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Coming to Terms — The Barefoot Running Dictionary (Part 1)

When you enter the barefoot and minimalist running community, you will find there is a whole new language you have to learn.

When you enter the barefoot and minimalist running community, you will find there is a whole new language you have to learn.

Below are the most common terms you will hear if you are talking to another barefoot runner. I have tried to include the acronyms as much as possible, because we are a perverse group and we like to confuse people as much as possible.

In an attempt to place all the terms in one article, I found the result was as entertaining as emptying the dishwasher. I therefore cheated and split the dictionary into two. Part 2 is next week.

Below are the letters A-K.

Barefoot Running (BFR). Self-explanatory really – it’s the reason you’re reading this article. Barefoot Running is when you run without shoes.  Previously practiced by a few eccentrics, but now growing in popularity due to best-selling books, famous celebrities and the fact that barefoot runners are essentially awesome.

Barefoot Running Form (Good Running Form; Bareform running). There is nothing special about the form you should use for running barefoot. In fact, coaches have been teaching it for decades. The main components are forefoot/mid-foot landing, cadence of 180 steps per minute, shorter stride length, straight posture with core engaged and a landing which occurs underneath the body.

Blisters. Caused by friction and a sure sign of form issues. Blisters on the heel indicate heel-striking. Blisters on the forefoot or toes indicates pushing off. You will also get blisters from running on hot asphalt or rock salt. If you get blisters you are doing something wrong.

Born to Run (BTR). The title of the best-selling book written by Christopher McDougall. Its publication spawned a surge in Barefoot Running in mid 2009. Usually cited as the main reason why people start to run barefoot or in minimal shoes.

Cadence. This is the most important element for good form when running barefoot. To run effectively you need to have a minimum cadence of 180 steps per minute (90 left/90 right). A cadence below 180 steps-per-minute will result in overstriding and heel striking. An easy but annoying way to remember the 180 cadence is to constantly chant a double-time military march in your head.

Conventional Running Shoes (Traditional shoes). Examples are most of the shoes you will see at your local running store.

Cushioning.  Something you generally don’t see with minimal or reduced running shoes. Usually when a barefoot runner talks about cushioning they have been dragged to the local furnishing store on a Saturday afternoon.

Forefoot Strike. When the area behind the middle/smaller toes is the first area of the foot to make contact with the ground. This is a common landing used by barefoot runners.

Glass. An object highlighted as a major reason why you shouldn’t run barefoot. Along with needles, dog poop and stones, these are usually found more in the imagination than on the ground.

Ground-feel. The term used to describe how well a shoe allows you to feel the changes in terrain. Generally, the thinner the sole of the shoe, the more ground-feel a shoe possesses.

Heel-to-toe drop. Usually measured in millimetres. This term refers to the difference in heights between the heel and the toe. The greater the heel-to-toe drop, the larger the heel. Conventional running shoes have a heel-to-toe height of 12-14 mm, reduced running shoes are about 4 mm and minimal shoes have a zero heel-to-toe drop.

Heel Strike. When the heel is the first area of the foot to make contact with the ground.  This is the landing commonly used by runners who wear conventional shoes and not a landing to be practiced by barefoot runners.

Heel touch. Despite popular misconceptions, the heel of a barefoot runner does make contact with the ground. The proper landing should be mid-foot or forefoot, then the heel should lightly kiss the ground before you pickup for your next step.  Heel touch is very important. Without it, you are placing excessive force on your mid-foot and forefoot. You are continually engaging your calf muscles and your form will not be relaxed. The lack of heel touch is probably one of the biggest cause of calf and foot strain experienced by new barefoot runners.

Huaraches (Running Sandals). Used for thousands of years, by people across the globe, the idea of the running sandal is again popular. Highlighted in the book Born to Run, these were the must-have minimalist shoes of 2011. Examples are: Luna, Invisible Shoes, Bedrock and Unshoes.

Kudus. A term used to describe well-known barefoot runners. The term actually means large greyish antelope, which after a few drinks probably describes these people quite well. Not to be confused with the term Kudos, which is also used extensively when discussing the Kudus.

Kudos. The Greek term meaning ‘respect’.

Next week I will be discussing M-Z.