Category: Running Tips

Barefoot Running for Beginners

Running in bare feet sounds like madness to many of us. The thought of sharp stones, hot asphalt and stubbed toes is enough to put some people off the idea, but is it really that crazy?  Humans and their genetic ancestors had been walking barefoot for literally millions of years before anyone invented shoes, and many indigenous peoples around the world still do so. In fact, there may be advantages from running barefoot both for you body and your technique.

Barefoot Running

Proponents of barefoot running suggest that it is healthier for the feet and legs. Instead of landing on the heels when running, this is the most common technique when wearing running shoes, barefoot runners land on the ball of the foot. This allows the arch to absorb the shock of impact, rather than transferring it into the knees or hips. Interestingly, this is also the technique taught by free-runners, who leap across rooftops and often have to land safely after dropping from great heights. They may also crouch and roll to avoid injury, but landing on the balls of the feet is a key feature of the discipline.

There is also some research, which backs up the health claims, although admittedly not much. There is evidence that running barefoot places less stress on the knees, for example, and it has been found that people buying expensive, padded running shoes are more likely to be injured. It seems that the padding in these shoes encourages incorrect technique.

It may be useful then for runners to at least try some barefoot running as part of their training. As much as anything, running without shoes allows you to feel more in contact with the ground, so you are in a better position to know if you are doing harm. The problem remains, however, that on a hot summer day bare feet can burn very easily in an urban environment. There is also the fact that most of us are not used to walking barefoot, and do not have the calluses on our feet to protect us from cuts and scrapes.

Luckily, you needn’t be completely barefooted to get the benefits of more natural running; you can wear minimalist or barefoot running shoes. These are designed to allow the feeling of running barefoot by having a more flexible and lightly padded design. Vibram FiveFingers, for example, have a separate space for each toe, and allow the foot to flex and grip more naturally. Other designs include the simple-but-stylish Terra Plana Evo, and ultra-breathable New Balance Minimus.

If going completely barefoot seems like a step too far for you, but you want to improve your running, try going minimal. You won’t regret it.

Best Cold Weather Barefoot Running Shoes

Barefoot running is beginning to catch on as a popular activity. In fact, it has become wildly popular in the United States and even around the world. However, running barefoot in cold weather could potentially be a problem. To combat this, one must be able to chose the correct shoe to run in in the cold weather months. That is why there is a large selection of barefoot running shoes that can be worn in the winter months, and are very affordable.

Vibram Fivefingers Flow

First, before listing the numerous brands of shoes, let me first explain how barefoot running shoes actually work. Basically, the idea of the shoe is to allow your feet to naturally move when running. Sometimes running sneakers or racing flats inhibit your body’s natural movements, thus causing problems. To combat this, the shoe is designed to give minimal support, but high comfort. Obviously, running on cement can be painful to the soles of the feet. The shoes offer protection from rough running surfaces. A true barefoot runner has completely callused feet, which may gross some people out. With barefoot running shoes, this problem is usually nonexistent.

The first pair of shoes I would suggest is the Vibram Five Fingers Flow Multisport shoes. Designed and manufactured by Vibram itself, this shoe offers cold weather resistance and a natural toe movement design. Built with neoprene construction, the shoe actually molds around your foot for a natural, comfortable fit. The FiveFingers Flow Multisport also has, as its name states, five toe slots for added comfort and flexibility. In fact, it is recommended that runners only buy this shoe for cold weather because of the cold weather design. Running with these shoes in warmer climates is perfectly fine, but may lead to over-perspiration of the feet. For days where it is snowing or freezing rain is coming down, the razor slipping on the soles of the shoe prevent slipping and sliding when running.

A second pair of shoes I would highly suggest is the VivoBarefoot Evo II Cross Trainer Shoes. This shoe is widely known for two main components: its prevention of sore spots and calluses and its ability to keep the feet warm. Although it may be shaped and appear as a more traditional shoe, this shoe is lightweight (made from recycled rubber), but thick at the same time. It is also very economically friendly, starting at just $100.

Barefoot running is a widely spreading epidemic across the United States and even across the globe. Although for some running barefoot in cold weather can be a problem, hopefully you now have a better idea about barefoot running shoes and the many brands that you can select from.

To Ditch the Shoes or Not

When I was younger, I loved running barefoot on the beaches of Connecticut. As I got older and started competing would often train without shoes for the cross-country season. Those runs were the hardest, yet most enjoyable times of my life.

Extreme effort and immense pleasure seem to be strange companions. I can recall even as a youngster, sneaking onto private golf courses with friends. We would take our shoes off so to not disturb the grass but there was also this wild sensation of freedom that accompanied running at night without shoes on.

We are not innovators when it comes to running barefoot. There are several famous runners who came before us. Abebe Bikila, arguably the greatest Olympic marathon runner, was an Ethiopian athlete who in 1960 won the first of his many consecutive gold medals, setting a world record of 2:15:17 all without shoes on. John J. Kelley, an American, also finished that race in a respectable time, 19th overall in 2:24:58. He recollections of that torchlit race still reverberate:

“In he ancient Appian Way, we ran on these huge, rounded stones that did not give way to us. They were completely unyielding. I do not know how Bikila did it, I was so scared of slamming down on those stones too hard.”

Bruce Tulloh, of England, was also making and breaking his own records all over Europe from 1955 to 1967. He ran three miles on grass in 13:12 and six miles in 27:33 on cinders, all in bare feet. He went on live a fulfilling life but even at 68 he would still run barefoot and would say, “The only reason more people do not run without shoes is because they are afraid to be unconventional.”

That statement does not apply to Charlie “Doc” Robbbins or Zola Budd, who both were advocates of barefoot running. Robbins won two US National Marathon Championships in the 1940s and completed 50 Thanksgiving Day Road Races held in Manchester, Connecticut before he retired from competitive running about two years ago. Robbins in a testament to shoeless running, each Thanksgiving he would be barefoot except when the temperature dropped below 20 degrees, then he would resort to a pair of socks.

Zola Budd set a world track record in January 1984. At only 16 years old, she ran 5000 meters in South Africa in 15:01.83. Mary Decker held the previous record, but Budd beat her record in more than six seconds. Unfortunately, Budd is best known for her collision with Decker in the 3000 race at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, California.

The fascination with barfoot running seemed to temper, that is until 2001. Michael Warburton a physical therapist from Australia, and a marathoner, published this essay titled, “Barefoot Running”. He cites that the extra weight of shoes on the feet is much worse than an additional pound or two around your mid-section. The weight that is on your feet is subject to strides or acceleration and deceleration, which expend a lot of energy. Warburton suggests that research has demonstrated that 100 grams of additional weight on the feet will decrease your running economy by one percent. If you apply simple math, you will see that two, 10 ounce shoes will make a runner more than five percent less efficient. That may not seem like a lot, but when you consider Paul Tergat’s world record of 2:04:55, that makes him marathon record, 2:11 if he had on shoes. That is the difference between finishing first or tenth.

However, most do not think about running economy when purchasing a new pair of running shoes. Our first consideration is protection, from the elements and from harmful objects. We then look for cushioning and motion control so to prevent injury. However, there is no real scientific proof that shoes are a big evolution from the naked foot.

To learn what is going on inside the body of a runner, medical teams need to take measurements from, well, inside the body. This helps to determine stress fractures, Achilles strains, and so on. This research goes on in biometrics labs and some findings point to little change in shock absorption or motion control in the foot of a person wearing shoes or a bare-foot person.

So what does that mean? Of course all that padding and dual-density midsoles have to accomplishing something right? Yes, they are, but it is not the foot, it is the mind. It is called as Warburton puts in “perceptual illusion” of running shoes.

When you run barefoot, your body engages the complete body, from your brain, vision, muscles, bones, tendons, the supporting structures of your legs and feet, to the soles of your feet. When you are running barefoot, all of these parts of the body work together to give you a high degree of protection from the forces and varied pressures of running.

Conversely, when you run in shoes, socks, outsoles, midsoles and the like, you body loses some of that communication. When you wear shoes, your body switches off some and your reaction time decreases. Humans have been walking the earth for millions of years before the invention of shoes, which contributes to the high IQ of barefeet.

This is not to say to throw out all of your running shoes. Besides quite a few podiatrists do not ascribe to the notion of running without shoes if you are not a world class runner. It just would not make sense to get glass or twigs or any other foreign object stuck in their feet. Stephen Pribut, DPM insists that some soft surfaces can increase plantar fascia and problems with the Achilles.

However, many coaches, physical therapists, and even podiatrists suggest that modern man spends entirely too much time in shoes and this can weaken leg and foot structures. The cure? Walk around barefoot around the house, run errands barefoot in safe, secure places, or do foot strengthening exercises.

On the market there is an invention called barefoot running shoes, which combines the protective covering for the feet but gives runners the benefit of running barefoot. So what is the best barefoot running shoes? Talk to experts in order to determine which shoes would best suit your needs. Many running stores can analyze your running technique and assist you with selecting a shoe.