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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