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Barefoot Running: Teaching running at the school-gates

We could look towards the elites, the sports-coaches and the guru's, but if we want to take barefoot and minimalist running mainstream perhaps we should look to promoting the sport at the Mum's waiting at the school gates.

If you want to increase the number of barefoot or minimalist runners out there, which demographic would you target? Perhaps, the enthusiast, who runs a hundred miles a week, reads all of the latest books and runs ultras every month? How about the fitness instructor at the gym with a string of certificates? Maybe, we need to look to barefoot running guru’s to keep promoting our little area of the sport.

Well, probably all three in some degree, but if you really wanted to move the activity of barefoot running into the mainstream you need to attract the thirty-something mothers.

Yes, I know, I am very biased – being a thirty-something ‘mum’ myself — just.

Let me first state my initial theory and then back it up with my limited observational research. I would never make a good lawyer.

Thirty-something mum’s have similar characteristics. They:

Want to keep in shape so they can chase around after the kids. Once those toddlers start walking, mums have to start training.  Before elementary school those kids are able to run a 7min mile.

Are willing to investigate healthy alternatives. Most mums have a family to look after – even when some of the family is capable of looking after themselves. Mums are usually at the forefront of the latest health news.

Are young enough that their kids still think they are pretty cool and want to join in too. I have gone to the school gates wearing my Vibram Five FIngers or my running sandals. Most of the compliments I get on my funky shoes are from the kids.

Look pretty good. Our children are still young enough that they haven’t completely worn us down. We are still fit, active and sexy – and we know it 😉

Spur their partners to keep up and want to look good too. If you want to hang with us, you need to keep up.

Have the self-confidence to teach their partners how to do something right. Usually we have been with our partners for a while. We have gone past the “What will they think of me if I say X?” We say it as it is and our partners listen to us – whether they want to or not!

Talk. A lot! We talk to other mums, friends, heck, we even talk to the dog if it is a way to get an intelligent conversation. Mums will willingly pass on what they know to others.

So I have given you my very crude theory, now for the circumstantial evidence.

Over the last four months or so, I have been informally coaching my friend in the art of running. After dropping the kids off at school, we would head out for a short walk/run and then celebrate afterwards with a coffee. I concede that this training schedule was more related to chatting then running.

I initially told her that I wouldn’t train with her unless she allowed me to show her proper form. I wanted her to run healthily but ultimately I am sure a few miles running next to someone heel-striking would irritate me to the point where I could use it as a viable excuse in a court of law.

Freakily, she is the same shoe size as me, so I lent her some of my minimal shoes to test out. I was able to get her test shoes via my nice Merrell contact – Thanks Emily!

On Mothers’ Day, she ran her first ever 5K race. By the time she pulled up to the starting line a few changes had happened.

She was able to run with decent running form and, more importantly, she knew what good running form looked like.  She knew her “A, B, C’s”.  She knew what made a decent minimalist shoe and could judge what shoes she needed on certain terrains. She could tell you about the benefits of minimal running as well as the pit-falls you could encounter if you started too quickly.

Her husband was spurred on to start running and she had guided him towards minimal shoes. She had the confidence to teach him the basics of running form.

Her children would look at her minimal shoes and want them for themselves. In fact, her son had tried to “borrow” her test pairs on a couple of occasions.

She talked to others about minimal running and took pride in her knowledge.

Most importantly, she took pride in her first 5K and was spurred to run further, longer and faster. She wanted to encourage her family to follow her footsteps.

She had not only taken her first steps in her burgeoning running career, but she had kick-started her family into minimalist running.

So yes, let’s talk to the elites, the sports coaches and the guru’s, but if you want to breed a new generation of minimalist runners, you had better target those waiting at the school-gate.