They say running can become an addiction. Whether you are hooked on speed or you get your fix from increasing distance, you know that running has a hold on you. Like any good addict, you’ve got your paraphernalia of choice. You’ve probably got a case of Gu or other energy gel in the closet. You’ve got more race shirts than you’d care to admit. You’ve tried just about every sports drink and hydration supplement. You even have a stick of Body Glide in your car for emergency situations. Let’s face it, you are an addict.
And then there are the shoes.
The variety is endless, and each runner swears by a different pair. Racing flats or extra support? Pronate or Supinate? Asics or Saucony? This is where each runner chooses a different path. Once a selection has been made, most runners stick with their choice for years to come. For me it was Nike. I had all different shapes and colors. I rotated three pair on a regular basis and was always looking for the next best thing.
And then there is barefoot.
I won’t go into all of the painful details that brought me to barefoot running. I’ll assume that if you are reading this article, you are also a barefoot runner, or are at least barefoot curious. We each have our own reasons for wanting to leave our shoes behind. Regardless of the cause, we know we need to break our running shoe addiction.
Now that we know we need to change, how do we get there? Most addicts have two options:
- Quit cold turkey
- Enter a 12-step recovery program
It may sound funny, but barefoot running is no different than any addiction recovery program.
Many will argue that a radical, cold turkey change has the greatest benefit and the highest success rate. Proponents of this method encourage you to stop running altogether and begin again with ultra-short distances (maybe 100 yards) every couple of days with no shoes on. Eventually you increase your distances so that in a month or two, you might be able to go a full mile. You are also encouraged to run VERY slowly. The theory is that speed will come with proper form. This method of going barefoot has been tested. It can be safe and effective, provided the runner is conditioned and strong, and many swear by it.
The major downside is that a total switch requires you to give up speed and distance until you’ve corrected your form and have feet tough enough to handle the pavement. I had a very hard time cancelling my distance runs. My average pace was reduced to about 10-minutes per mile. As a true addict, this just didn’t provide the runner’s high that I need.
I found myself thinking that there has to be a better way…maybe some sort of patch.
Because I wasn’t ready to part with my weekly mileage, I had to come up with an alternative solution. I figured that I could maintain my current schedule and just replace a small portion at the end of my runs with a quick barefoot finish. Then, I’d slowly increase the barefoot portion of my run and decrease my shod mileage. I called it the Ratio method.
The Ratio Method
I want to be completely honest and admit that my first attempt at this method was absolutely disastrous. I had done my research and knew that most experts and bloggers suggested that an initial barefoot run should be a half mile or less. Why I thought I should try 1.5 miles barefoot instead I may never know. Torn skin, sore feet and blood blisters taught me a valuable lesson.
Two weeks later brought attempt number two. I ran 5.5 miles with shoes on and then .5 barefoot. It was an 11:1 ratio. My soles were warm and tender, but not blistered. By the next morning, I knew that I was ready to go again. I kept at this practice and can now run a couple of miles barefoot on pavement without injury. As I continue through my slow transition, I am increasing the barefoot portion of my run and spending fewer miles in shoes. Eventually, I hope to come to a point where my Vibrams are completely optional because me feet are conditioned to run marathons on pavement without any pain.
Is the Ratio method of transitioning the RIGHT way? For me, it is…you’ll have to decide for yourself. Some addicts can kick a habit overnight. Some addicts go through major withdrawals. When you’re itching to run but afraid to mess up your transition, consider the Ratio transition method. Sometimes it’s better to have a patch than to give up your transition and go back to full shod.
No matter what, though, don’t fall off the wagon. The freedom is worth it in the end.