I’m back in the Old World now (photos and stories of our trip to Canada to come soon!), and in the middle of green and gorgeous Deutschland farm country. From here, I’ll be looking for jobs, which will hopefully take me to somewhere amazing and exciting for the next year, but I will also be training myself to run in bare feet!
Barefoot running? What? Well, first I should offer a disclaimer. I’m not actually running barefoot. What I’m doing is called minimalist running and the hardcore barefoot runners are very clear about the distinction that if there is something between the foot and the ground…you are not running barefoot. But the thought of infection, gangrene and the potential need to amputate my feet scares the hell out of me. Instead, I’m using these guys – the Vibram Five-Fingers, which were designed to protect barefoot runners from environmental dangers and extreme temperatures. And yes – I’m aware that it looks like I have gorilla feet.
I got interested in barefoot running well…because I was relegated to using the elliptical machine in the gym for 6 years as a result of a knee injury…and frankly, I got tired of it. As a result, there was always a tinge of jealousy of friends who could just plug into their iPod and start running, regardless of where they were in the world. Then I heard about the work of Harvard evolutionary physiologist, Daniel Lieberman. His two interests are head and feet and he believes that our feet are being abused and become lazy when we run in our Nikes (or in my case, New Balances). Moreover, conventional shoe-runners are akin to the ‘heel strike,’ which sends the impact from our ground to our feet, up our backs to our head, creating an unnecessary ‘pounding’ to the body. This pounding contributes to a lot of the ‘wear and tear’ that most runners experience throughout their life and many running-related injuries like tibial stress fractures or plantar fasciitis. For me, I’ve already gotten enough wear and tear, especially to my knees where I’ve managed to degrade most of my cartilage and a tear my PCL, which would normally protect you from regular running impacts.
Instead, barefoot running relies on the front or ball of the foot to strike, as it naturally would, on the ball of your foot instead, where the force generated from the impact to the ground is minimal. Plus, your feet are much lighter. Of course, the evidence on barefoot running has yet to be proven. But is barefoot running just a stylish trend in the new millennium? I don’t necessarily think so and I have faith in the science that supports it.
To learn more about the mechanics and physiology of barefoot reading, check out Professor Lieberman’s Nature paper here, in which he presents his study comparing rear foot (heel impact) runners to front foot (toes and ball of foot impact) runners in both early and late adopting populations. For discourse and debate on the matter, check out these articles here and here.
And so far? Well, after my first day of a lakeside trek in my Vibram FiveFinger Treksports, my feet, my knees, my body feel great. While I haven’t completely started barefoot running, the 300m sprint I took today also felt great. For the first time in the last years, i didn’t feel like my knees had sustained a massive impact from any kind of activity.
The reason why I haven’t started completely running in my Vibrams yet, is that after years of conditioning in sneakers, our feet need to be gradually fitted back into their natural way. Many new barefoot runners aren’t patient enough to do this and wind up with injuries like broken or fractured metatarsals and blood blisters. So I’ll be starting slow with mostly trekking through German countryside first, with sprints of 100-300m to get my feet back into shape and to get the skin on the pads of my feet used to the feeling of new surfaces. How to Run Barefoot is an amazing website for those who are just starting out, and Skye Mangrum, the site’s very capable hostess does a great job of guiding you through the steps through her Youtube videos!
So if you make the choice to start barefoot running, definitely get all of your information first and form a game plan in your first weeks to strengthen those lazy feet of ours. With patience, soon you’ll be feeling the freedom and levity of a barefoot run!