In January 2010 I read ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall (http://borntorun.org/) and it made me reassess everything I thought I knew about running. More importantly, it gave me hope that, if I could slightly change my running style, I might be able to run further and faster than before, with less chance of injury. To me that’s like saying, ‘here’s how to eat chocolate and ice cream without gaining any calories’.
The secret shared in ‘Born to Run’ is that humans are designed to run long distances, and our feet are perfectly engineered to do so without the need for running shoes. The expensive trainers – or, if you’re American, ‘sneakers’ – that cushion our soles and compensate for flat feet or pronation actually increase the risk of injury! Therefore running is a skill that can be improved by running barefoot!
Try running barefoot for yourself. You can’t land heel first because it hurts. But, the thing is, it’s supposed to hurt if you land heel first, because our bodies weren’t designed to land that way. We’re designed to land on the balls of our feet, as this minimises the risk injury. Running shoes, however, allow us to land on our heels, thus increasing our chance of injury.
I love this presentation which neatly summarises the arguements for and against barefoot running:
A word to the wise, delve into the archive of this blog (http://barefootindubai.blogspot.com/2010/04/learning-hard-way.html) and you can learn from the stupid mistakes I made. I tried to do too much too soon and paid the price. After a couple of months I'd broken my sesamoid bone and a metatarsal. I'm not saying don't try running barefoot, rather if you do make sure you start very very slowly. Unless you are some kind of freak, it takes months of walking barefoot before you should even consider trying to run barefoot.
You can learn to learn how to run barefoot, but without cutting your feet, with a more responsive shoe stripped of the cushioning found in regular running shoes. That’s where the Vibram FiveFingers (VFFs in Barefoot geek-speak) come in. They’re very like the painfully unfashionable plimsolls worn during infant school PE lessons, but with the addition of a pocket for each toe… oh, and they cost nearly 100 quid (or around $90 in the US) – and that’s if you can manage to find a stockist in your area. Not just that, but these are becoming so popular that many stockists might not have what you want in your size.