Monday, May 17, 2010

"How is running in your bare feet better than doing so in a $150 shoe thats specifically designed for running?"

While Born To Run was a fantastic story and did a good (and convincing) job at answering why its better and even goes into describing good running form, unfortunately McDougall's chapters on the subject were somewhat limited in detail on how to transition into barefoot running, and do so properly, as barefoot running wasn't the overall focus of his book. Many runners and non-runners alike were introduced to the idea of going barefoot for the first time and re-discovered their love of running after reading BTR. And like so many others I got overly excited and went out to run a fast 3 miles around the block. I ended up killing my calf muscles, was lucky I didn't blow out my achilles tendon or worse, and couldn't run (I could barely walk comfortably) for over two weeks, after that having to pretty much learn as I went.

Thankfully for the rest of you who are just now getting into this ever growing form of running, this is where Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee's BAREFOOT RUNNING: HOW TO RUN LIGHT AND FREE BY GETTING IN TOUCH WITH THE EARTH comes into play.

Michael Sandler is a well known runner and coach in the barefoot community with nearly 20 years of professional athletic experience and it shows in the knowledge presented in this book. I wish I'd had this manual when I started. I use the word manual because that is exactly what this is, and man is it thorough. Even after a year of running barefoot I realized I still had a lot to learn.

As an example, I knew I'd been running with a much easier and lighter form than I ever had in shoes. But lately I'd been having some trouble with a sharp pain (felt like stepping on a needle) in the arch of my right foot that would get progressively worse as I went. I have strong feet and was recently able to complete my first ultra marathon (Copper Canyon of Born To Run fame) in a pair of Vibram Five Fingers without any problems, so I figured it had to be my form. "But I have good form!" I thought to myself. Well not as good as it should have been. When reading the sections on form and stride, it turns out I wasn't keeping my back straight enough and was leaning forward causing a pelvic tilt, basically running with my butt sticking out, which in turn caused my stride to become too long. On my next run I put Michael's suggestions into practice feeling so light and easy I ended up running my first sub 6 minute mile since high school even after just having run about 4 miles on technical singletrack.

But this book is about far more than just good form. Its important to note that this book does NOT tout barefoot running as a panacea, but rather another piece of a balanced holistic approach to fitness and staying injury free, doing so from the ground up. Its separated into 6 parts:

Part I: Why on Earth Would You Want to Run Barefoot?

This sections gets into the scientific reasons (and solid references to scientific studies) why its not only great injury prevention but also great for balanced MENTAL health and stimulation, staying grounded (literally), focus, patience "Go slow to go fast!", listening to feedback from your body, and improving proprioception.

Part II: Tear Off Your Shoes and Truly Feel the Earth Beneath Your Feet

This is where it really starts to get fun because you actually go out and start running and putting things into practice as you learn them. Here you learn about form, foot strike and stride with great illustrations, a brief but informative anatomy lesson on the feet and the function of each part. It also includes a 12 week plan to going totally barefoot, exercises for proper foot strengthening, pad development, maintenance, core strength, cross training, stretching and even nutrition.

Part III: Dancing With Nature

Want to know how to train and run in sub-freezing temperatures or on ridiculously hot shoe melting surfaces? Its covered in here along with running over nearly every surface imaginable, overcoming injuries if they happen and finally building up to preparing for race day.

Part IV: Discovering and Rediscovering the Joy of Barefoot Running at Any Age

Goes into the dangers of forcing kids to wear shoes and the benefits of allowing them to go barefoot. Interestingly in a section I did not expect is how the elderly can get into running barefoot and why doing so may even help those with diseases that cause bone and neurological degeneration or at least contribute to preventing them.

Part V: If You Really Must Wear Something on Your Feet

A section on what to look for in minimalist footwear with a fun subheading entitled "Don't Trust Your Shoe Salesman" debunking some common myths about running and shoes.

Part VI: The Final Step

Short and poetic, Michael's concluding thoughts.

If you are at all thinking of trying barefoot running you need to get this book. I found it to be quite simply the most comprehensive guide available for proper technique and transition into this fun and primal art form. Corremos Libre amigos!

Caleb "El Llama" Wilson