Barefoot Running

For a while, I’ve been wanting to complement my biking with an additional form of exercise.  Many moons ago, I used to do a lot of running, but I gave it up a few years ago when I started commuting by bike regularly.  When I ran, I ran in heavily padded running shoes.  I would consistently overstride, my feet struck the ground heel-first, and I was always getting various nagging running injuries.  Some of my runs were good, some were bad, but in general, I didn’t enjoy it all that much.

Flash forward to 2012, and I’m giving running another chance, except this time I’m trying “minimalist” running.  The past couple of years, we’ve spent a week at the beach each Spring, and each year I’ve done a little bit of barefoot running on the beach.  I enjoyed it enough that figured eventually, I’d give it a shot on a more regular basis.  It’s a totally different running motion than the long-stride, heel-strike motion that I used in the past, so over the last month or so, I’ve been easing into it slowly, and I figure I’ll still be easing into it for a good while yet.

There are any number of good resources for barefoot/minimalist running on the web, so rather than regurgitating info easily found elsewhere, I figured I’d write a bit about my own personal experience with it.  In early June, I picked up a pair of Vibram FiveFingers (VFF) shoes, and wore them for my first few runs.  I subsequently read that the best way to get the running motion down, at least initially, is to run completely barefoot (Vibram themselves recommend this) so my past couple of runs, I’ve done barefoot.

First time out:  ran about ¼ mile in the VFFs.  Not quite sure about the running motion.  Started out briefly heel striking, but corrected that pretty quickly.  Ran most of the way on the balls of my feet.  Long stride.  Calves pretty sore the next couple of days.

Second time out:  ran another ¼ mile, mainly on the balls of my feet again, without touching the heels.  Still overstriding.  Calves sore for about 5 days afterward, so much so that it was hard to walk, and going down stairs was excruciating.

Third and Forth times out:  Still in the VFFs.  Figured out that I need to touch my heels with each step to unload the calves.  Corrected that bit, but still overstriding, and under the impression that I need to use the calf muscle to propel myself forward.  In spite of this, my calves were much happier following this run, but my feet were starting to get a little sore after runs (muscle/tissue soreness, not skin).

Fifth and Sixth days out:  Mileage up to around 1 to 1½ miles/run.  Ran barefoot for the first time.  A bit apprehensive at first.  Running surface is primarily smooth sidewalks with a few street crossings and a few rough spots.  Finally stopped overstriding, and increased my cadence to around 180 steps per minute.  Running motion feels very comfortable.  Calves are happy and foot muscle soreness is diminishing.  Only problem is a bit of blistering and abrasion on my soles from running on the rough concrete.  I’m sure this will improve over time, and I can fall back on the VFFs whenever it becomes a problem.

My goal for the summer is to get my distance up to around 2 miles per run, and my longer term goal is to work up to 5K and 10K distances.  If I’m able to keep it up, and not injure myself, I could see doing 5K in 6 months or so, and 10K after maybe a year.