Running for the Injured Man—How Barefoot Running Techniques Turned My Body Around
Man has been trekking fast on his feet since the dawn of his time. Whether walking, jogging or running, hoofing it on foot is a millennia old pastime. Whether getting away from predators or chasing down the little ones before they roll off a prehistoric cliff, moving on feet has been crucial to man’s survival, as well as his daily living. Let me pose to you this curious question: how long has man been wearing his homemade (or sweatshop produced) shoes compared to how long he’s been barefoot running?
I’m about to embark on retraining for my first Half Marathon. I actually started ramping up last spring, and got all the way up to running 12 miles. I never tacked down a race, so after I hit 12 miles I soon got bored of running and started playing basketball again on the weekends instead of distance runs.
For my 30th birthday my cousin bought me my ticket into a San Diego Half Marathon. So after a month of spotty running, it’s time for me to regain my barefoot running technique and ramp up to this race.
Why Barefoot Running
I know it’s a little intimidating and outright preposterous to some. But exploring barefoot running techniques was for me a saving grace in terms of getting back in shape.
A few years ago, fall 2008 if I remember correctly, I was playing basketball in running shoes–one of the worst mistakes of my life. While coming down from a rebound I landed on someone’s foot and absolutely ruptured my ligaments. It was horrible. After six weeks I was still injured and its never fully healed. And it never will return to uninjured ankle status.
Just this February I was lifting weights and was doing T-Bar Rows. Nothing super heavy. Maybe 135 lbs. I’ve done the weight before and was on my third set. After dropping the weights I walked away to catch my breath–and after what amounted to a brief cerebral delay–I collapsed in searing spinal pain on a nearby bench.
With a now subluxated spine, tightly wound ankle combined with meniscus and other damage to my knee, I could only run about 1.5 miles on the pavement in my neighborhood before topping out.
I was extremely discouraged. Lifting weights was tough, I was gaining weight, and I was just plain sore and tired. My lungs weren’t the same without hitting the cardio. But I just couldn’t go very far without ankle, knee, and more than anything, back pain.
Where did the barefoot running technique idea come from?
Years ago an avid runner roommate of mine introduced me to the idea of barefoot running. He said some hardcore runners were getting into it. It sounded like a “new” thing.
Here’s what is wrong with thinking of barefoot running technique as a new fad: it’s been around for thousands of years. Sure people have been wearing leather sandals and other types of footwear for centuries, but padded shoes that conform to our feet are an absolutely new thing.
Man has been barefoot running for a long time, and we might take a cue from our ancestors and consider what they might have been doing right.
How marketers have duped us
I’m not writing to convince everyone to start barefoot running. But I do encourage you to take a good hard look at your shoes, and what makes you comfortable or uncomfortable.
Nike, Reebok, Sketchers and more have tried to sell people on the idea that they need support inside of their shoes. What’s wrong with this idea is having thick padding to stand on in your shoes actually lessens the use of the muscles in your feet. And that makes your feet weaker.
Think of wearing thick-padded gloves all day long. You’re fingers are constrained and barely used. You’re hands would get weak and would lose dexterity right? So do our feet. The less they touch the ground and the more they are contained within shoes the weaker the muscles in our feet get.
Padding might actually be killing your knees
The biggest difference with utilizing barefoot running technique is that your form changes significantly. While wearing heavily padded shoes, we are more willing to pound our less sensitive feet hard into the ground. That may not hurt the soles of your feet, but that impact is reverberating up through your ankle, knee, and spine.
This is the crux of the difference for me. One day in March this year I took the plunge and went to the beach gave running barefoot on sand a shot. I ran 4 miles on my first try. And that was compared to topping our at 1.5 miles when I wasn’t using a barefoot running technique.
What was the major difference? I was no longer pounding my feet into a hard surface, but onto sand. With the change of form and shorter gait/stride, I wasn’t jamming my knees with every single step. The pain in my spine and lower back was alleviated by this change in technique.
Another way to avoid injury is to invest in some of these great running products, such as comfortable shoes from Simply Feet.
Is barefoot running for everyone?
I’m no expert and I can’t say what’s best for your body. Meeting with a sports doctor is going to give you great insight if that’s an option for you. I imagine most readers don’t have a sandy beach to run on. Here’s an excellent article on how a person can transition slowly into running barefoot. It tells the story of Abebe Bikila who prepared for, and won, the 1960 Olympics Marathon.
Coming from a guy who had (and has) spine and ankle problems, I believe that billions of people over millennia were doing something right. We were created to run without shoes, and I believe that we still today can do so. I’m not opposed to shoes, but I actually think they allow people to be rougher on their body than they should, and produce poor running technique. Just as your dog at home would change his form if you slapped shoes on him, so does man.
In the coming weeks I’ll be putting something together on my experience ramping up for a Half Marathon. If you’re a runner, please give me your feedback! I’m always looking for more insight on the right eating, timing and anything else regarding training or barefoot running technique.