6 things you need to know about barefoot running

Nearly six years ago, we were heading for New Zealand on our honeymoon. With a couple of hours to kill at the airport, I realised I hadn’t brought a book. After a quick glance around the airport bookshop, I grabbed a copy of Christopher Mcdougall’s Born to Run. To this day it is by some distance the best book I’ve ever read. It was also my introduction to barefoot running. Since then, I’ve been reading about the concept of barefoot running and even dabbling in it myself. So here are 6 things you need to know about barefoot running and why I love it.

So you're trying to avoid injury as a runner. Here are 6 things you need to know about barefoot running. It's not a quick route to injury but if done correctly, throwing off your shoes or grabbing a barefoot style pair can be the solution to all your running problems. Find out why running is brilliant for mental and physical health as well as fitness and why we really were born to run.

 

1. It’s not what you think!

I know, barefoot running – it sounds a bit odd. The risks are obvious. Running into dog poo, stepping on glass, stubbing a toe on the pavement and ending up injured. But here’s the thing – barefoot running doesn’t actually mean running without shoes. The name refers to the way you run, not what’s on your feet. It is entirely possible to have a barefoot running style whilst wearing shoes – as long as you pick the right shoes.

2. Barefoot running is about preventing injury

The author of Born to Run, Christopher McDougall, has an interesting discussion on barefoot running on his website. It focusses on the fact that running injuries are in fact a relatively new concept. And yet our ancestors evolved to run. We have always been runners, so why have we only recently started to get injured?

Well McDougall thinks it’s all down to what we’re wearing on our feet. In fact, he asserts that there is no data available at all about running injuries before the development of the modern running shoe in the 1970s. He refers to the Tamahumara tribe and the fact that they run upwards of 150 miles at a time on stony tracks. They run it all in sandals with no cushioning or support, and they don’t get injured. There are tales of 95 year old men easily running 30 miles up and down the face of the Copper Canyon.

The general consensus among barefoot advocates is that high-tech running shoes cause injury. They are compensating for deficiencies in our feet and legs. Deficiencies that are in fact non-existent. Which is exactly what causes us to get injured. The unnecessary cushioning and support causes the very injuries we are so afraid of. Because they prevent us from running in the way we were designed to run.

So you're trying to avoid injury as a runner. Here are 6 things you need to know about barefoot running. It's not a quick route to injury but if done correctly, throwing off your shoes or grabbing a barefoot style pair can be the solution to all your running problems. Find out why running is brilliant for mental and physical health as well as fitness and why we really were born to run.

3. To avoid injury you need to run gently

Advocates for barefoot running say that cushioned running shoes are altering the way we run. Instead of carefully placing our feet down, the shoes are causing us to run more carelessly. By taking off our shoes or removing the extra support and cushioning, we go back to a natural forefoot or mid-foot strike. This is in contrast to the heel strike that is more common among runners in modern shoes. Hence, the barefoot running style doesn’t require you to go completely without shoes.

4. The best modern trainers replicate barefoot running

So contrary to popular belief, we don’t have to go completely barefoot or go back to basic sandals to avoid injury. In fact, I’m currently running in a pair of Nike Free Run Women’s Running Shoes. They are incredibly light and comfortable. The heel is rounded to ensure that you run naturally. And when I ran in them, I found them so comfortable that I didn’t want to take them off. It’s like walking or running in bare feet, but with the protection of shoes. These are not the first pair of barefoot shoes I’ve had, and I’ve never had an injury whilst running in barefoot shoes.

So you're trying to avoid injury as a runner. Here are 6 things you need to know about barefoot running. It's not a quick route to injury but if done correctly, throwing off your shoes or grabbing a barefoot style pair can be the solution to all your running problems. Find out why running is brilliant for mental and physical health as well as fitness and why we really were born to run.

5. Take it slowly

There is lots of research to show that barefoot running shoes are the future for injury-free running. However, it’s important not to rush into it. If you have spent years running in expensive trainers, your running style will have adapted accordingly. And the barefoot runners swear by the fact that running fast and injury free is all about technique, not shoes.

The ideal way to run is to land on the front or middle of your foot. The heel then lands gradually in a controlled manner. This way, there is very little impact on the foot, even on hard surfaces. But more importantly, there is minimal impact on the ankle, shins, knees, hips and back. So the injuries you’ve been worrying about simply won’t happen.

But until you learn to run naturally, using barefoot shoes could be damaging. You’ll need to start by walking barefoot for short distances. You gradually build up speed and distance until eventually, barefoot running just feels right. There are lots of useful resources on barefoot running, and I like this basic beginner’s guide.

6. Get inspired

Most of all, I would advise getting inspired to run. Go out and buy Born to Run. Read about barefoot running, chat to people who do it if you can. Get inspired to kick off your shoes or find a minimalist pair to suit you. Understand that many of the physical and mental ailments that humans suffer from in modern times are due to our lack of exercise. Because we really were born to run. And inactivity is our worst enemy.

So you're trying to avoid injury as a runner. Here are 6 things you need to know about barefoot running. It's not a quick route to injury but if done correctly, throwing off your shoes or grabbing a barefoot style pair can be the solution to all your running problems. Find out why running is brilliant for mental and physical health as well as fitness and why we really were born to run.

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Please note, I was sent a pair of Nike Free running shoes to allow me to feature them in my blog post. This post contains amazon affiliate links. All views, opinions and running inspiration are my own.

8 Comments

  1. May 13, 2017 / 8:48 am

    This is so interesting Nat. It’s changed the way I think about running. I over pronate & have very supportive trainers but it doesn’t feel quite right. I did one run on the beach totally barefoot & it felt very different. I couldn’t walk the next day though as my calf muscles ached so much, obviously not used to the style!!xx

  2. May 14, 2017 / 7:16 am

    This is really interesting! I’d heard of barefoot running, but didn’t really know what it was. I have a long-term injury, which isn’t bothering me at the moment, but I’m pretty sure it will come back to haunt me as soon as I start increasing my distances for my half marathon. It sounds like I should look into barefoot running a bit further to see if it could help me.
    Sarah MumofThree World recently posted…Silent Sunday 14.5.17My Profile

  3. May 15, 2017 / 10:04 pm

    On BBC iPlayer there is a documentary about Mexico. The first episode includes a fascinating piece about a group of people living high in the mountains who are amazing marathon winning runners – the piece follows kids taking part in a 3 mile race. These astonishing high altitude runners wear traditional sandals to run over immense distances, playing a game involving a stick and hoop as they run. I think you would love it if you get a chance to watch a bit of tv soon (I watched it with the boys today as we were all wiped out after swimming, rolling down hills and a countryside walk yesterday)
    Maz Hopwood recently posted…Carbon nanotubes for kidsMy Profile

  4. May 15, 2017 / 10:29 pm

    I have a bad knee that likes to pop out and I was told this was the best way for me to run. I just need to find the motivation to do it! X

  5. May 16, 2017 / 3:55 pm

    Hi Nat, I found this very interesting. I have read about barefoot running and understand that it’s meant to reduce the risk of injury, but I do worry about strain and stress on the calf muscles and Achilles tendon, both are my problem areas. I have a feeling I’ll be reading Born To Run sometime soon!

    xx
    Debbie recently posted…Monday Morning Blog Club 15/05/17My Profile

  6. May 16, 2017 / 10:42 pm

    So interesting to read this. I’ve started running again this year (in trainers) and have had to keep stopping because of injuring myself. When I last did any running (before I became pregnant with Jessica) I had a pair of barefoot running shoes and they were incredibly comfortable to run in. My feet have grown since then and they no longer fit but it makes me think that perhaps I should get myself a new pair and try it again.

    • monsterid May 18, 2017 / 6:32 am

      Ahh that’s so interesting! I find that the barefoot trainers are the most comfortable and have never had an injury from them.
      Nat.x

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