I didn’t really have much intention of doing another barefoot run, but I’ve been discussing the topic a lot lately in an on-line discussion forum, and was convinced by another member that I should give it another try (thanks Harry!). Harry is a guy that got into barefoot running due to frequent injuries experienced while running in traditional shoes, and he saw his injuries resolve themselves as his form changed while running barefoot (he’s now a forefoot striker). He has since migrated back into minimalist shoes (mixed with barefooting) and currently prefers the Terra Plana Evo and a pair of Nike Free 3.0′s that he had a cobbler modify so that they would have no drop in sole height from heel to toe (see a picture of his zero-drop Free’s below – you can read more about Harry’s modified shoes here). Long story short, Harry has made amazing progress, and this morning he won his first race, a 5k with over 500 runners (run in his modified Free’s)! If you want to learn more about him, check out Harry’s profile on dailymile or his blog, My Tree of Life, at http://hhollines.blogspot.com/.
One of the problems with my two previous attempts at barefoot running (you can read about attempt #1 and attempt #2 here on Runblogger) was that they were both done at night, and I suspect this played a role in the difficulty I had scanning the ground for rocks and pebbles, which cause a lot of pain when you land on them (headlamps just don’t cut it for this purpose). I told my wife this afternoon that I was considering doing another barefoot run, but was hesitant about doing it during the day for fear that I might be viewed by the neighbors as some kind of lunatic. She basically told me to suck it up and go, and not worry what anyone might think (that’s why I married her, but I think she’d just prefer I go barefoot full-time so that I’ll stop buying shoes!). I grabbed Jack, and we set off. It’s amazing how much faster you can get out the door when you don’t have to fuss about shoes.
My plan was to run unshod until the moment I felt any kind of musculoskeletal discomfort. I brought my Nike Free 3.0′s along in a Camelbak, and the plan was to pop them on as soon as needed. Things went surprisingly well, and I think doing the run in daylight made a big difference. I did step on pebbles on a few occasions, but it was much easier to scan the ground, so it wasn’t nearly as problematic as on my previous runs. The biggest issue I encountered, and I experienced this on my previous barefoot runs as well, is that some of the asphalt I ran on had a very rough texture and caused a lot of friction with the skin under my forefoot. I didn’t get any blisters, but it was a bit uncomfortable at times. My assumption is that this would improve with time as the skin on my sole acclimates a bit.
I wound up making it 2 full miles, at which point a very slight twinge on the top of my left foot indicated that it was time for the shoes (I’m well aware of the danger of top of foot pain). Although I have been running in minimalist and reduced shoes for over a year, my barefoot running gait is significantly more toward the forefoot, and I don’t want to chance any kind of injury by doing too much too soon. Putting the shoes on immediately felt strange. On my previous attempts I did the reverse and left the house shod, and finished up barefoot. Putting the shoes on after being barefoot made me feel really high off the ground, but springier due to the cushioning. Conversely, it’s also a lot easier to overstride in shoes – my barefoot gait feels more compact and quick when compared to my shod gait. The shoe transition coincided with hitting a trail, so it’s hard to make a really good comparison, but I also feel like I can be a lot more reckless in shoes since I can take my eyes off the ground – this is a definite plus in race situations. Given this, I think the benefit of barefoot running for me would simply be to allow me to really focus on form, which can then hopefully be carried over to running in shoes for the bulk of my miles.
All in all, I’m glad I gave it another try, and I do foresee myself sticking with it for a bit to give it a fairer shake. The scientist in me is also just fascinated by the experiment, and curious as to what, if anything, it might accomplish for my running. I certainly don’t plan to throw my shoes away, but like running in Vibrams, barefooting could wind up being a more regular component of my training arsenal, but likely only when I can do it during the day. We’ll see…