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Do I Run Barefoot?....by Bob Nicol
Have you ever run down the streets of
Winnipeg and or driving in your car and you look over and or down and you see this guy running happily along with no shoes? Were you concerned that a mental patient has escaped the local psyche ward and was currently heading to your neighborhood or if that poor sole was robbed of his shoes and he had no other way to get home? If you have ever thought either of those, then you have probably seen either myself or one of the other growing number of local runners who are shedding their foot coverings for a more natural running style and hopefully a more enjoyable and healthy experience.
Since I started this journey 18 months ago, I have been asked numerous times why I run this way. Well, there is no real simple answer to that question as there are many reasons why I lost the shoes and prefer to hit the trails with my soles bared to the world. Some reasons are typical of the average barefoot runner some are my personal ones that I am willing to share so you can have a perspective from my point of view.
The following are some of the reasons the average barefoot runner notes:
The most common for a lot of runners is injury prevention: This may seem a little strange but I can tell you from my own personal experience, other than a pulled groin due to a barefoot ultra trail run last year I have been injury free. Sure I have had some bumps and bruises from experimenting with longer distances and different terrain types, but for the most part nothing has kept me from amassing well over 1,000 km barefoot since mid April of this year. My explanation for this is as follows, your feet are one of the strongest parts of your body (think about the weight they have to carry around all day), and they were designed to be used not coddled in a pair of over padded shoes. Now I must also note this with a big disclaimer, you cannot just take the shoes off and assume you can run like you do with shoes. Just like when you are developing any other part of your body or if you try a new sport, you have to learn how to do it right. Can you put on a pair of skates and just start skating like a pro, not likely, baby steps - you have to learn how to walk before you can run.
A strong and healthy body: The majority of shod runners are not utilizing their feet to their full potential. It is my belief and many others share as well, that your feet were designed as shock absorbers and if used properly they distribute the force of your foot landing on the ground to your entire lower body not just isolated locations like your knees or hips. This allows you to run longer with less effort and in my books more enjoyment.
Enjoyment of the Run Experience: I have not met an individu- al yet who has seriously tried barefoot or minimalistic running who has not enjoyed the experience. It is hard to explain, but the freedom you feel and the sensations that your feet partake in are absolutely exhilarating. The biggest issue that I hear about after that initial experience is they felt so good and were enjoying the run so much they didn’t want to stop. This of course is not a good idea, once again baby steps, Too Much Too Soon (TMTS) is an acronym that I use a lot and it is a very important one. You have to build up slowly.
A couple of personal reasons why I run the way I do:
I started running about 2 years ago, and like most I was using a pair of running shoes. I found that I was only able to go for about a mile before my knees started to ache (I have had seven procedures on my left knee due to various medical issues) and I was not having any fun. That was when my wife, as a suggestion, bought me a pair of $7.00 water shoes and told me to go for a run. I was surprised, it felt more natural, my stride turned into a midfoot strike, my step got lighter, and the biggest shocker no pain. I got home and started doing some research and low and behold I was not the only one who had discovered this, there was a whole forum on the internet specifically geared to this type of running called The Barefoot Runners Society (www.barefootrunner.org ). I was intrigued so I started experimenting and off came the shoes, and the rest is history.
To Be One With Nature: this one may seem a little silly to some, but there is no other way to explain it. When I run barefoot, I just seem to go into this zone, I notice things that I normally don’t, and every sensation just seems to pop. To me going out for a run, every run is an experience and an adventure, be- cause you just don’t know what will be laid out in front of you.
I like the attention, I never would have said this a couple of years ago, I was happy to be in the background going about my business more of an observer than out front and centre type of guy. But I will admit I enjoy when people come up to me and start asking me questions, or make comments about my running style. Have you ever had random strangers take pictures of you as you run by, or stop you for a picture, it is an odd feeling but kind of fun all the same. I am a firm believer that this is the right way to go, and if someone is interested I will share my experiences and knowledge with anyone who wants to know more. On the other hand, I will not force my opinion on anyone, because this is a choice and I believe everybody has the right to choose what is best for them.
I like the challenge to see exactly how far I push the limits and to see exactly what the foot is capable of doing. So far I can tell you this, I have finished two marathons (including the Manitoba and Bismarck Marathons), ran the Treherne Half Marathon (about 12 miles of good gravel road) completed a 50km Trail Ultra Marathon and ran sporadically through the winter last year including a 2km jaunt at -29 degrees C. It’s amazing what the foot can do, and I believe we are just tapping the surface of the full potential that is available to us.
As I noted above there are a lot of great resources out there to learn more about Barefoot and Minimalistic Running, including the Barefoot Running Society, The Barefoot Running University, The Run Smiley Collective and so on. There are also some great books that can be used to start you on your path to enlightenment. You can also follow my adventures and experiences on our blog at www.winnipegbarefootrunners.blogspot.com. The most important piece of advice that I can give to someone who wants to try it out is to ‘Go Slow and Easy’, you will not want to miss a step. OTR
Published in the November, 2011 Issue of On The Run