Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Barefoot Running Book - By Jason Robillard

I’m reading the Barefoot Running Book by Jason Robillard at the moment The book steps through how to learn to run barefoot from 1st principles, builds up to starting to run with no shoes and then progresses into more distance, very gradually. Jason also recommends, and I’ve read this elsewhere, that you learn completely barefoot and then use barefoot/minimal shoes once you have mastered the new form. This is fine if you have the time, live somewhere reasonable warm with a nice selection of trails/roads that are suitable for barefoot (not so great for the UK in winter!). The other approach is to mix minimal/barefoot running with your normal weekly mileage in a gradually increasing proportion, but you should still master the static/slow techniques first. 

A few lucky people are predisposed to good running form once away from cushioned motion controlled footwear. For the rest of us it is a case of effectively learning to run again in a controlled manner to prevent injury from ‘Too Much Too Soon’ which can include sore calves (normal, but they need to be allow to recover), pain on the top of the foot and blisters.
From what I’ve read so far, sand isn’t actually recommended to start bare-footing on, unless it’s really hard. Soft sand reduces the tactile feedback you need from the soles of your feet. The sore calves are normal for early BF running, we all got in one degree or another after the Tuesday night sessions at Woodside in the summer. Next year (or sooner if I can find somewhere to do it) I’m going to do some dedicated no-shoes sessions on the track to focus on form without shoes on. That said, grass isn’t recommended for BF running practice either, as it’s apparently too soft and forgiving!

The whole running world is in a state of flux at the moment and no-one is absolutely sure where the right way forward is right now, only time will tell! With all this talk of barefoot/minimal/natural etc… running it’s also important to note that there is also the opinion that, if it ain’t broke (you’re running that is) don’t try and fix it….  It is true that switching to a more natural (mid or fore foot) style is not without it’s own risks. Most people could continue running in mainstream shoes with no problems/injures. That said I believe there is a lot of mileage in the research into the issues of modern running shoes and personally sit in the ‘transition to a better form’ camp (I’m not advocating we all dump our shoes and never go back!)

From my personal experience of 3 separate running shops locally, they don’t have a clue about this yet really…  I (and many others now) believe the whole shoe selling process is on the whole historically flawed. Due to the likes of Nike marketing cushioned shoes without any research into the effect it would have on human bio-mechanics. Once that took off and the corporate marketing machines got hold, we were on a one way trip to cushy shoes you don’t have to think about running in! The poor shop assistants know no other way and quite rightly will be fearful of any comeback if they start selling minimal shoes to people with no experience of them. They will sell you what they think they should sell you based on the traditional formula, which is a pair of shoes to provide lots of cushioning for your heel (because you land on it all the time) and to control your foot pronation (despite it being the natural way your foot absorbs shock).

I’m very interested to see if I can ultimately successfully incorporate better form into my running (ie maintain my speed, or even improve it), or whether it will remain a parallel running hobby that I do for the shear enjoyment. I ran several barefoot lengths of Harlyn Bay, Cornwall at low tide in the summer (on the solid sand) and it was quite possibly the best running experience I’ve ever had, with the sun out and the water lapping at my feet :-)

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