Good Running Form in Bare Feet

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A few days ago, my boss forwarded a Nature magazine article to me that he thought I’d be interested in.  Thinking it was about something we were working on, much to my pleasure, I found it was an article by Daniel Leiberman et al regarding barefoot running. By now, most of you have probably read about this article,or heard the story on NPR, so I won’t go into all the details. What I do want to share is 1) my own experience with barefoot/minimal shoe running, and 2) what I tell people who want to transition to less running shoe or go running barefoot.

I was first exposed to barefoot running as a kid – I ran around the woods behind my home in my bare feet, with much encouragement from my mom. I remember the weather turning cooler (well, for Texas) and how I could feel the ground getting colder beneath my feet. Fast forward more than a few years to my next encounter – via a fellow triathlete who ran barefoot. Back in 1990 he ran the Seattle marathon when it went along a bike path, and stashed a change of shoes along the way. It was a hot day and he didn’t want blisters. He grabbed his shoes, but it was too hot to put them on, so he finished barefoot. He’s never put another pair of running shoes on again. He was my hero; I was always attracted to the nonconformists in the crowd! Besides, I was wearing orthotics by the time I met him.

My boss at the time had recommended a podiatrist when I complained about low back pain. This fellow said I needed orthotics, so I got fitted and stayed with them 12 years! I remember mentioning to him (podiatrist) that I would like to try some barefoot running, like after a workout, and he blanched at the thought. I wonder what he’s thinking now. Fortunately, I took up ChiRunning, got out of the orthotics (which hindered more than helped me), and eventually got curious enough to try some barefoot running.

My first experience was not a great one. I had done a track workout, then removed my shoes, and ran for about 5 minutes in the grass – too much too soon. I felt muscles talking that I didn’t know I had, and my feet were pretty sore, though not damaged. The next time I tried running unshod, I took it more gradually. This time, I had the tools of the ChiRunning technique to back me up, making it much easier to relax my lower legs and move from my core. Over time, I slowly increased the distance, running in Vibram Five Fingers. I did a barefoot running session with Barefoot Ted, and had a blast running completely barefoot around the park, on sidewalks, grass, and up metal stairs! I still wear shoes (I admit – I have a shoe fetish), but I also enjoy a run once or twice a week in my VFFs; I hope to shed those as the ground warms up. The key to success this time round has been following the laws of gradual progress, and maintaining alignment and relaxation – all we teach in the ChiRunning technique!

In going from a more structured shoe to minimal or barefoot, I tell clients (or friends) to take it very gradually and start where you’re at. You want to get good in your technique and then start working your way down to less.  I always say, “Gradual progress, not just an idea, it’s the law!” And always listen to your body! Your feet will thank you!


Posted in Technique

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