Monday, 13 June 2011

Barefoot running: flying free

Shortly after I completed Ironman Lake Placid two years ago I stumbled across the Newton Shoes online. My first impression on the shoes was "man who on earth would run in those things?" I started to float through their site to see what the deal was with the lugs on the shoes, and quickly became fascinated with the concept behind a forefoot/midfoot running style. The more that I read, the more plausible it sounded. So I shelled out and ordered a pair of the shoes. It took a while for them to arrive, but when they did I was really excited. Sadly (but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise) the shoes did not work well at all over anything but dry concrete and it was already late fall.

As with anyone who trys to go from heel striking to a forefoot gait, I was experiencing sore calves and achilles. As the lousy weather had arrived I decided that the best thing for me to do would be to strengthen my legs so that when the summer arrived I'd be ready. Then one frosty January day something amazing happened. I was at the gym working out and decided to run some laps of the indoor track. At the time I was wearing some Brooks T6 racers and was motoring through a couple laps. As I was trying to find a rythym I was struck by the thought that if the Newtons try to get you running similar to a barefoot style, what better way to train for the Newtons than to run barefoot? I pulled off the track and pulled off my shoes and socks and glanced furtively around. Was I going to get kicked out for this?

Slowly I started out around the track, with the passing of each lap I kept getting faster and faster. I'd never imagined that it could be so fun to run barefoot. I ran for as long as I dared. Everyone in the gym was staring at me like I was running laps in a Tutu while playing a Tuba. I was having a blast, so they could stare at me all they wanted. The final lap I took at a flat out sprint, smiling the entire way and completely giddy at how much fun I was having, who knew that running hamster laps around a track would be so fun?

Every time I went to they gym after that I would run barefoot around the track, sloooowly building my time up. My first run was probably no more than 5 minutes and over the next winter months I'd worked up to runs of 35-40 minutes. Sadly when the spring came I found that the Newtons didn't work for me. I experienced lateral knee pain on my runs. Disheartened but not beaten I found the Vibram Five Fingers on-line and promptly went out and bought myself a pair. No more knee pain, and I could run with the energy and playfulness of a five year old. Every since then I've been a dedicated barefoot or "minimalist" runner. My reason? It's sheer fun and enjoyable in an "I'm a kid again without a care in the world" kinda way.

Since then I've read the research on barefoot running, biomechanics of running and such forth and firmly feel (on an intellectual and practical level) that barefoot or "minimalist" running is critical to helping keep runners injury free and running the way that maximizes the potential of our bodies.

Ultimately run because you love it, and it will take you to places beyond your dreams.

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