The Forgotten Art of Running
Are you one of those people who thinks of running as a chore, or as damaging, or simply hate running?
Or is it simply that your body wasn’t designed to do this feat? For years I’ve been thinking this- my legs are just not made for running. I had pretty good reasons to be thinking that too, many years ago I actually broke my foot simply from walking and running too much. I was a soldier doing basic training in infantry, and the combination of very heavy loads, few hours of sleep, bad army food and long distances ,caused minor stress fractures in my legs, that eventually evolved into a full fracture of the second metatarsal in my right foot (marcher’s fracture). Since then and what happened afterwards, including being diagnosed by an army orthopedist doctor as having an exaggerated arch, I felt that running is just something I’m not designed to do.
However there is one thing that really bugs me – I like running!!! Not only as it’s fun when you’re able to do it, running has many obvious benefits, such as improved cardiac output, it clears the head, and (for me anyway) there is no better or faster way to loose weight, bar none.
So one can imagine my frustration (or anybody else’s) when running goes wrong, to the point of having to stop. And that indeed was the case for the last few years. Every time I started jogging, within a few weeks problems started until I gave up, only to start the vicious cycle again a few months (and pounds) down the line.
So there came a day when I said enough, I want this to be sorted, and decided to go and get treatment for my legs and feet and see if there’s anything that can be done. It was quite a surprise when my Osteopath advised me on trying out barefoot running! Now if there is one thing I can’t do very well, it’s bounce. When I run you can hear me for miles and the thought of running with no shoes on seemed quite extreme and maybe detrimental. It is my huge frustration though that led me to try it out, as I now know well enough that running with shoes got me nowhere…
Does it even make sense?
So before one embarks on such a weird and wonderful journey, you need to know where you’re going and why. Does it really make sense that taking the shoes off will make it any better?
Now if we look at our past as hunter gatherers and the way humans lived not too long ago (in evolutionary terms), we must believe that humans did a lot of running and walking and that they were designed to do so. If we accept that nature designs and evolves it’s species to best suit their function, then we really need to think of our legs and feet as the ultimate bi-pedal tools and that there is no need for anything else. My focus is not in being the best runner or outrunning any other species, I just want to do a few miles, so, theoretically that should be possible without any shoes. And I am not the one who thought of this first- there is a growing community of runners who have shod their shoes and gone “alfresco”. And apparently even some scientific data that supports this!
In fact there are now major brands who actually make barefoot shoes! (sounds like the emperor’s new clothes). Only off course they are not really barefoot shoes – they are called minimalist shoes, but what they have done is to take off the thick rubbery sole in favor of a very thin one, and very light support of the ankle, basically going towards the barefoot principal.
The Next Step
So if any of this interests you and you might actually consider trying this out as I have, please bear in mind that you have walked all your life in shoes and that there will be a transition period that will require effort and patience. Running without shoes does require you to change your technique and running style so make sure you understand what needs to be done, and make sure that someone has actually seen you running and can correct your technique. I myself have gone to a barefoot running workshop which has helped me massively, couldn’t recommend it enough. It is run by the people behind www.barefootrunninguk.com/ who also have written a book called “Run Strong Run Free” which provides great info on how to get started. Speaking of books, there’s quite a few on the subject now. Among them “The Barefoot Book: 50 Great Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes” by Daniel Howell and “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall come recommended.