Well, it’s been a year since I started running with little or no shoes on. What have I learned? Well, I’ll start with some stats…
- Miles run in 1 year = 404.25 (ish)
- Miles run in minimal shoes/sandals in 1 year = 319.6 (ish)
- Miles run barefoot in 1 year = 84.65 (ish)
I never kept records of how far I ran when I wore ‘real’ trainers so I can’t give any figures, but believe me, this is far, far further than I’ve run before in a year, even though most of the mileage has come in the last 3 or 4 months.
- Running shoes owned before beginning my transition = a pair of Brooks.
- Running shoes owned after my transition = Luna sandals, 2 pairs Soft Star RunAmocs (1 original, 1 lite), Soft Star Moc3s, Vivobarefoot Evos.
So minimalist running doesn’t mean minimalist in terms of pairs of shoes… Having said that, I don’t like my Evos and will probably get rid of them soon (charity shop, most likely). I love my Lunas and Soft Stars, but they all suck in the mud. I either need something with more grip (Soft Stars with a trail sole, maybe, or a pair of Vivobarefoot Breatho Trails) for running in the wet on trails, or I need to stick to road running when it’s really muddy on the trails. We’ll see. So what have I learned from this? You really need to shop around to find a shoe that suits you, and meets your own personal compromise between groundfeel/weight/airflow and protection/traction. It might take a while!
- Injuries that stopped me running this year = 2.
The first injury was just bad luck. That was when I messed up my toe on the camping holiday. That really sucked, because I felt like I was getting somewhere with my running. What made it worse was I was in a conference in London the day after it happened, so had to travel from the campsite back to Bristol, then on to London and spend a lot of time on my feet for a couple of days with a bloody, extremely painful toe. Trying to find somewhere clean enough to change bloody dressings in a central London YHA is not an easy task…
The second injury was bad judgement. I shouldn’t have been thinking of speedwork so early in my transition and I paid the price. Now, after a year, I think I’m ready to start including some fartleks into my long slow runs in preparation for the half marathon at the end of next month. I was just trying to do too much, too soon, and didn’t listen to what my body was trying to tell me. I paid the price when my achilles went ‘ping’, but thankfully (touch wood), it’s pretty much better now. In a very strange way, the injury might have done me a favour. After I came back, forefoot/midfoot running was just so natural to me I never began to heelstrike again, which was something that used to creep back into my running form occasionally, especially when tired. Now, I’m a natural midfoot lander rather than a heel striker.
- State of my feet before transition = soft, pale, inflexible, weak.
- State of my feet now = tough, tanned, flexible and strong.
I really wish I’d taken a photo of my feet before I began my transition. Strangely, my feet are now between half a size to a full size shorter, but very much wider than they were. It’s really weird. It’s also really difficult to find shoes that fit. I don’t think my feet are any less sensitive than they were, but I can better distinguish between sensations, if that makes sense. Not everything is coming through as pain. I can run on gravel and think “that’s a nice massage!”, rather than “owowowowowowowow!!!”. I’ve learned how to interpret the signals my nerves are sending up my legs from my feet better, so I can recognise what actually hurts, and what is just uncomfortable and what is invigorating. That probably sounds stupid, but I can’t really explain it any better.
Have their been other benefits to barefoot running (although I’m not sure that short, fat feet count as a benefit…)?
- My balance has improved a huge amount. I had rubbish balance before, and I think the stronger feet, ankles and lower legs that barefoot/minimalist running has given me been hugely benficial. Also the better awareness of how your weight is distributed because you actually feel how your feet interact with the ground helps a lot.
- I really enjoy running again now. It was very much a chore before. I remember reading a book by someone who wrote for Runner’s World or something like that, he said his favourite part of running was the end, because he could stop. I was very much in agreement with him. But now, I just love it. The lower impact, the higher sensory feedback, the sheer fun of running with sandals or nothing on your feet makesit so much more enjoyable. I look forward to running now, whereas before it was a struggle to get out the door sometimes.
- I’m more confident. That might sound stupid, but there’s nothing better for your confidence than to do something that other people think is weird, or stupid, or unachievable and realise that you just don’t care what they think. Also, this is probably a result of the mileage I’m doing. If anyone laughs at me, or thinks I’m daft for my choice of footwear, I can think to myself, “fine, but you probably couldn’t run 15 miles, or cover 36 miles in a week, no matter what you wear on your feet!”
- Far fewer injuries than normal. In a usual year of running in trainers, I’d have had numerous sprained ankles, sore knees, really bad blisters, back pain and other stuff that would have stopped me running. Like I said earlier, I’ve only had two injuries that stopped me running in a year. One was bad luck and the other was bad judgement. Now, I know my body well enough to think (hope?!) that the bad judgement injuries will be a thing of the past. Bad luck, on the other hand, I can’t do anything about. My dad has had 3 knee surgeries after running in trainers for 30 years. He can’t even run on a treadmill now. I don’t want that to happen to me, and hopefully this way of running will help with that.
Finally, any top tips for people beginning their transition?
- Take it slowly! The mileage and speed will come! Don’t push, use the first few weeks/months to get to know your body, know your limits. Don’t push beyond them because you will hurt yourself. It took me around 3 to 4 months to get to the stage where I could more or less forget about TOFP and other too much too soon injuries and really increase the mileage without getting hurt. It was frustrating at times, yes. But now I can just get up and go out the door for a 15 miler without any problems. That’s well worth 4 months of patience.
- For me, transition was all or nothing. If I wear shoes, I wear minimalist shoes. That goes for everything, from playing frisbee or football to going to a funeral. If I’m at home or at work, I’m barefoot. If I’m outside, I’m either barefoot or in minimalist shoes or sandals. I don’t think I could just be a barefoot runner, it’s something I do all the time now. I think that’s played a huge part in being able to ramp up the mileage over the last few months and being able to be comfortable over the really long runs with no padding or cushioning. I’m not saying that you have to do the same, but it can only help.
- Get one of those spikey massage balls and roll it under your (bare) feet while you’re sitting down. I do this at work and I’m sure it’s helped with conditioning my soles and helping me to learn not to interpret all sensation from my feet as pain.
Finally, I’ve really enjoyed this transition to becoming a minimalist/barefoot runner. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about my body and about what I can do if I put my mind to it. I hope someone has been reading this! Lastly, thanks to Graham for giving me the opportunity to write this blog.
Happy running to you all!