One of the main reasons for this blog is to answer questions people raise when they see me run barefoot.
To be honest, half the time it takes me a few hours to consider the question before I can answer it holistically. I am a very pragmatic kind of individual, so when people ask me on the spot I guess I can some times come across a bit flippantly in my answer. Then I will come to the blog a few hours later and try to answer the question…
Today’s questions: How do your soles get tough enough? How do your muscles cope? How can you run such long distances barefoot? How do you run on the different surfaces.
Running barefoot is NOT EASY. It is not a SHORT CUT to running styles.
It is a NOT INJURY FREE METHOD, there are always injuries, just different types of injuries and different ways of managing them.
1..How do your soles get tough enough?
If you have been shoe/sock bound for some time, you have pink soft delicate soles. Do not think you can head out on the road for a barefoot run! Try walking around the house barefoot. Do some barefoot walking in the garden. Go for a 2k barefoot WALK (with a pair of slops if it gets too much). You will be amazed and how quickly your barefeet will acclimatise to barefoot walking. I do not cream or “prepare” my feet in any way..logic tells me by applying any kind of ointment, it would actually soften my skin more.. However, choose your time of day. Hot surfaces are not pleasant. Cold surfaces are even worse. Rough surfaces..well they can be painful. Smooth bike tracks, pavements and road line paintings are the best surfaces. I have done over 2000km on my barefeet in the last 12 months, and I am still a little picky as to where I run. I certainly have very tough feet and can run on tar roads, gravel, pea gravel, beach sand, brick, burnt brick and so on, but not in the heat of the day or the freezing temperatures of winter. My worst experience was running on very wet roads for over 25km…and that was part of my barefoot marathon. 42.2km barefoot, rough roads, very wet feet…talk about a challenge. But be sensible..when I realised my very wrinkle wet soaked feet were feeling it on the very rough old tar surface, I slowed it down to a bearable pace..after all I still have to use those feet!
2. How do your muscles cope?
That is a key question. Shoe shod runners will have a different foot placement, and so use different muscles. Like any body part, when you use it differently or apply different stresses, you WILL FEEL IT. For me I naturally am a forefooted runner. Secondly I have NEVER actually run in any form of official running shoe…given that I have only been running for a year. I had a pair of social cheap Target running shoes, that I would wear with my jeans or to gym. My first pair of “proper” running shoes are my New Balance Minimus zero drop trail shoes..(of which I will need a new pair soon). So my muscles were being conditioned with overall fitness and running anyway, but I have noticed with other runners a key difference. The muscle along the front of your shin (sorry do not know the name) is far more predominant on me, and on those who run forefooted, and the couple of other barefoot runners I know have the same muscle development, than on other runners who wear shoes and or heel strike. So like all training, take time, stretch and develop the necessary muscle strength.
3. How can you run such long distances barefoot?
Mmm, good question. Lets avoid the barefoot/shoe element first. When running you train up for your stamina level and or preferred distance. So you do the necessary time and mileage to develop your endurance. The same with the type of gear you are using, practice and training. So as your feet toughen up (which happens very quickly) the distance does not seem to matter. You train your body holistically for whatever distance you are doing.
4. How do you run on the different surfaces?
Yes this question gets me. If you run regularly in your neighbourhood, you get to know your surface conditions and you get used to them. You learn quickly what you can cope with and what you cannot, and you find routes to avoid surfaces you do not enjoy. However doing this all the time is not good for you. You need to learn various surface running techniques, because if you are out on an unfamiliar route and get caught off guard it can be more a mental challenge than a physical one. There are three surfaces I dislike the most.
1.Cold frosty/icy grass. That hurts. The cold hurts. When the ache sets in it hurts.
2. The second surface is piping hot tar/asphalt, because the tar will actually STICK TO YOUR FEET and burns holes into your foot, and is hard to pull off!! and you prance around like a fairy on hot coals.
3. The third surface is HOT BLACK SAND.. oh my word does that burn, it will put blisters on your precious little toes and there is no relief. There have been times where I have opted to run in the rough thorny overgrowth and just pull the thorns out later rather than the fire of hot black sand.
So be sensible. I have learnt to put a pair of thin slops in my back pack if I am out on a long run across trail terrain, so if I get to that hot black sand, I can put the slippers on to get past it. Run in the cool of the day to avoid burning hot surfaces. Ice cold frosty grass…I ditch that and would rather run on the road or pavement, or wear shoes…
Other tricks include running on the smoothest edge of the road, or just on the vegetation line. The best technique is running on the painted road lines..much cooler and much smoother. Or test your running form and run on the actual concrete kerb of the road. You also learn to pick your feet up very very quickly, place as little foot contact to the surface as possible and to mentally zone out.. Advantages include quicker cadence, lighter foot running, and of course because you pick your feet up completely, no foot or toe scuffing, no bruising and so on. If you run through an area with glass be very careful. When you get home really scrub your feet clean and CHECK FOR FINE GLASS. Because my soles are tough, often I do not feel the glass. Then a tiny shard is in my foot, and progressive running pushes that shard deeper and deeper until it hits a nerve, and then I know all about it. By then it is so deep it normally requires a second person to help cut through the skin and dig that tiniest shard of glass out…that hurts…
As for running on brick, paving, cobble, concrete, gravel, dirt road, tar road…in general I really do not have an issue with them. Brick and concrete are much cooler than tar. Running on a firm surface is much easier than grass or sand.
I was running barefoot before I even knew “Born to Run” existed, and am hoping to read it over the Christmas break, as I have been reliably informed by many trail runners and running aficionado’s that it is a book worth reading. I just want people to understand that my barefoot running is my technique, for me, done my way, to benefit me. Not to follow a fad or a book or a movement. However if I can learn something I am very open to that! I share my story here because people are hugely interested. I will also own up, that since starting the blog, peoples attitudes have changed. I will often answer them in a brief answer on the spot, but refer them to my blog, as there is no simple answer or single catch phrase that explains the barefoot running technique for me, or the why’s and wherefores of it. It is apparent people are following through and reading up, as the follow on questions are more educational than plain amazement. I appear to have a little bit of a reputation building up in my local area, but it is clearly one with respect, which is making the experience much more enjoyable…so to my local area and the people around me..THANK YOU.
Thanks for the insights. To change it to for a season, I went fully barefoot for 2 months last fall until the snow and ice started. But as you suggest it is hard to start up again after the feet grow their baby skin again