A Barefoot Revolution

May 30, 2010

Information, Training

If you read my previous post, you’ll understand why I’m thinking of ways not to damage my toes when I run my next marathon. Did I say ‘when I run my next marathon?’ … interesting….gone from ‘if‘ to ‘when‘!

A couple of people have mentioned ‘barefoot running’ in the comments left here on ‘Joanna’s Marathon‘ and I’ve also read some excellent articles on the subject too.

I suppose if you think about it, Mother Nature designed us to be able to run and she didn’t have a sponsorship deal with adidas when she first came up with the idea. Although millions are spent every year on a variety of running shoes around the world, there are a growing number of runners who have adopted running without the help of Mr. Nike or Mr. Saucony. As someone who regularly shrieks and hops around after having stepped on a Lego brick left lying around the kids’ bedrooms, the thought of running on the roads round here with no shoes on fills me with horror.

There have been some notable professional barefoot runners and none more so, in my lifetime, than Zola Budd. To see her fly round a track or over cross country was amazing. Two years old than me, I remember watching Budd’s slight figure on the TV sports coverage and wondering what it took to run like that. She was a stunning athlete and I thought she dealt with the pressures both on and off the running track with aplomb. At the age of 17, she broke the Women’s World 5000 metre record (15:01:83), only to have it ignored by the world track and field establishment as it was achieved in racially segregated South Africa. Undeterred, she went on to shatter her own time (14:48:07) & take the crown officially, whilst representing Great Britain, the following year. Many said her barefoot running was a ‘flash in the pan’, that she would be unable to hold her own against other accomplished athletes. Zola Budd proved her critics wrong by having a distinguished and memorable barefoot running career .. not forgetting the infamous 1984 Olympic 3000 metre race in which Mary Decker came a cropper!

Barefoot running obviously has its merits .. using what nature gave you allows for a more ‘natural’ running style. I assume building up a hard pad of skin on the soles of your feet is essential as well as building up your mileage to increase the comfort factor. Recently, a few products have emerged to take advantage of the interest in barefoot running. These seem to concentrate on using minimal support and cushioning, thereby mimicking a barefoot running style but adding protection to prevent injury to those soft, sensitive little tootsies! Products from Vivo, Jinga, New Balance and Newton are all aimed at developing a more natural, mid-foot running style.

Vibram Five Fingers seem more like something out of the props department for a Star Trek movie. However, they seem to be growing in popularity. Vibram say “For the first time, active outdoor athletes and fitness professionals are able to experience the sensation and freedom of going barefoot with the protection and sure-footed grip of a Vibram® sole.” They also say “Some customers told us they felt more connected to the earth and more in tune with their bodies. Others discovered an increased sense of balance and greater agility. Many reported health benefits like improved posture and less back pain. All were generous with their praise and their ideas, often suggesting new and creative uses for Vibram® FiveFingers®.”

There are an increasing number of products aimed at reproducing the benefits and feel of barefoot running. Nike have also recently launched a product that fits within this niche. Nike say that their ‘Free Run+’ running shoe has a “flexible design” that “closely mimics the natural movement of your foot. And unlike a lot of regular running shoes, its flexibility provides a world of comfort on the run or while walking around”

I’d love to try out these new products to see how they feel and how my training is affected. Having mashed my toes at the Virgin London Marathon this year, I’m eager not to end up with the same injuries again. I wonder if these new products can protect my toes and help me combat the ‘Lego brick’ feel of barefoot running in a climate and terrain that isn’t always conducive to barefoot running. So, Mr. Vibram or Mr. Nike .. I wonder if you’re listening?!

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29 Responses to “A Barefoot Revolution”

  1. Kevin M. Says:

    I totally remember watching Zola Budd! Wow! That brings back some memories!

    A very good analysis of the potential benefits of bare-foot running.

    Reply

  2. Gavin Wilson Says:

    Joanna, as a regular follower of your column, I have to say I feel no urge to take up barefoot running. I do the Bushy Park 5K run every Saturday morning at 9am, and there are one or two runners — usually men, and often the ones who also propel a pushchair in front of them — who have dabbled with barefoot running. But with the continual possibility of glass fragments on the paths and deer poo in the grass, I’m happy to leave them to it.

    Reply

    • Joanna Says:

      Hi Gavin,

      I have fond memories of Bushy Park! I have to agree with you that my main concerns with barefoot running are the ‘obstacles’! It looks a lovely idea..reminiscent of running freely as a child..but at this stage in life, I think I might opt to try out some barefoot running ‘shoes’ that at least offer some protection. Surrey’s Royal Parks are lovely and I envy your Saturday morning run!

      Always great to hear from a regular follower..thank you.

      Best wishes
      Joanna

      Reply

  3. lesly federici Says:

    Jonna,
    I really enjoy your articles. They are not only informative but also educational. It’s great having a resource such as yours to gain an insight into what running is like. I used to run years ago and it was hard on my knees – yet I still enjoy learning about it. Now those “barefoot” shoes are very cool! I am a big sandal person (all year round) and I wonder if they would work for that “next to barefoot” feeling that I love… you think?

    Reply

    • Joanna Says:

      Hi Lesly,
      You should take a look at some of the websites dedicated to ‘barefoot’ footwear. As a sandal-fan, I think you’ll love some of the styles. If you do try them out, be sure to come back and let me know what you think of them. It would be great to run a review as a follow up.

      Joanna :)

      Reply

  4. Sue Collier Says:

    Hey Joanna,

    I’m a very ‘barefoot’ type of person, love the back to nature feel of it, but running barefoot? No, don’t think so :) Love the look of those trainers with toes, would love to try them.

    Lets hope Vibram and Nike are listening to you!!

    Sue

    Reply

    • Joanna Says:

      Thanks for stopping by Sue, great to hear from you. I’ll keep you posted on whether I get a chance to try out the Vibram Five Fingers :)

      Reply

  5. Nelson Says:

    Joanna, this such cool stuff. I’m almost tempted to get those thing to protect my “Tootsie Wootsies” . You have a great fun read Blog. Thanks for starting my day off on the right “foot”.

    Reply

    • Joanna Says:

      Thanks for the pun Nelson :) I’m really curious about how those Vibram Five Fingers feel to walk/run around in. I’ll let you know if I get a pair. Thanks for your kind comments. Hope your day continued on the right ‘foot’ ;)

      Reply

  6. Barry Garner Says:

    Joanna,

    I feel your pain. I trained for and completed a Half Ironman last year and am doing another this year. ITBS had me looking at alternatives to my shoes. I think an overly aggressive stability shoe was the culprit. Don’t know about barefoot yet.

    Reply

    • Joanna Says:

      Hi Barry,
      I think my shoes may have caused some of my toes problems..although they aren’t too small but they are, like yours, perhaps overly aggressive stability shoes..hmm not sure. Illiotibial Band Syndrome is nasty .. can be really painful..you have my sympathies.
      Great to hear you completed a Half Ironman and that you’re going back for more!! Well done.

      Joanna :)

      Reply

  7. Melissa McCloud Says:

    hi joanna, great job here. i am a 7-time marathon runner from the states, and i have read quite a bit recently about barefoot running. i haven’t tried it, but it has caused me to change my gait. i run now on the front or ball of my foot, whereas i used to strike on my heel. it’s made quite a difference. it’s like how one would run if they were running in place. i love it! no shin splints anymore! ~melissa

    Reply

    • Joanna Says:

      Wow Melissa, you have a ton of experience. I, too, read a lot of things about forefoot and midfoot running, mainly because I had just come across Newton running shoes that are designed specifically for this style of running. Luckily, I tend to run naturally like this and don’t have a heavy heel-strike at all. Shin-splints are one of the few injuries I haven’t had yet but I’ve heard they can be very painful.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Joanna :)

      Reply

  8. Paul Klaszus Says:

    I wonder… I’ve heard of tribes in jungles and such that have feet with leather-like soles on the bottom of their feet – and it’s just because they are so accustomed to the environment.

    Would you be able to train for that, just be pushing your feet to their limits by walking on rough terrain?

    you know more about this than I, though… it’s just what popped into my head when I read this delightful post!

    Reply

    • Joanna Says:

      Thank you Paul for your kind comment. Yes, I guess like most things in life, if you set your mind to it and put in the training time, barefoot running is achievable. It seems to be a growing trend that I’m keen to investigate further.

      Joanna :)

      Reply

  9. Pat and Lorna Shanks Says:

    Joanna,

    We got a lot out of your post. We had no idea that barefoot running was on the rise… yay! we always love being barefoot over wearing any shoes, so we’re thinking we may have to give this a go. Keep us all posted on how it goes for you!

    Thanks,
    ~ Pat and Lorna
    http://TheCoolestCouple.com

    Reply

  10. Beth Allen Says:

    Wow Joanna, very excited to find your blog! While I’m not as avid a runner as I was pre-children, I LOVE running. It is my time to just clear my mind and recharge my energy. I can’t really imagine running barefoot (same lego issue! ;) ), but I was reading Melissa’s comment and it reminded me of a techinique I sometimes practice called Chi Running. Do you have any experience with that? I’d love to hear about it. I might be up for trying one of these shoes, but fully barefoot strikes fear of glass and other dangerous objects in my feet! :)

    Reply

  11. Bill Cowan Says:

    Hi Joanna, This has been one subject that I’ve considered doing myself. I haven;t quite got the courage up yet and typically I only run 3-5 miles anyway, but I may give it a try. Maybe I’ll head out to the beach early one morning and try it there first :-) ….I guess I’m just chicken.

    Reply

  12. Edward Says:

    HI Joanna,

    Thanks for sharing this post with us. I had not considered the idea of barefoot running before. When I exercise at home I do it barefoot but do not incorporate running in my routine. Thanks for sharing the cool products out there for “barefoot” running. Look forward to seeing how your dreams unfold and become real life. Many blessings for your success.

    Make it a great day!
    God Bless,
    -ed

    Reply

  13. Mary Lou Kayser Says:

    Hi Joanna,
    I think I mentioned in a previous comment that I started barefoot running back on the first of January…and instantly fell in love with it! Thank you for devoting a post to a practice that is gaining ground. :) There is quite a following of BR here in the Pacific Northwest. I have yet to try a pair of those foot-looking shoes, but people who have used them swear they are terrific. I have developed some thicker skin on parts of my soles, which isn’t a bad thing in any way.
    Thanks for this!
    Mary Lou

    Reply

    • Joanna Says:

      Hi Mary Lou,

      I’m intrigued by your BR experiences .. where abouts do you run? What sort of terrain are you covering? Do get in touch and tell me more.

      Many thanks
      Joanna

      Reply

  14. Debbie Stevens Says:

    Hi Joanna,

    It’s me again. I found this article fascinating. I mostly do my workouts barefoot because I’m more comfortable that way. I don’t run outside, so I haven’t tried that, but I might. Your article reminded me of the book, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Have you read it? He discovered a Mexican tribe that runs barefoot and tried it himself because he was having difficulty running with shoes. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

    • Joanna Says:

      Hi Debbie,
      I haven’t read the book Born to Run but I know the one you mean, it’s on my reading list. I’m pleased you found my article interesting. I’m quite curious about this subject and I think it requires further investigation. It would help, I’m sure, if I lived in a slightly warmer climate or perhaps lived near a beach .. running barefoot through the sand would be nice! :)

      Reply

  15. David Says:

    If you can bend your foot like the ‘flexibility’ of the Nike Free then you have bigger problems. I don’t see anything ‘close to mimicing barefoot’ there. Sorry.

    Reply

  16. bigby Says:

    I had hip, shin and IT Band issues for a very long time. I read Born to Run, and decided ‘what the heck?’ I went to the track at a local university and ran 2 miles in the grass on the inside of the track. NOT ONE BIT of pain except for a bit of muscle soreness in my feet. I have since bought a pair of Vibram 5-Fingers and I wear them whenever I can to build the muscles in my feet and lower legs. When doing long runs, I wear Brooks Launch which are a very neutral shoe. The concept is to build your muscles and shorten your gait to about 3 steps per second. Running barefoot helps to train you to run “correctly.” Best of luck to you. Barefoot running changed the way I run, and I have never enjoyed it more!

    Reply

  17. Michael Berry Says:

    I saw the ad for Vibram Five Fingers but thought it was just a gimmick but might be worth a try. Thanks for bringing back the memory of Zola.

    Michael

    Reply

    • Joanna Says:

      Vibram Five Fingers certainly look weird but I’ve seen enough about them to make me seriously consider getting a pair! I wish I could run like Zola – quite a gal! Thanks for getting in touch Michael

      Joanna :)

      Reply

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