October 5, 2010

Barefoot running

If you have known me for any real length of time, you know I abhor shoes. I take them off as soon as I get home (sometimes in the car on the way home). When I have to seriously think, the shoes come off. They are a distraction. I walk around sock-footed at work, at friend's houses, and at the bar. Anywhere I'm going to be for a significant period of time, I prefer to be sans shoes. I have had strangers tell me I forgot my shoes, or give me lectures on the germs and diseases I could catch walking barefoot on city streets. The only thing that stops me is the cold, and even then I've been known to take the trash out barefoot in the snow.

It should come as no surprise, then, to find I am interested in shoes that mimic bare feet. I'm talking about Vibram FiveFingers shoes.

The Bikila are made specifically for running
I'd heard of minimalist shoes, but thought they were racing shoes for elite runners. Learning about Vibrams was my first introduction to the concept of running practically barefoot. I have wanted a pair since I first heard of them. It did NOT occur to me that people actually run barefoot. That they run races, half marathons and marathons... barefoot. I learned that little tidbit by exploring blogs read by Beth over at Shut Up and Run. Through her I chanced upon Angie, then Barefoot Neil (I'm running his birthday virtual race on Sunday). 

I think I threw Neil off a bit when I said I wanted to grow up to be just like him. I meant the barefoot running bit. Oh, and the blogging with all the followers bit too, but that's not what I was thinking when I wrote the virtual race post. I was thinking he just ran his first barefoot half marathon, that I am currently running half marathons, and that I would ultimately like to do them barefoot. Just. Like. Him.

I've been unhappy with my running shoes from the start. As a newbie I started out at Dick's, and bought $100 shoes that didn't last very long before disintegrating. When I learned there were actual running stores, I tried the ones in my area. One store said I pronate (my heel and ankle roll inward) every 6th step or so when I walk, so should wear corrective running shoes. Another said I don't pronate at all, but still suggested $130 shoes. 

Since then I've seen this video of Haille Gebrselassiean Olympic marathoner who pronates horribly. I've read articles that suggest neutral shoes can cause pronation. I've read articles that suggest natural pronation is not a problem, and that corrective shoes can cause some of the injuries runners experience. I experience knee issues, though these may be the result of ankle issues. Many many years ago I rolled my left ankle, seriously, more than once. When it doesn't want to loosen up on a run, my knees take the brunt of impact. I also experience toe issues, possibly because the high arch in my current running shoe is rolling my foot off my big toe, causing the one next to it to press harder against the ground.

Stride and form are big topics in running circles. I've been concentrating on a midfoot strike - shortened stride, which is supposed to be healthier than the over-extended heel-strike I started out using. I've read articles that suggest the purest form mechanic can be seen watching children run barefoot. 

All of this is rationalization, because when it comes right down to it I hate runnings shoes as much as I hate any other shoe. I hate the cost. I hate the feel. The idea of barefoot running appeals to me on a very deep level, because barefoot is already part of how I define myself. Monkey Boy bought a pair of KSO Vibrams in Germany and says they are the most comfortable shoe he's worn. If they are the next best thing to barefoot, I want them. As much as I want to be barefoot. 

It's taken me a while to work up to it, but I went out for my first barefoot run today - just a quarter mile around the circle where I live. I know at first I ran with a pure forefoot strike, because my heels didn't touch the ground. I didn't even make it the full quarter mile, in part because of acorn shells strewn everywhere. In part because running on the balls of your feet is tiring! I'm not sure what the best form is for this. When I ran the remainder of the circle, my heels were hitting and I was concerned they were hitting too hard. I guess, like everything, this will take practice and experimentation to find what works for me. There will be more barefoot runs. I'm so excited!   

1 comment:

Barefoot Neil Z said...

I like the Bikilas, but they do scare me a little bit. they have a lot of support and padding as compared to the sprints or KSO's. It is Vibrams attempt to get the masses to try Vibram, and it is certainly a compromise from where they started.

As for your first go at BF, great work. Take it real slow at first. The heel is supposed to land, but not strike. A quick stride will help. Just relax and your feet will tell you what you need to know.