What is Barefoot Running? By Ben Turner from Athlete Adventure
Barefoot Junkie : "A great read from Ben Turner from Athlete Adventure and his transition to Barefoot Running. After his own reasearch Ben came to us to find out more about Vibram Fivefingers, Barefoot Running and how they may help him with his series of extreme challenges. The follow blog is written entirely by Ben and his own journey into the world of a more natural approach to running and training footwear."
Over to you Ben :
This is part one of a three-part study into the world of barefoot running. I will be running the 16 Marathons Project barefoot to investigate the theories of barefoot running. The science behind the benefits of barefoot running is limited and largely anecdotal, therefore, I aim to research this myself through a culmination of research and internet ‘science’ and my own experiences of 1000 miles of barefoot running to help YOU better understand the FACTS and filter out the nonsense.
Disclaimer. I am NOT a physiotherapist, nor do I hold a degree in Sports Science. I investigate certain topics such as barefoot running though the physical testing of Athlete Adventure challenges, academic research from professional and qualified subject matter experts, books, and finally through the improvements I see through clients and friends whom I have helped.
“I was so frustrated with the pain in my shins and ankles that I threw all my trainers out and went for a run barefoot. I haven’t looked back since.” Athlete Adventure
To date I have run ultra-marathons in military boots, raced the Salomon Glen Coe Sky Race in shoes with carbon fibre reinforcement, bought top-of-the-range mountain running shoes and specifically designed ‘correction’ trainers. I have altered running styles (including the dreaded jogging) in all types of terrain, from mountains to coastal sands and roads. But still, I have had a nagging chronic pain in my lower legs. Sometimes this has been a small niggle that I have been able to work through, and other times it has resulted in my being crippled for days before being able to walk properly, let alone run.
So, What's the problem!?
Well having seen many physios and various diagnoses have been: too much training to soon, pronation, supination, over load of the anterior tibialis (the muscle at the top of the shin), compartment syndrome and shin splints. This all sound like I should never ever run and hang up the trainers for good, right?
But, through a fit of frustration at spending £££s on a new pair of trainers, I threw all of them to one side and disappeared on a run, barefoot. Although sharp under foot to start, I found that my running technique changed completely, my foot would hit the floor in a smooth and gentle movement, the front and mid sole of the foot impacted the ground first, with the heel just ‘kissing’ the floor. My toes would curl and flick my leg forward at the rear of the stride, I would bounce on my legs more and my feet would automatically align parallel to each other. The key thing… no chronic pain, what so ever.
The analogy that I always keep in mind was mentioned in Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run that basically states:
If you were to look out the window and see your child playing in the road, and notice there is an oncoming vehicle, you would run straight out to save them. You wouldn't stop to put on shoes, and that short stint of running would completely differ to the learned running in trainers.
These changes in technique are the same changes that I experienced above, and one cannot help but question why we are the only species on the planet that wears shoes.
In my training for the 16 Marathons Project, barefoot running definitely sounded like the solution, but I had to find a way of protecting my feet at least a little for the onslaught of 16 marathons in 16 days across every terrain possible throughout the UK.
As I am impatient, I jumped straight into barefoot running without a transition period and hung up my trainers for good, after a week of running everywhere with no shoes, limiting myself to grass running, I was introduced to the Vibram Five Fingers from Barefoot Junkie. This allowed a layer of protection on the sole of my foot and did not restrict my feet in any way. I have not looked back since and remain injury free with a much stronger running form and increased efficiency.
There will be a full review of the Vibram Five Fingers to follow after my next training block for the 16 Marathons project*.
What does this mean?
Well I am not saying that everyone should drop their trainers and run barefoot everywhere, if trainers work for you and you have no issues, that’s fantastic and I do not think you should change a thing. Mo Farah does not run barefoot, nor does the ultra-running legend that is Tom Evans. But, if you are experiencing problems, pain, or just curious, then it is important to bear in mind the following principles:
- Barefoot running takes time to adapt. YES, this is contrary to the method that I employed myself, but for the vast majority who are used to running in trainers, breaking in slowly with a couple of gentle barefoot runs a week will suffice to start the process safely.
- Practice mindful running. Barefoot running will change the way you run. It is only natural for the brain to tell the feet to land differently and softer without shoes. This is down to the feedback from the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of sensors in the feet sending signals to brain about the way the ground feels. This is the most complex suspension and feedback system ever imaginable and the brain will make tiny alterations to account for different surface types and gradients. Being mindful of these signals and concentrating on what the brain and feet are telling you is vital.
- Build a firm foundation. Barefoot running is not the answer for everyone. But exercises such as these will teach you is the art of gentle running. Gentle running is efficient and smooth and is the key to building your personal running base.
Part 2 of this study will unpack the jargon and myths of barefoot running and help you better understand the thinking behind barefoot running and how you can become a running ninja!
*I am an ambassador of Vibram Five Fingers through Barefoot Junkie. They have been kind enough to provide me with some of their products to support the 16 Marathons project. I must stress that I am not paid by the company. As with UFIT and The Protein Works, I ONLY aim to represent companies to my readers whom I know and trust and would genuinely recommend.