Sunday, 10 June 2012

Why do I run barefoot?

A recent entry on the Runners Forum asked those who have posted on the thread on barefoot and minimalist running to say what motivated them to start. I found myself pondering this question in the middle of the night.  Rather than clog up the forum with a long and probably rather boring essay on my thinkings, I thought I'd write it here.

I've been running for about six years.  For the first two years, I suffered terribly with shin splits.  In hindsight I think this was due to bad form - big heel striker and far too much overstriding (I thought this was how you were supposed to run).  At that time, I read a lot about barefoot running, because I was looking for anything that might help with my problems.

Gradually, my form improved - painfully slowly, and I built up strength in my shins and calf muscles which also helped.  For the last couple of years I've had no shin splint problems.  Along the way I've picked up various minor injuries - thigh strain, dodgy knee, sore ankle - and I've been for physio and rested, then picked up again.  Trainers have been good to me on the whole.

But always in the back of my mind I've had a fascination with the idea of barefoot running.  I really can't explain why.  I wanted a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, but couldn't justify the expense.  I hoped I might get some for my 40th, but I didn't.  Last summer I read Born to Run, and by October, I'd persuaded myself that several years of Googling Vibram FiveFingers needed to end:  I needed to have a pair of my own.  I got them for my 41st birthday.

I built up really carefully, starting out with a quarter of a mile, then half a mile, and so on, until over a four week period I'd built up to just over 3 miles.  Then one wintry day at the end of November, I set out for a 3.5 mile run, but my feet were freezing.  I expected the top of foot pain I experienced to disappear after my feet had warmed up, but a mile in it just kept getting worse, and after half a mile of walking and gentle jogging, I knew I had done some damage.  Turns out I'd got a stress fracture in the second metatarsal of my right foot.  Ouch :(

I duly rested, and watched my other half go out running every other day.  As I couldn't run, I read about running instead, and in particular I did more research on barefoot running.  I couldn't understand how I'd got a stress fracture when I'd been so careful.  I read Ken Bob Saxton's Step by Step guide to barefoot running, which was one of the first books I downloaded to my Christmas Kindle. I conversed with a fellow forum runner who had had an almost identical experience on switching to FiveFingers.  It began to make sense.  Whilst I had built up my distance slowly, the FiveFingers were tricking me into thinking I could run further than my feet were ready for.  The only way to truly build up distance would be to run completely barefoot.

Late in January, when I decided it was time to try a very short run for the first time in almost six weeks, I wore my trainers.  I felt that I needed the support, and I was incredibly nervous about injuring myself again.  You'd think that my experience with VFFs would have put me off barefoot or minimalist running for life, but it only served to make me more determined.  Perhaps determined is too stubborn a sounding word - it was more about being curious.  After a couple of weeks in trainers, I ran a short distance in my FiveFingers and it was ok.  Shortly after that, I took my first, very self conscious steps outdoors in bare feet.  That's where this blog really begins.

I now run barefoot at the end of every shod run I do, and I also bought a pair of FiveFinger Classics which are thinner than the TrekSports to enable me to increase my distance on rougher surfaces.  Do I think barefoot running is the holy grail to avoiding injuries?  No, definitely not.  It hasn't made me faster, and I cannot run as far as I can (and still do) in trainers.  But I have started to love the freedom I feel when my feet are in direct contact with the ground, I've built up my confidence in being seen barefoot in public, and my feet feel stronger.  In short, I think it's added a bit of spice to my running, and brought me a fresh challenge.  It is for those reasons that I will continue to run barefoot for the foreseeable future.


  1. I´m reading and watching with interest. I´m also making the (somewhat sketchy) transition and am always looking to see how others get on. Keep us informed.

  2. Thanks guacamole... I'll keep posting - and I've looked up your blog too :)