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Barefoot Running

  • Thursday, May 27 2010 @ 08:10 PM UTC
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Running and Fitness

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The spare tire around my middle has expanded to a maximum allowable level! After a multi-year hiatus, I started running again a few weeks ago. I really want to keep it going and make it a regular activity. I used an old pair of Nike running shoes, which were fine except being just a little broken down. After the first few runs they started wheezing due to an apparent pop of the air chamber, so I decided to buy some new running shoes.

On Saturday I tried on a bunch of shoes at one of the local sports stores and found a pair that felt good... nice and soft with lots of cushion... they way shoes are supposed to feel, right? I came home, went for a run, and within 5 minutes had terrible pain in my calves and feet. The pain continued and was so bad that I had to ice my feet and calves later that evening. This is exactly the opposite of my expectation for a "shiny new shoes" experience.

I started doing research on the Internet, trying to figure out what kind of shoe I should buy, thinking that the pain *must* be due to my choosing the wrong kind of shoe for my foot. I have a high arch and think I have a tendency to over-pronate. The shoes I had purchased were supposed to be ok for this. I became discouraged. However, during my research I stumbled onto some barefoot running sites. The concept of mid-foot strike rather than heel strike really clicked with me. I tested this in the back yard, running around barefooted and had no pain whatsoever. The fact that native peoples have been running long distances barefoot or in minimalist footwear for thousands of years also struck me as significant (see the sites below for lots of information and references).

I returned the big cushioned running shoes in favor the Nike Free Run+. These were the only "barefoot" shoe available at our local sports store (I was eager to get running again and was not ready to go completely shoe-free).

On Tuesday I started alternating between running barefoot and shod with the Nike Free Run+. These shoes are very light, easy to carry, and do not require socks so I can just stop and slip them on if needed. They do feel like they have arch support, which I think my feet appreciate until the foot muscles get stronger. Here is a picture of my Nike Free Run+ shoes:

I am trying to maintain the barefoot running style (mid-foot strike) and cadence even when wearing the shoes. The first thing I discovered is that my cardiovascular system ran out long before my legs and feet got tired. Two days later, my calves are still sore, but this is the "muscle fatigue" that I expect from increased running intensity, not the "pain" of an injury. I'm letting everything rest and recover before running again.

I heard later that the Vibram FiveFingers shoes are available at the Mall in the Birkenstock store, and at least one of my local geek friends owns a pair (and likes them for cold weather). When my pair of Nike shoes gets worn out, I'll probably try the shoes from Newton Running, Vibram, or Terra Plana. Newton Running shoes are designed to encourage the mid-foot strike rather than a heel strike. The Vibram FiveFingers shoes are the ones that look like gloves for your feet. Terra Plana makes the VIVO Barefoot shoe that has a thin kevlar sole.


NY Times interviews Christopher McDougall (video) (author of "Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen")
Barefoot Ted talk at Google (video)

Barefoot Running Sites:

Barefoot Ted's Adventures
The Running Barefoot
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