What is barefoot running and why is it something that we should think about? Firstly, in triathlon, there will always be a short part of the race where you will be running barefoot which is generally between the swim exit and the bike transition area. How many times have we ran as if we are running on coals, frightened of stepping on a small stone or wondering why our heels hurt when we start cycling? I know I used to. Barefoot running is the most natural method of running, before the invention of shoes and more relevantly, the development of running shoes, we as humans always ran barefoot. Many cultures still spend most of their childhood barefoot and even some athletes still do. If barefoot running is so good for us, why do more of us not do it? I think a simple answer is that western culture requires we wear shoes because it shows we can afford shoes and if we don’t people think we have been forced not to. Another factor is we may have fallen into the trap of believing the marketing of shoe manufacturers that you can’t run without shoes, you will get injured and not be as fast. I would argue that running injuries have not fallen because of shoe use.
Last week was ‘International Barefoot Running Day’ and Stanmer Park in Brighton hosted the only UK event. Two races were being held a 1km event and a 5km event. I decided due to my interest in barefoot running to take part in the 1km event to see what it was all about and talk to some barefoot runners. To my surprise there were at least 40 participants, some running barefoot while others using ‘barefoot’ running shoes such as the Vibram 5 finger shoes. The races went smoothly and to my surprise I was not hindered by running barefoot on the grass route. In fact, my time was comparable to that I would hope for on a 1km interval along Hove Lawns!
Where does that leave me? Well, I received a ‘Barefoot running’ book for my placing in the 1km and since last Sunday I have ventured out on my own running barefoot. The route I chose was the start of one I use from my home that has footpath until I join Ditchling Road (near the golf course) and then I run along the grass track out of town. I felt slightly self-conscious running past the bus stop barefoot but once on the grass felt comfortable. It was only a short run (6mins) as I had been advised by barefoot runners to slowly increase the time/distance as you bring into play calf muscles more which may complain at the call-up. Interestingly, the short footpath section which normally takes me 2m5s at medium event, took me 2m running barefoot with a comparable effort! I therefore think I will be trying a few longer runs over the coming weeks/months to see how I fare.
Next week – technicalities of barefoot running and why, even if you still use running shoes, you should think about the initial contact points within your stride