Saturday, February 19, 2011

Experimentation with Barefoot Running

Today, during school, I decided that I kind of needed to go for a run.  For various reasons, I hadn't run since last Friday until today... that's a whole flippin' week!  So during my lifting/conditioning class, I just sort of slipped out and went onto the track.  It's all good though, my teacher and I have a bit of an understanding - in general he'll just let me leave class and go run instead of lifting if I feel like it.

It was sunny outside, despite the fact that the temperature was lingering in the upper 30's.  It was brisk but also very pretty and the sun gave me a [possibly false] sense of warmth and happiness.  First I ran a couple laps on the track.  Then I stopped, and thought for a second.  I quickly proceeded to take off my shoes.  I then ran about 5 laps on the inside of the track, on the astro-turf football field.

This was my first semi-legit experience running barefoot.  Sure, I do barefoot strides during the Track season after particularly hairy speed workouts, but nothing serious.  Not that the 1 mile or so that I ran barefoot today is serious per se either... but it was still probably the longest I've ever run barefoot.  And let me just say - it felt great.  The dew on the grass, glistening in the sunlight, felt absolutely wonderful on my feet.  I also realized a few things about barefoot running...

This picture probably best explains what I realized.  When running barefoot, I noticed this (yesterday) morning that I would land on my forefoot or at least land more flat-footed, where as with running shoes on, I tend to strike with my heel.  It feels much more natural to land on the forefoot, and actually is.  It's how humans would (and did) normally run in a state of nature when shoes wouldn't even be an option.  Our bodies have evolved around this, and indeed our ankles and legs are set-up in such a way that they can better absorb the impact of the foot strike.  As shown in the picture, heal striking, something that shoes induce, sends the impact up to the knees and hips, neither of which are designed to take such a beating.  That's why shin splints are so common - our knees never evolved to take the abuse of repeated heal strikes.

Not only that, but running shoes have a tendency to have a lot of padding.  Sure this lowers the amount of force being shot up through your leg, as the time that the force is applied is longer.  But it doesn't change the total amount of energy that your legs absorb, it just seems to hurt less while running.  Not only that, but the extra padding gives a false sense of comfy-ness, and runners will tend to foot-strike harder than they really should be.  So actually more energy is being shot through your lower body, and into the wrong areas (because you're heel striking).

All this aside, I'm not going to start running totally barefoot - its just too inconvenient for me to do all the time.  It's just an interesting concept to think about, and I certainly will do more of it on the turf when I get opportunities to do so.


  1. Dude - Careful now... you are treading into territory which could make you a more efficient, powerful and faster runner! HA! Good for you!! Start out slow and try a little bit at a time.

    BTW - when you heel strike you are constantly "breaking" your forward momentum, so when you run midfoot you are actually running more efficiently. Just try running in place barefoot and then slightly lean forward with your hips and you'll feel that forward momentum and notice how your body just "runs" without too much effort.

    That's awesome that you decided to try BFR. You are on the cutting edge of something seriously revolutionary in running right now. Even the big shoe companies are coming out with more and more minimal shoes that force the midfoot landing. And since you're young you've got plenty of time to perfect your form and achieve results you probably never thought possible.

    Have fun with it!

  2. Haha, YES! I knew I would hear from you!!!

    And that's totally true about the forward motion thing, I completely forgot about that. For races (1600 in my case) my coach tells us to get up on our forefoot like that... for the exact same reason - to keep momentum moving forward. Because we're wearing very thin-soled track spikes, its a lot easier to land like that than with running shoes on. For the same reason its easier when barefoot.

  3. As a Natural Running Coach I encourage your decision. When you do start running barefoot start on a hard flat surface, this will encourage a forefoot/midfoot strike. Though it is tempting to just run through the grass or on the beach, soft ground is just another way to cushion a heel strike.
    Also, start small, maybe just a mile. Barefoot running requires a lot more calf activation. doing to much to fast can lead to injury, especially if you are not accustom to a forefoot strike. Here is a link to one of my blog posts where I discuss getting started barefoot running.
    I still have some work to do to spice it up, to the level of your blog, but the information is there.

  4. Samuel - thanks a bunch for the informative comment! I checked out the link to your blog you gave and I really liked that article. Very informative. It got me checking around the rest of your blog and I must say that I love it. I really like the design and the writing style. Keep up the great work!

  5. Amazing blog and very interesting stuff you got here! I definitely learned a lot from reading through some of your earlier posts as well and decided to drop a comment on this one!

  6. Thanks for the feedback! I'm glad to hear that you find it informative.

  7. I can't view your blog for some reason! All of the text appears on the right hand side on top of everything else. Is it my computer?

  8. Hmm, is this a new problem, Kate? I'm not having any problems... is anybody else?


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