BAREFOOT RUNNING: LEARNING THE BASICS
Kahlil Gibran once said, “And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.”
Barefoot running was said to be widespread throughout human history. If you come to think of it, humans lived just fine even without shoes.
Back in the 1960’s, a runner from Ethiopia, Abebe Bikila, won the Olympic marathon in Rome while running barefoot. It was after discovering that the shoe supplier gave him shoes that were too small for him. With that, he decided to run barefoot, making his victory the most famous in modern running history.
Since then, barefoot racing became so popular among England’s elite runners that one photo from a race showed three leading runners who were all shoeless. Even one of the greatest long distance runners in India was always known for running barefoot, having nothing else but tape on his feet.
Soon enough, running shoes were invented mostly for protection. They became an instant commodity. It would even be a mistake to leave the house without shoes. And somewhere along the way, shoes started to evolve into people’s material possessions and fashion accessories. Ironically, some shoes hurt our heels and feet, defeating the main reason why we even wear shoes in the first place.
In recent years, running was performed either barefoot or in thin-soled shoes. This practice still continues today in various parts of the world.
What Is Barefoot Running?
Barefoot running is also called natural running. It is the act of running without any footwear. Running barefoot is not just about speed alone, but it involves connecting with the ground. It is about feeling, freedom, lightness and most of all, fun.
Studies say that traditional people have always known that running barefoot is a more natural way to run and it strengthens your feet. But for starters, the feet can be weak, which is why you should take it slowly. Before you start running, try walking barefoot for a few weeks. This will strengthen the muscles in your ankles and feet, and also the skin beneath your feet.
You can start by walking barefoot a few times, around 5 to 10 minutes, each day. You can combine it with some exercises as well, such as high knees or walking using the balls of your feet. This is a good way to prepare for barefoot running.
It is said that you should feel your arches the next morning. If they are not sore, then you can do a little more the next day, but remember to progress slowly. By the time you can walk barefoot comfortably for an hour, then you are ready to start a little barefoot running.
As soon as you start barefoot running, it greatly increases the forces on your feet and calf muscles. Start for about 5 minutes, slowly increasing. After a few months, you may see yourself running barefoot for 20 minutes already.
Your feet and ankles will be stronger in just a few weeks of running, which will significantly help reduce your risk to injury. Barefoot running can also help you have more spring in your step and have longer strides. It can be a fresh and useful addition to your daily training.
For the most part, instead on their heel, faster runners land toward the front of their foot. It’s actually the most efficient movement or natural pattern for faster running. It prepares you for immediate force as your center of gravity moves forward of your foot.
Letting your feet move on natural surfaces can help strengthen it. When you run barefoot, you strengthen the muscles in your feet, which have been sleeping in your shoes all this time. It also improves your running form because it stretches and strengthens your calf muscles.
It can take weeks or months to build up the strength needed for faster and longer running. But after some time, your feet will surely get stronger. Barefoot running is indeed a tremendous way of improving your running form, your foot strength, efficiency, as well as speed.
Barefoot Running Equipment
Wearing thin shoes with minimal padding is considered the alternative to running barefoot. For hundreds of years, it was what runners wore before the modern running shoe was invented.
For most of human history, runners either run barefoot or with minimal footwear with little cushioning, such as moccasins or thin-soled sandals. This may be termed as minimalist running. It has less weight on your feet, helping you to run faster.
Wearing shoes allows you to learn the basic mechanics and form of running barefoot without pain. Aside from protecting the feet from cuts and abrasions, it helps your feet and legs to subtly feel more of the ground, letting you have more accurate adjustments in terms of your running style.
Runners who are passionate about their craft are always willing to go minimal. For decades, many runners are told to invest on good running shoes to prevent injuries. Proper cushioning, rigid motion control and stability features are what they always needed.
For modern people who have grown up and are used to wearing shoes, minimal shoe running or even barefoot is something that you need to be eased into. Modern running shoes are made for comfortable and easier heel-striking. The force of the impact are being modified by the padded heel so that heel-striking can be less punishing.
Barefoot running shoes are considered great tools because they protect your feet from running through sharp objects, such as nails or broken glass, letting you run on concrete. They are also useful, especially on ice and snow. But aside from shoes, your feet are marvelous things too. Each of our feet consists of 26 bones, ligaments, and over 20 muscles, including the associated tendons. The muscles form four layers, supporting the four aches of the feet, which spread the weight when landing, and assist you in propelling forward. And yet, we rarely let them out of their protective houses, making your feet and ankles weak.
Best Terrains to Run On
If you run regularly, you probably think about what shoes or clothes to wear most of the time. On the other hand, do you ever think about your terrain? The surface where your feet strike over and over is also important to your long term well-being.
Runners may have routine rules and where you run is no exception. Whether you run around the pavement, jog on the treadmill or run on the trails, you just tie yourself around it. It’s time to break up the boredom and start striding over some new terrains. It is said that changing your running surfaces can be beneficial to your body. Different sceneries in your running is considered healthy for the mind as well.
You can adopt the same basic form you would use on flat grounds when you run uphill. Maintaining a quick rhythm and short strides are a must. You should also focus on staying relaxed. Keep your body vertical and don’t lean into the hill.
Running downhill can be a bit more difficult. You can use your normal stride if the hill is not that steep or long. If it is, you probably need a different technique. Changing your form can be an effective solution.
Sidewalks can be your best option and it’s one of the fastest surfaces you can find. They make measuring distances easy and help you keep up a steady rhythm. Although it is solid, the even and predictable surface puts less strain on your Achilles tendon.
In some areas where asphalt doesn’t exist, just be sure to pick safe, flat and traffic-free stretches with a lot of space on the shoulder so you can step to the side and avoid approaching traffic.
If you plan on racing on asphalt roads, it is advisable to have some training on it.
Some runners prefer trails over roads. Barefoot trail running can sometimes be more pleasurable. If you’re opting for a run that combines near-ideal running surfaces and constantly-changing surroundings, you can simply head to your local woodland. A soft peat is usually a gift to runners because the trails are quite level and can go on for miles. The running technique is similar with roads and usually easy on the legs. However, rocks, roots, sticks, and other debris on trails require more concentration and balance. Scan your path with your eyes to pick out the best spot for each of your steps. If you happen to step on something sharp, your bare feet will provide instant response, making your body shift to avoid injury.
Sand is a fun surface to run on and presents a great opportunity to learn. Some strain away from sand unless it’s solid. Similar technique for solid ground applies to sand running; stay relaxed and use quick, short strides. Footprints can be used to measure your form. Some leave footprints with a deep turf which is caused by pushing off. Ideally, simply keep your foot parallel to the ground, leaving just a flat foot print.
Grass is one of the most common terrains that runners choose when training because of its softness and low impact. It’s also easy to find. They say that running on grass puts less pressure on the feet, which makes your tendons and ligaments more elastic to help you run faster and decrease the chances of any impact-related injuries.
Grass surface also allows you to do barefoot running in moderation. Balance is also improved and this surface can make you become a stronger runner because your lower legs and ankles have to work harder, absorbing so much of your energy.
Grass running also provides mental benefits and trains your feet to adapt to slightly uneven terrains or changes in terrains.
These are some of the few actual environments you may come across on your barefoot running project. When you encounter something new, just take it slow. If you must, walk before you run. As soon as you familiarize yourself with it, you can conquer any terrain on your bare feet.
Tips on Barefoot Running
We’ve previously spoken about the many benefits of barefoot running – be sure to read our article after reading the tip section.
A lot of people usually make the mistake of doing barefoot running too much or too quickly. This leads to pain, injury, or worse, disheartenment. Take note that your ankles, feet and calves are weak from all the running or walking with shoes day in and day out. You’ll find discomfort if you go way too far or too fast. Here are a few tips on how to build it up slowly and gently.
Try to run barefoot or with barefoot shoes on concrete surface.
At the end of a regular run, run slowly for just a few minutes. Running over a hard surface is good for the first couple of times. You’ll learn to run naturally in a better form. With your shoes on, you’ll get used to the pounding on your heels and overextending your legs, but when you’re barefoot, your heels will hurt since you have no cushion. Just run lightly and land softly and quietly on your forefeet or midfeet.
Slowly increase your running time, with or without shoes.
Lengthen your time a few times a week with just a minute longer or maybe two. Do it slowly and don’t try to sprint hard. Keep running lightly and try not to pound. You can also try running on different surfaces, such as grass, dirt or asphalt. Allow your body to slowly adapt to your new running style. Your muscles will eventually get stronger.
Do shorter runs completely wearing barefoot shoes.
If you’re an experienced runner, you can run for 15 to 30 minutes, or 10 minutes if you’re a less experienced one. You might still need to wear shoes if you’re going to run longer and harder. Practice this for several weeks until you can soon stop using running shoes when you’re already used to them on longer runs. At this point, you should have stronger legs and feet.
Try running totally barefoot step by step on softer or smoother terrains.
Grass, beaches, or a park with smooth hard surface are good places to start running barefoot. Your soles may be soft and sensitive if you’ve been wearing shoes all the time. It might take a while to adjust on rough surfaces under your feet.
Learning the basics of barefoot running is one great adventure. Today, many people think that barefoot running is dangerous and it hurts, but the truth is, you can actually run barefoot on different hard surfaces without feeling any pain or discomfort.
Wearing barefoot shoes can also be a good start and it’s totally not a bad idea. They say that footwear can be easily modified, but still, a lot of runners seem to be misguided when buying running shoes. Wearing minimal shoes and landing on the balls of your feet are proven to reduce burden and can lessen the possibility of getting injured.
It is important to remember that at each stage, you have to go slowly and take one step at a time. You don’t need to rush. Like what they always say, great things take time. It will surely make your journey and your whole experience much more exciting and enjoyable.