If you do not know it, I love running. I swear by running to keep me in shape and to give me mental and physical power to keep up with my twin toddlers. If you are not sure why running is so great, go ahead and check out these benefits of running. I am sure that you will be ready to lace up your sneakers by the time you are finished with the article (or maybe leave them resting peacefully in your closet while you are trying barefoot running?)
I am not the first one to write about barefoot running. Before I try something I make sure that there is enough evidence that this “something” won’t hurt me (you can tell that I am not the most adventurous person in this sense.) Anyway, if you are a runner (or even a walker) then I want to tell you about my experience with barefoot running. I hope that it will help you make up your own mind about barefoot running and barefoot running shoes.
The first time I heard about barefoot running I said to myself “It sounds great, but not for a gal with pedicured feet who would have to run on asphalt.” However, I never say that something is bad or not worth trying until I try it myself.
One day (about 2 months ago actually) I decided to add a small barefoot lap after my regular 2-mile run. The asphalt was not hot; it actually felt very nice under my feet. I was not wearing any barefoot running shoes, I was barefoot 100%. I first started walking fast and I felt every little grain of the asphalt under my feet. It felt like a reflexology massage so I have decided to try running. I must admit it felt weird for the first few strides but then I started to totally enjoy it.
I had this feeling of freedom and power that was energizing and exciting at the same time. Well, at least for the next quarter of a mile. You see, I was planning to run/walk a half-a-mile lap. Right in the middle of that lap I felt my feet starting to hurt. All of a sudden every single grain of asphalt turned from a SPA-like pleasure into a sharp knife. Have you ever read the original Little Mermaid fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen? In the non-Disney version the poor Little Mermaid felt the pain of a thousand knives piercing her feet every time she made a step. I felt almost like the Little Mermaid that day.
I hobbled my way home counting every step that I had to make. My feet haven’t hurt so much even after I walked an entire evening in 5 inch heels! When I finally set down I saw huge blisters all over my feet and for the next two days I could hardly walk.
This was my first experience with barefoot running. However, I was not ready to give up.
A few weeks later I came across an interesting website that was selling barefoot running shoes – Soft Star Shoes. These shoes are made with the same high-quality rubber as the famous Vibram FiveFingers. I contacted the company wondering if they would be interested in a review of their shoes on Balance In Me (which I am doing right now.) They agreed to send me a pair of their shoes and I was excited to try barefoot running again.
When I got the shoes I was a little bit surprised. Let’s say that wearing these shoes is a pretty bold fashion statement but it could not stop me. I messed up with the size a little bit (the shoes fit my husband better than me) so my hubby was the first one to try them out. He was pretty skeptical at first and he wore them only to help me (I do not know how I deserved such a wonderful husband ) When he got back from the run he was hooked.
The next day I tried the Soft Star shoes and … WOW. I ran only one lap (again) but I didn’t feel any pain in my feet. I had the same feeling of freedom and power but no pain afterwards. Here is a quick list of benefits of barefoot running that got me hooked on it:
- No more knee pain. I twisted my knee a long time ago and I felt a mild pain in it every time I went running. I do not know why but barefoot running does not aggravate that pain anymore. According to this research running shoes can be the cause of most running- related injuries.
- Better running form. I have always been a mid-foot runner (landing on the mid foot as opposed to the heel strike) but I’ve also been an overpronator. While running barefoot (or in barefoot shoes) I noticed that I do not overpronate anymore (no more ankle discomfort for me). Hooray!
If you are a heel-striker (like most people who grew up wearing shoes) then you will have to learn a new way of running – mid foot running. It is a safer and more efficient way of running. (Read here Why Do Different Foot Strikes Matter?) After all this is how our ancestors ran for thousands of years.
- Strengthen your feet and lower legs. Barefoot running does an amazing job at strengthening muscles that you never knew existed in your body. When you have strong foot and leg muscles you will enjoy better balance and reduce the risks of injury.
- Barefoot shoes are comfortable. The first time you put on barefoot running shoes you will probably feel weird but soon you will realize how surprisingly comfortable they are. Soft Star Shoes are a great option for everyone who is not willing to wear gloves on their feet (I am talking about Five-Fingers here.) I love how simple they are. They protect my feet from everything I can step on or in but I still feel the freedom of barefoot running. If you consider buying Soft Star shoes, check out their RunAmoc series designed especially for runners. I have shoes with a 2 mm sole and they work great for asphalt and for trails (I do not run in rocky areas though.)
- Longer and faster runs. Maybe it is the excitement of a new running technique, or the freedom I was talking about earlier but I can run longer and faster in barefoot shoes.
- It is natural. Barefoot running is a natural way for humans to run (after all we are not born with shoes on our feet.) I often watch my toddlers run outside or around the house – they do not need to wear shoes to do that. They just take off and they naturally maintain correct posture and they land on their midfoot. This is how we are meant to run. Check out Born to Run by Christopher McDougall to learn more about the philosophy of barefoot running.
- It is a fun run. After running for many years in running shoes I was happy to ditch them (even though I just bought a new pair before I started barefoot running.) Barefoot running is more fun to me right now because I get to experience a new feeling and use different muscles. Even if you are not ready to ditch your running shoes completely, think about adding an extra lap or mile with no shoes on. It will help you reinvent your passion for running and work a different group of muscles.
If you decide to try barefoot running do not make my mistake:
- Start in barefoot running shoes (like Soft Star shoes that you can order on their website. Just make sure to measure your foot properly) even if you want to run completely barefoot later on.
- Walk around the house barefoot all the time.
- Start small. Foot pain is sneaky: one minute you are feeling great – the next minute you cannot walk. It is better to underestimate your strength in this case then hobble around for a week.
I feel that barefoot running is a part of balanced living because it teaches you to use your body efficiently and it forces you to learn how your body works. Even if you are not a runner, you can still walk barefoot. It is very calming and balancing in my opinion. Barefoot activities bring you closer to nature which is the best example of balance that you can get.
Keep it balanced!