Getting used to various surfaces when barefoot running takes time. Most barefoot runners discover that while they slowly transition, alternating terrains is one method of becoming accustomed to a variety of surfaces. Each type of terrain has its pros and cons. The following guide, partially adapted from the barefoot running book will help you differentiate between them and find out what might be best for you!
There’s no doubt that it’s easier to run on grass than anything else. It is soft, doesn’t get hot in the summer sun, and there aren’t many people out there who don’t like the feel of grass between their toes, running or walking. However, if you choose to run on grass, there are a few things to take into consideration. Firstly, you cannot see where you are putting your feet as clearly as you can on other surfaces, which means holes, litter, and other hazards can be hidden within its divine blades. If you do want to run on grass, try to choose a sports field or a park, and opt for areas where the grass is cut short. Avoid any places that might be sprayed with pesticides (such as golf courses), as this can irritate virgin barefoot feet. If you are just starting out, don’t do all of your barefoot sessions on grass. It is much better to spend your transitional sessions on harder surfaces where you can concentrate on foot landing and overall form (which we will talk about in future posts).
Most people are able to run on the sidewalks near their home. Normally there is less debris, and sidewalks are usually fairly well maintained. A neighborhood where there are plenty of clean, level sidewalks is a perfect place to start (and continue) barefoot running. If no usable sidewalks are handy, consider conducting your run in neighborhoods nearby.
Avid shod runners often avoid sidewalks because of the impact they feel from running on such a dense surface. If this is something you’ve avoided as a runner in mainstream shoes, give it a try barefoot. Your new running style – with a forefoot strike – combined with the freedom your feet have to absorb impact may mean that the surface will not feel as jarring to your legs any longer.
Roads and asphalt are common choices, too. Whether a road, an asphalt track through a park, or a bike path, most public areas have plenty of asphalt to run on. If you are on the road, keep your eyes out for glass and other debris. Bike paths are fantastic choices; bike riders lobby hard to keep them clear of litter that can cause a flat, and you don’t have to worry about the risks of running in traffic. Be sure to run on paths meant for runners; bikers and runners alike do not enjoy the other taking up space in their designated area.
You might have access to a running track at your local school or sports facility. As with bike paths, these are usually kept clear of debris, and traffic will not be an issue. Some tracks are made of rubber, clay, or dirt. Those made of rubber might offer some cushioning, but for beginning barefoot runners, the gritty surface can be slightly irritating.
Certain paths are fine for barefoot trail running as well, but choose those that you know well, and start by walking them first. Roots, rocks, and mud make barefoot running off-road a very different experience! Start out by choosing a small loop that is lit well by the sun. Walk it several times first, including barefoot, before you set out for a run. Once you know your trail well, you will be more aware of tricky obstacles. In addition to watching more carefully where you are heading, being barefoot will make you more naturally aware of hazards under toe; you will be able to react to what you feel. Additionally, bare feet will actually offer you more control than shoes thereby lessening risk of tripping or stumbling.
Once your feet have had time to adapt, you will be able to run barefoot just about anywhere you can run in shoes. Barefoot runners find that running without shoes on various terrains heightens their overall experience. Once you have become used to running barefoot, you won’t run a grassy knoll, neighborhood sidewalk, or forested trail the same ever again!