Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Put your best (Bare) foot forward

It started with a book.

About a year ago (over Christmas Break, in fact), I read the book Born To Run by Christopher McDougall.  An amazing story in which the author chronicles the life of the Tarahumara tribe, who live the mountains of Mexico.  But that's really too simplistic.

The book actually talks about the human race, and basically, well that we are "Born to Run".  In looking at a number of different scientists research McDougall basically comes to the conclusion that we are naturally made, by evolution, to be able to run long distances.

Which leads to the shoe issue.  Or no shoe issue.  Or lack of shoes issue.  Whatever you would like to call it.  McDougall studies how the Tarahumara ran amazing distances, in basically what you and I would considered to be home made flip flops.  He spends quite a bit of time on the subject.

In the past few years, there has been what has been called a "barefoot revolution".   Numerous books have been published about it. And dozens of websites, are devoted to running shoeless, or natural.  Probably the most informational of the sites is from Harvard University.

Basically, the arguement is that by wearing big, fancy, cushioned, running shoes... we are training ourselves to run incorrectly.  And that because of the fact we are running incorrectly, this is causing the multitude of running related injuries we see today. 

It's a very interesting and radical idea.  Instead of running on our "forefoot" like our bodies intended, we developed shoes that made us become "heel strikers".  The evidence is pretty compelling.

So, I got fired up.  I mean, I was going to totally change my ways... it was winter, I was running almost exlusively indoors on the treadmill anyway... why not try some barefoot running?  Three miles sounded like a simple little run, so I did a 3 mile run barefoot on the treadmill.  Big Mistake.

My calves hurt for a solid week.  I had some "hot spots" on my feet from the belt.  This wasn't heaven, this was painful.  A quick investigation online, and i find out you are supposed to break into barefoot running "gradually".  Good thing I was so prepared.

So I went online and bought a pair of racing flats.  I tried to do half of my runs in those, and half of my runs in my normal training shoes.  I started out doing a quarter of a mile (in socks, this time) barefoot on treadmill.  I slowly added a quarter of a mile a week... each week until I got up to about half a mile each run.  I suffered no setbacks, but was unable to continue once I started running outside.

I thought about buying a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, but I just couldn't force myself to spend that much money (about $100) to "slowly break into it".  I was running outside, didn't want to go a mile, and then change back into regular shoes.

However, I'm now on my "midwinter break".  (I'm taking November off this year, instead of December.  Getting an early start on the "new year".)  I've been thinking about giving it another go.  I've been looking at a few pairs of "barefoot style" shoes.  The Altra Zero Drops look intriguing to me, so I'm going to give them a try.  They seem like a good shoe to "transition" into this style of running.

Maybe I'll blog about how it's going, maybe I won't.  I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has experience with "barefoot running", and what you think of it.  Great things, horror stories, whatever... I'd like to hear from you.

Either way, I highly recommend the book, and look forward to putting some miles in this winter in my Altra's.

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