Fashions come and go and it was not so very long ago that we were all told that for distance running, heel strike was an imperative. Now all this is changing with the advent of such running techniques as Pose and Chi Running – both of which land on the fore foot. And there is also a whole new generation of trainers to give the feet protection against glass, sharp stones and dog poo, but allow the feet to flex and land as naturally as they would when barefoot running. As the video clip says, this is a much more natural way to run; a way that served us well for a couple of million years or so.
So what are we to do? Trade in our expensive anti-roll highly developed trainers for mucky feet? There has been a lot of fuss recently when these expensive trainers were found to cause injuries. The following link is to an article in the Daily Mail discussing The painful truth about trainers: Are running shoes a waste of money? Dr Eric Cobb of Z health summed up the problem with highly developed trainers very simply. If the trainer will not twist and flex in the middle of the shoe, so it is controlling the foot, this is akin to wearing a neck brace. When the neck brace comes off, the muscles of the neck will be very weak because they have not been used. And so with the feet when they have been encased in the usual running trainer. And this is worsened if orthotics are worn. He also pointed out that bare foot running tribes do not have pronounced arches to their feet – yet their bodies are far from in a state of collapse.
If we do decide we want to give barefoot running a go, then to expect a body used to having its feet cushioned in nice comfy trainers to run 10 miles in a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, for example, is inviting injury. We have to be prepared to reduce mileage drastically, to spend a little time running and walking, to have high quality massage lined up and, quite critically, strengthen the weakened feet before even starting. For example, it should be effortless to stand on one foot with the toes lifted off the floor; there should be absolutely no wobbling about on either foot. It should be possible to lift the arch of the foot without clawing the toes. The 26 bones of the foot must articulate well. Also the arch needs to have bounce to it – so those with high insteps will have to work on loosening up the sole of the foot. In other words to become a barefoot runner is a journey and not something to be undertaken lightly.
Now as I said previously, there are an increasing number of barefoot trainers available running from the Nike Frees to the Vibram Five Finger trainer to the Tarahumara DIY rubber sole with strings to attach it to the feet and ankles. It is important to try the trainers before buying since it is impossible to tell which will suit the most and also impossible to tell shoe size. At this point it is frustrating that sports shoe shops have yet to fully catch up with the barefoot trend, so either don’t stock any barefoot shoes, or if they do, these are restricted to only one or two brands. The result is much trailing about to try to find the shoe that feels the best.
A transition shoe to consider will be very flexible but will have noticeable tread on the sole and the heel will be slightly elevated. We can then progress to the flat shoe with an increasingly thin sole, so the sole of the foot pads out, sensitivity is increased and running technique develops so the body and foot absorb the impact instead of the sole of the trainer. It is worth running for a minute or so in completely bare feet or socks to accelerate technique change.
How long will the transition take? It depends upon how dedicated we are and how patient we are. Is it worth doing? Watch the video and make your own mind up.