How to Begin Running
Photo Courtesy Muskegon Chronicle
So how do you go about losing the shoes?
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Also, I now have a barefoot coaching site located at http://barefootrunninguniversity.com, and have written a barefoot running book that can be found here:
The plan I used to begin running barefoot was very simple. I began running one day barefoot on a forgiving surface (mostly grass, sometimes smooth dirt trails). I would now advocate starting on a hard surface. the hard surface provides better feedback to help determine if your technique is correct. If it hurts, you are doing it wrong. Anyway, The workout consisted of an EASY 1-2 mile run. At the time, this run was at about a 12 minute/mile pace. I rarely wear shoes around the house, so I was able to adapt to this relatively quickly. Initially, I had only intended on running one workout per week barefoot. Once I began, however, I found I really enjoyed it.
Over the course of about 1 month, I increased from one workout to three, wile also extending the runs to around 3-4 miles at a 10-11 minute/mile pace. I began adding other terrain, including asphalt. I was still doing speed training and long runs in running shoes.
After about two months, I decided to abandon traditional running shoes entirely. I did some research, and found the Nike Free 5.0s. They were a specialized training shoe developed specifically to strengthen your feet by simulating barefoot running. Perfect! I bought a pair and began using them for speedwork and long runs. Much to my delight, I did not have any injury problems after that transition.
After about three months, I decided to try the long runs barefoot. I encountered two problems: 1) my feet weren't adequately conditioned for running 10-20 miles on asphalt yet; 2) gravel hurt A LOT. I needed another alternative. I did some more research, and found several runners that used aqua socks (or beach shoes). I bought a pair for five dollars at Wal-Mart. I found they were a perfect solution. They were a much better simulation of barefoot running than the Frees. I continued to train the rest of that year using that pattern- barefoot for short to intermediate runs, aqua socks for long runs. That fall, I ran the North Country Run 50 miler in the aqua socks. I still had some toenail blackening issues from running downhill repeatedly, but overall less injuries than traditional running shoes.
The next spring, I began running exclusively barefoot. I still used the aqua socks occasionally for especially cold weather or for running on unpaved gravel roads at night. This is also the year I began racing barefoot. By this time, I had completely adapted to barefoot running. I could run equally as far and as fast as I had while wearing running shoes. That year, I completed 2 5ks, a 15k, a 25k, and a 50 miler barefoot. My transition was complete!
Here's a few clips of my running form as of 2009:
Hart, P.M., Smith, D.R. (2008). Preventing running injuries through barefoot activity: sometimes "dressing out" means not putting on your shoes. The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. 79(4): 50-54.
This is my brief review of the plan they developed. As you can see, it is very similar to my own experiences (though a bit more organized), and also similar to Ken Bob's plan.
success of Hart and Smith's program is highly dependent on the degree
of terrain variability, the personal tenacity of the participants, the
amount of time spent in the program, and compliance with the program.
This isa key factor in any barefoot running program.
Also, Hart and Smith note that it is important to SLOWLY reduce reliance on external means of support (shoes and orthotics). It will take time for the foot structures to adapt to the lack of external support. It may take several months for foot structures to adapt to barefoot running, otherwise injuries may occur. To help adaptation, the total time spent barefoot per day can be divided into shorter sessions. Eventually, one long session can be used as tolerance improves.
The authors suggest if you have
any injuries, wait until the injuries subside to begin the program. If
you are prone to injury, you may advance slower than the prescribed
times, and take special care to break up barefoot times during each
day. I believe this is good advice for any running program.
Hart and Smith note the best surface to begin should be an even surface. Furthermore, the surface should be relatively smooth and free of debris. According to Hart and Smith, sidewalks and asphalt may be too rough to begin with, the soles of your feet will need time to thicken and toughen. Indoor surfaces in your house are an ideal places to start. As you progress, adding outdoor activities on grass or sand is a good second step. As you advance and your body adapts to barefoot activities, sidewalks and asphalt can be added. The last surfaces to add would include wood chips or hiking trails. My advice would differ on this point. I believe running on a smooth, hard surface is best for beginners. The feedback from a hard surface is more accurate than a soft, forgiving surface. As a runner advances in barefoot running, other terrains can be added. From my own personal experience, hiking trails may contain a fair amount of rocks or tree roots. Adequate foot/eye coordination is needed to successfully negotiate that environment.
This is the time line Hart and Smith suggest as long as you are injury-free:
Level 1- beginner (1 to 2 weeks)
Level 2- Intermediate (2-16 weeks)
Level 3- Advanced (16+ weeks)
Jason's Personal Notes: