(And remember, I am not a trained anything, just simply someone who is teaching herself to run barefoot)
So, you have decided you want to try running barefoot, did you? Well, don’t expect to run any super long distances any time soon Over the past few months, I have learned that this is one time when slow and steady prevents stress fractures! (Or other injuries you could cause yourself).
The first thing I did after deciding to try to run in a way that I thought would be less stressful to my legs and feet was to start running in my traditional running shoes, in the form that is more often associated with barefoot running. The way I read this in a few places online and also in Born to Run, was making quick, small steps and aiming to land more on the ball of your foot versus the heel of your foot. Sounds easy but let me tell you, muscle memory=better than my real memory!! This took me some time to get used to and I actually ended up feeling quite a bit of soreness in my calves for the first few weeks or so.
Once this soreness died down a bit and I became more serious about re-training myself in my running technique, I decided to pick up a pair of Vibrams Five Fingers. I now realize that this jump was a little more drastic then is best to do as my current running shoes had a drop of 12ish mm (difference between the height of your heel and height of your forefoot) and Five Fingers have zero. BUT, even though I have not been able to put a ton of miles on running in the Five Fingers yet, I have been able to walk in them alot and train my foot to be able to put them on. Let me tell you, you have ZERO control over your toes and trying to get them in those little spots was impossible at first! But now, I can put these on so much easier, it is kind of surprising really.
When I first started training to run Barefoot, I actually just started by taking my dog for a 1/2 mile Block Walk barefoot. This really helped my feet get less sensitive and able to tolerate the feeling of walking on the ground barefoot. After a few weeks of walking, and when my legs had stopped feeling sore after, I started to take the same loop (minus the pup) at a running pace. Again, I felt a bit of soreness with this for the first few weeks but as my legs got stronger and more used to the use of unused muscles, the soreness went away.
My current distance is up to about 1 mile round trip, to and from the gym, for Body Pump class. I am finding just how different Body Pump feels without shoes on and am kind of surprised how much harder squats and lunges are this way! I have not been feeling any soreness at this distance so that is a positive, I think! Provided I am feeling better next week, I might start to run slightly over 1 mile of my training runs with these on and then switch to my regular shoes.
Another item I can recommend when training to run Barefoot, is to search out a place you can take a Barefoot Running clinic. A new store opened up near my house called Revolution Natural Running and Walking Center. If you are in the Milwaukee area, definitely check them out! The clinic was only $10 and gave a good overview of the form modifications you need to make to run unshod. At the class we got to watch ourselves on a slow motion camera to see the difference when running in shoes versus running without shoes and it was quite eye opening for some people. This is where I also learned that the easiest way to transition from 12mm to barefoot, is to work in 3mm steps (12mm to 9mm, 9mm to 6mm, etc.) so with each new pair of shoes, you make just the slightest adjustment.
A final recommendation would be to check out videos of barefoot running form online and study those. I found them helpful to see what your ideal form would look like and then keeping them in mind for your first few runs. (Here are a few I found but Google and YouTube have plenty of other options if you want to look around Video 1, Video 2, and Video 3).
All this talk of Barefooting makes me want to take a little loop around the neighborhood in lieu of my stomachache prohibited long run
Happy Barefooting! (And remember, me=not a trained professional, so please use your best judgement when trying this at home. It’s not my fault if you are a wee over enthusiastic and hurt yourself )