Getting Started Barefoot Running

I bought a pair of Five Finger KSO (VFFs) after an old friend sent me the Wired Magazine write-up of “barefoot” running shoes, and after reading the second half of McDougall’s book. Running off an on for over twenty years I’ve had some consistent physical nags, for a lack of anything better to call it: aching achilles, lower back soreness, over extended big toes. An ankle sprain from last summer just didn’t seem to be getting better and I always felt unstable running and worried about re-spraining it.  My running and walking heal strike was rather dramatic. The data in the second half of McDougall’s book appealed to me and I headed over the Richmond Bridge to grab a pair of VFFs at Transport.

After running consistently in the VFFs for two months I’m sold.  All of the nagging aches have gone, and my worrisome ankle feels strong and I’ve not had a second thought about twisting my ankles since running in the VFFs. All of what people say about feel more balanced is true. I run in a variety of places including fire roads, single track, sidewalks, and bike paths. Asphalt is like butter and concrete leaves my feet tingling (not in a good way). Single track is always best, but isn’t that always the case whether running or hiking of biking? There are moments of sheer joy that remind me of what it was like running through the woods as a boy.

I know a lot of people have trouble getting started running in VFFs, and more so barefoot. I generally don’t wear shoes around the house, so I think that helped with the foot strength. I’ve luckily avoided most of the getting started issues aside from some blisters on the inside of my foot, which is easily solved with a bandaid or duct tape.

My first run though was really odd. It felt mostly like I had two fish at the end of my legs, slapping against the pavement on a short, flat run on sidewalks around my neighborhood. It was a bad entree. I had read up a bit on getting started and tried to follow the suggestions I read and saw in videos. I am a believer in good form in whatever sport, but forcing yourself into a method clearly is a bad idea. I was just visualizing things poorly. Digging deeper I found two pieces of advice that have helped: one, relax; two, run hills – up and down.

Relaxing my feet help me tremendously find the natural mid-food strike, and let my foot give me the feedback I needed to run in harmony with my body. And by relaxing I mean not only not stiffening my foot, but also avoiding forcing my gate. In running up hill you are required to adopt a mid-foot strike, else you’d just fall over backwards (well, maybe not that dramatic). This combined with the feedback you get from the shoes reinforces what you should be doing. Running downhill was one of the things I was most worried about, but the first time doing it I quickly realized this was going to be much better than what I had traditionally done, which is to rely on my heels as a sort of break to slow me down the hill. Again, running downhill enforces the mid-foot strike because if you don’t you feel pain. That’s pretty effective feedback.

A list of a few of my runs….

More later on all the concerns people have about not giving up their high-heel running shoes…

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