Over the course of the past two years, the concept and practice of barefoot running has picked up tremendous recognition and acceptance. For runners and non-runners alike, the allure of lightening up and getting back to the simplicity of trotting barefooted like a child has real intrigue. Ironically, a return to this childlike means of running requires a very intentional and self-aware process. Without, what could be a joyful, freeing and healthy activity can be painful, even injurious.
As the barefoot running trend has picked up steam, many runners are taking up the activity slowly and incrementally. That’s a good thing.
As someone who has made the transition, I realize that learning to be a barefoot runner can be tricky.
I have listed five tips and guidelines that will help to set you off on the right path towards successful and injury-free barefoot running experience.
If you’re completely a new comer to the sport of running, you need first to build enough aerobic power and stamina by following the walk-run-walk method. Only once you have improved your overall physical and fitness level should you opt for barefoot running.
Pick a Minimalist Shoe
Unless you want to go completely barefoot, choosing the proper pair of minimalist shoes is of utmost importance. It’s highly recommended to use this type of shoes early on. They will allow your feet to move naturally, thereby strengthening your feet and lower legs for barefoot running, even while protecting your feet from the environment.
In my opinion, one of the best brands of minimalist shoes on the market is the Vibram Five Fingers (“VFF” for short). Most people are familiar with these “toe” shoes. VFF’s are super lightweight shoes with Vibram rubber soles that are specifically tailored and manufactured to imitate and support the natural foot. The main function of this rubber sole is protection against toxic chemicals, stray glass, edgy rocks or any hazardous objects you may encounter down the road.
I would assert that minimalist shoes are a must for runners who live in urban regions or densely populated cities.
Walk Before you Run
In the same way that beginners approach the process of gaining fitness, it is good for novice barefoot runners to begin with walking first, then gradually transition into running. Hence, before you run that first barefoot mile, walk around without your shoes at home and whenever possible. This simple process will prepare your feet for the barefoot running experience and help strengthen them for future workouts.
Once you’re comfortable going bare in the house, you should be ready to take your training outside. Again, it’s as simple as walking barefoot on varied outdoor surfaces to strengthen your soles and get familiar with the feeling of stepping on little rocks without the protection of your shoes. You could also try walking on trail and inserting short bursts of running to see how it feels.
It is important to pay attention to how it feels when you walk and run barefoot. Awareness of the body is crucial to long-term success with barefoot running.
When barefoot running feels as comfortable as running in shoes, you’ve successfully made the transition. You can either run barefoot all the time or alternate with lightweight minimalist running shoes.
Your First Barefoot Runs
After acclimatizing to barefoot running, it’s time to take your newly acquired skills to the test field. Even though it feels natural, you should remain cautious and attentive to your body as you’re doing your first barefoot runs. In my experience, it’s best to only run for a short time and distance— a half mile at most. In fact, many new barefoot runners follow a shoes-on and shoes-off training strategy by alternating between barefoot running and running with minimalist shoes (or even your running shoes).
As you practice more and more, you can make your barefoot runs segments longer and shorten up the running in shoes.
Make sure to try running on different surfaces. Of course, soft grass will be most comfortable. But it is important to try out hard surfaces such as pavement and sidewalks. This surface variety will help your feet to be more flexible and get stronger. It will help you also develop a proper running form.
Listen to Your Body
The most important tip for beginner barefoot runners is to listen to your body. Assess how it feels during and after running barefoot. Pain should never be ignored or dreaded. In fact, pain is your teacher. Keep a keen eye on the way you feel throughout the experience, and whenever you feel any pain or discomfort, slow down and see whether you can do something about it. Of course, if the pain is too intense, stop running until it subsides. If it doesn’t go away, you may have injured yourself. If it does, you have the opportunity to learn from it and move forward.
Because, after all, running barefoot can – and should – be a freeing, joyful, healthy activity.
~David Dack, Runners Blueprint