increase the mileage too quick. Patience Miage.
  • You can be self conscious, people will look and stare at them. (But would you rather be a shepherd or a sheep?)
  • Price, they are expensive.
  • That word patience again, you must build up slow…the process takes months, not weeks.

To be honest, I’d never really looked at the negatives as I didn’t think there were any. I’m always open to new ideas and a new Sports Therapist I’m seeing, Karen Leaf offered some wisdom. She said hundreds of years ago we did run barefoot but we’re adapting, now we’ve evolved our arches are softer, a result of previous generations wearing socks and shoes. A valid point and I’m sure one of many, but I still can’t overlook how barefoot running has transformed me.

Barefoot Running – Where It Has Taken Me

If anyone is thinking of going barefoot please accompany it with strength training as it will smash your legs to pieces and you’ll give up. But most of all do it all in moderation and with patience. I’m currently training for the Hardmoors 200 and my weekly mileage has hit around 40. I now do the heavy sessions in trainers and wear my Vibrams for slow easy/recovery runs. This helps maintain the strength I have built in my feet, while managing the impact.

Vibrams will play a huge part in my running future, I honestly didn’t think I’d be training for a 55 mile race let alone a 200 mile race. I’ve completely exceeded my own expectations!

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Author: Matty McNamara

Struggling through injury Matty spent months developing his muscle balance and progressed his training to run some of the toughest Ultra's in Yorkshire. Hardmoor's 60 and 30 ticked off, Matty plans to run the Hardmoors 200 mile race in May.

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