Here Come the Barefoot Brits

by Editor on July 18, 2011

In the UK, we can get wrapped up in our own little world. But with TweetDeck showing every #barefootrunning and #vibramfivefingers tweet, and facebook alerting every time someone posts in our favourite barefoot running group, you would think the whole world has gone barefoot crazy. Of course it hasn’t really, but it seems that runners are becoming more aware of the need to develop natural running form, and that barefoot and minimalist running has a major role in helping to achieve this.

In June, I conducted a survey of 29 members of a local running club to learn more about the progress of barefoot and minimalist running. Now, 29 people does not make a scientific survey, but I have reason to believe these figures would be similar for other UK clubs, and possibly clubs in other areas of the world as well.

The research highlighted a lack of experience and a lot of interest. Only one member of the running club had attempted any barefoot running. One other member had run in minimalist shoes.

Interestingly, however, 48% said they would consider running barefoot and 55% would consider running in minimalist shoes. What this says is that although few have tried it thus far, there is a strong interest in barefoot and minimalist shoe running. This rising interest is also borne out by some of the written comments.

“It makes sense that we should be more adapted to barefoot running”

“I haven’t heard of it before but would like to know more”

“Interesting – need to find time to understand it more”.

Using a larger participant base, last November the popular UK Runner’s World Web site Fetch Everyone showed 0.24% of approximately 49000 ‘Fetchies’ (users) running in Nike Frees and only 0.19% in Vibrams (all styles). Again, that’s not much, but progress is happening.

When I posted the topic ‘Barefoot or minimalist shoes?’ in the Virgin London Marathon 2012 Web forum, it created tremendous interest. To date it has had over 1860 views and 65 posts – well in the top 10 out of the 113 topics in the forum.

 

Progress is Happening

Numerous positive things are happening in the UK to encourage a natural style of running:

  • In March 2011, sports therapist Martyn Candler became president of the UK branch of The Barefoot Runners Society. His first job was to organise the UK part of the first ever International Barefoot Run. The idea was for barefoot runners from all over the world to get together and run at the same time. On May 1st, the UK event took place in Stanmer Park in the Victorian seaside town of Brighton on the south coast of England. There were 61 runners in total, 38 ran the 5k and 23 the 1k. The next 5k event looks set for September 25 in Milton Keynes.
  • Fitness specialists David Robinson and Anna Toombs have set up Barefoot Running UK. They offer a number of courses, workshops and master classes for barefoot runners of all levels. They also hold free 5k barefoot club sessions, usually on Clapham Common in London.
  • VIVOBAREFOOT and Lee Saxby have set up a training clinic for 1:1 and group training and running coach training. Lee has spent 20 years studying with the leading researchers across the fields of biomechanics, nutrition, athletic training, evolutionary biology and functional medicine.
  • Vibram FiveFingers UK distributor Primal Lifestyle  and running specialists Run and Become have played a big part in introducing barefoot and minimalist shoe running to the UK. In 2004, Run and Become were the first specialist running retailer in the UK to introduce the Nike Free to their product range, later followed by the Vibram FiveFingers. Matt Wallden of primallifestyle.com was one of the early experts who informed Vibram that they had created something more than a ‘sailing shoe’. Both companies hold regular workshops and events including a recent master class with Barefoot Ted from Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run. On October 1, Primal Lifestyle will hold The FiveFingers 5k in the beautiful but technically challenging hills of Surrey.

I’ve seen a few runners in minimalist shoes but none barefoot (yet) at local races. That may change very soon. On July 31, what looks to be one of the biggest barefoot challenges will take place when Anthony Band will attempt to run 1000 miles barefoot from Lands End to John O’Groats in aid of the charity Help the Heroes.

ChiRunning, which has been teaching a barefoot-like running technique since 1999, is also slowly taking hold in the UK. One of the few Certified UK ChiRunning instructors, Michelle Muldoon sees this movement growing in the UK as well.

“I have seen a huge surge of interest in ChiRunning in the last year [in the UK] and I would expect that to continue as runners begin to recognise the importance of moving well and the positive effect that good mechanics can have on running.” Core Running UK

To conclude, whilst there are very few barefoot/minimalist shoe runners in the UK at the moment, there is an appetite for it. I believe that in the next few years the UK is going to see a major increase in barefoot and minimalist runners, following in the ‘bare’ footsteps of our neighbours across the pond!

~Gray Caws 

Gray Caws maintains the site Run Natural UK. He is developing the site specifically for the UK runner. He says that while he has seen a number of great sites about barefoot, minimalist shoe and natural running form, most are based in the US. He wants the site to become a focal point of information and shared ideas on natural running technique. 

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