We had a prospective new member run with us at the club last week. He’s young, plays a bit of football and runs a bit of cross country. He was running in shoes that looked like the sort he might wear when playing football on grass or an artificial pitch; very little cushioning and no real support (and the necessary branding logo of course). After the run the usual questions were being asked and the usual answers being given. I usually have quite a lot to say at times like this, but this time I remained quite quiet.
The reason? Well, I can no longer honestly recommend a person new to running goes out and buys ‘running shoes’. And, I can no longer join in with the recommendations that any new runner goes to get his/her running gait analysed.
However, at this early stage, neither can I recommend anyone starts running without shoes.
I think most people in our western world will have spent considerable time in various forms of footwear: the cushioned trainer, or shoes with a lifted heel. To take the feet from this cosseted existence into one of real exposure will possibly lead to some undesirable effects. The usual problems encountered by the enthusiastic barefoot running adopters seem to be calf muscle strains and blisters.
So the advice I would give at this stage is: do question your ideas about the benefits of running shoes and also, if you like, consider exploring the world of the barefoot runner. But — and this is vital — do it gradually.
For me, right now (and it is early days), I’m really learning lots about my running, and I am really enjoying my own barefoot running experience. I’ve encountered lots of positives (an already significant reduction in pain from my long-term plantar fasciitis for one), and apart from a few blisters, no real negatives. But, it is my experience — yours will probably be quite different. Hopefully, my ramblings here will help anyone who chooses the barefoot alternative to learn a little and maybe compare their progress to that of a typical runner.