“One surprising advantage the Tarahumara seem to have over the rest of the world is their lack of technology. They essentially run barefoot or in sandals and experience very little in the way of injury. Over the years, running shoes have become more and more cushioned with more and more high-tech gadgetry attached. Rather than improving our runs, these developments seem to have worsened them. The latest gotta-have running shoe in the stores is causing the average runner to land in a continuous unnatural position, causing more harm over the long haul than good. I can say, as someone who’s run many a marathon in little more than canvas and rubber, that there is some truth to this. Like the rest of our bodies, the foot is designed to run. Simplicity is key. A shoe shouldn’t be a La-Z-Boy recliner.” — Bill Rodgers, marathon great and running specialty store owner, reviewing Born to Run for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Definitions for this blog post
When I say Barefoot Running I don’t literally mean going out with nothing on my feet.
The standard terms/definitions are below.
Unshod – not wearing any shoes or sandals, dirty foot time.
Barefoot – wearing shoes or sandals, that allow your feet to act naturally. Yet there is some protection against the terrain.
How I discovered Barefoot Running
I am a big audiobook consumer, and one of the audiobooks I gobbled up was Christopher McDougall’s – “Born to Run”. Not only does the book tell a cool story about American ultrarunners taking on the best of the Mexican tribes. It goes into scientific details, on why barefoot running may be superior to wearing normal trainers. This was important to me. As running is a part of a long term health goal, I do not want it to be detrimental to my health.
I have read numerous articles outlining how our bodies evolved to be amazing endurance creatures. For example our ability to sweat through our skin, or the length of our Achilles. There are numerous aspects of our bodies that suggest we are built to be able to walk and run long distances. If you accept this hypothesis, then you also have to accept that our feet would have been an important aspect of the evolution. So basically our feet are the best running shoes we can have?
Most people probably think that early humans always hunted with spears. They did not, that was a relatively new invention. Before that we were excellent scavengers and foragers, as well as persistent hunters. Which means we used to jog and run after animals, until they became exhausted and collapsed. So yes we could run and did so very well, before Nike, Adidas and Asics came onto the scene.
Why I started Barefoot Running
I am not really a just go out their and do the traditional way guy. I find enjoyment in the research and finding slightly unusual ways of doing things. My diet is a prime example, I have fully researched the Ketogenic Diet, I also constantly read articles and listen to podcasts on the subject. I then researched how best to train on Keto, which is why I train using the MAF method. I think a lot of runners, enjoy going out and running as far and as fast as possible, or running certain race times. I get more enjoyment in finding different ways to train and doing things. The races at the end are almost unimportant. I have goals like any runner, but they do not revolve around certain times or PB’s. So with the way I think, Barefoot Running clearly appealed to me. It is still pretty niche, yet has scientific logic behind it. At the 10k I did at the weekend, I saw one other person wearing Vibram FiveFingers, I have yet to see anyone wearing running sandals.
Whats Wrong With Normal Cushioning Shoes.
This is a massive generalisation, but normal running shoes at worse promote heel striking, or at least don’t punish you in the short term for heel striking. Although long term, there is a lot of evidence to show runners get injured now more than ever. Despite new running shoes coming out month after month making bold claims. It is reported that 75% of runners heel strike. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for everyone. A lot of people can run fast and without injury, whilst being a heel striker. Just like people can wear any shoe no matter how cushioned, and still have an excellent mid strike technique.
If you think about how cushioned shoes are promoted, its all about cushioning, stability, preventing pronation, extra heel thickness etc etc. Another way to think of that, is they are building a cast for your foot, preventing it from acting naturally. Think about how your foot acts naturally, it does roll, it does move, and its a brilliant design.
Benefits of Barefoot Running
So barefoot running allows you to run more naturally. To do this you will probably need to change your technique. I am not going into that in this post, as I am not any expert in it myself. However in general terms, it is about a shorter gait, higher cadence, and a mid or fore foot strike.
Treating your body like this will have numerous benefits. For example it forces you to be mindful, feel the ground, see what is in front of you. You cant just stomp down a road, zoned out with your music blasting. Having your feet in control again, strengthens muscles that wouldn’t otherwise be used. Which leads to greater balance, foot health, blood flow, flexibility and strength of the entire leg.
The above are kind of logical reasons that people may struggle to dispute. However there are potentially more “trippy” benefits, namely “Grounding”. Where the frequency and charge of the earth, may have health benefits. So the closer to and more often you are in touch with the earth the better. It is something I will research further.
Cons of Barefoot Running
The draw backs are mainly (hopefully) short term. You are awakening your feet, using muscles and techniques you have probably never used since childhood if ever. The muscles in your feet will be weaker than they should be, this can result in ankle, achilles and calf soreness. However in theory these areas should all be strengthened in the long term.
My experiences with Barefoot Running
I am no poster child for Barefoot Running, I certainly have not taken to it like a duck to water. It has definitely slowed my training and progress, and I have to really be mindful of my calves. It has been hard for me to maintain my patience with the transition at times, but overall I have enjoyed the process.
Luckily I started as a novice, and I have long term goals. So I can take my time with it, and learn as I go. Plus I enjoy going out for long slow runs, taking in my surroundings and relaxing. I don’t have any children or outside of work constraints, so I can get up and go for a long run and not be worried about how long I am out for.
The biggest issue I think people will have is if they are a decent runner, and judge your running worth by pace in training/races. Then it will be a big mental challenge to attempt the transition. As it will likely decrease your training mileage and pace to begin with.
Barefoot Products I Use
Freet Meta Ayr – https://freetfootwear.co.uk/product/freet-meta-ayr/
Shamma Warrior Running Sandals – https://shammasandals.com/products/warriors
Softstar Shoes Dash RunAmoc – http://www.softstarshoes.com/adult-dash-runamoc-lite-2.html
Unshoes Wokova Feather Sandals – http://www.unshoesusa.com/Wokova-Feather-Sandal_p_16.html
Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon – https://www.vibrams.co.uk/collections/mens-vibram-fivefingers/products/spyridon-mr-mens-black-grey
I am experimenting with a niche diet, which leads me onto finding training methods like MAF that suit the way I eat. So I am probably more likely to try niche ideas in all my endurance goals. Which is why I was open to try Barefoot Running. If you think how we evolved and what we ate. The basis of our diet for the majority of evolution would have been pretty similar to a Ketogenic Diet. We hunted an animal, ate all the meat, organs and cartilage, and foraged for seasonal vegetable’s when available. We did not evolve on Kellogg’s and Gatorade. We also had a foot designed to carry us far at slow paces, and sprint when needed. So to me it makes sense to trust your bodies design, and inhibit the foot as little as possible. So whilst my transition into barefoot running, has had many pot holes, it is a real journey, and a journey I will persevere with.
I am looking for health, fitness, and experiences… timed races are just for fun really not the goal. I am never going to do really fast times in races. So races are experiences for me to enjoy. I have done two 10k’s recently, I might never do another one again. As now I have my eye on Half Marathons, then Marathons, and then Ultras. So if I was to do a 10k again, it would be due to a cool location not because I wanted to break 45 minutes for instance.
As well as my blog you can catch me on –
Instagram – @ketogenicendurance
Twitter – @ketoendurance
Facebook Page – Ketogenic Endurance
Reddit sub – r/ketogenicendurance
Strava Running Club – Ketogenic Endurance
Ketogenic Clothing and gifts – http://www.cafepress.co.uk/ketogenicendurance