a different kind of free – running barefoot

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Never before in my life have I been excited to run. It was always a necessary evil to stay healthy and in shape and occasionally relieve some stress. Plus, during high school track season it made my ass look great! But lately I’ve been seeing it differently, as I’ve been taking a different approach. And that approach is to hit the pavement barefoot.

It’s a different kind of free. This type of running allows you to experience something you can’t enjoy whilst huffing and puffing along heel-to-toe with typical running shoes, and for the first time in my life I have looked forward to running. I honestly can’t explain WHY I feel this way about barefoot running. I’ve always preferred the hobbit-like lifestyle, but never has it given me this much enjoyment. It’s just…fun.

“it’s science”

But aside from the aesthetics, there’s also a science to it. A running shoe is essentially a cast. The most expensive running shoes that have the most padding and “support” inhibit the natural pronating movement of the foot. For years doctors have said that pronation is a bad thing, that it leads to injuries such as shin splints, plantar fascitis and various knee problems. But a host of recent studies have shown that the running shoe, in fact, could be the true cause of all of our running problems.

Padded, arched running shoes have only been around since Nike’s experiments with a waffle iron and rubber in the 70’s. And since the 70’s, running injuries have increased at an exponential rate. Nowadays, eight out of 10 regular runners get injured every year. As Nike has evolved and come to realize this…well, check out one of their most recent commercials:

born to run

I recently finished the book Born to Run. It’s about an adventuring journalist’s voyage to simply discover why his foot hurt when he ran. Throughout the novel, you follow his journey to discover a hidden tribe of superathletes in Mexico, meet and befriend a host of eccentric ultrarunners, and learn from some of the world’s best scientists, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists. His ultimate conclusion is that homo sapiens were literally born to run.

We evolved that way for a reason – by shodding our feet in padded running shoes, we’ve taken a step back in the evolutionary process. One of the best lines in the book refers to the fact that supporting your arch is inherently wrong – why would you put a support under an arch? It only weakens the structure. If you let the arch stand alone with no support, it is more architecturally sound.

Now it definitely takes some getting used to, that’s for sure. For the past few days my foot has been wrapped to pad the blisters that have begun to populate the soles of my feet…but they’re getting tougher. More calluses are already forming and my calves are consistently sore as my muscles grow.

Bottom line: Barefoot running is an exhilarating experience and one that will hopefully last 26.2 miles this fall for me and my brother.

Here’s a nice wrap-up video about barefoot running (and I strongly recommend you purchase Born to Run – it’s one of them life-changing books folks keep talking about):

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5 Responses to “a different kind of free – running barefoot”

  1. Greg Strosaker Says:

    It will be interesting to follow along on your journey Jeff. I have been fortunate enough in many years of running to never be injured, seemingly regardless of which shoes I use. I am not at this point considering the barefoot, or even minimalist, approach, but have shifted from shoes that provide some stability (like the Asics GEL-1150’s) to more neutral shows (Mizuno Wave Riders), and hope to take another step towards performance racers or trainers (like the Brooks Launch). I wrote a post for Runblogger on my recent shoe-shopping experience at http://www.runblogger.com/2010/07/shifting-into-neutral-novice-shoe.html

  2. Christina C. Says:

    Fascinating!!! I’m inspired… but maybe with the booty shoe…

  3. koskim Says:

    It seems like for the past few months I’ve been nothing BUT injured on and off. Not sure if I’m ready to go and try the barefoot route yet, but I look forward to following your progress! AND I’ll finally add Born to Run to my list of “To Read.”

    • jeffhirz Says:

      Melissa,

      Yeah, the barefoot route is basically cutting right to the core of the forefoot strike. I like it so much because it also lets me FEEL how I run. But there are plenty of minimalistic shoes out there that can provide the same benefits. A nice blog to check out (which you may already know of) is http://www.runblogger.com/. He has a lot of nice posts on different types of shoes and styles of running that can help prevent injury. Greg Strosaker (commented above) has his own recent addition to that blog: http://www.runblogger.com/2010/07/shifting-into-neutral-novice-shoe.html

      Good luck with your injuries!

      Jeff

  4. underscheduling my life « livin' like a freebird Says:

    […] myself and laid off for a while. This frustrated me immensely, because when I finally feel a flare of passion for running I come up with a running injury instead of a barefoot half-marathon. Instead of beating myself up […]

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