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How to get started in barefoot running

I have hopefully convinced you to try barefoot or minimalist running. This is the place to start.

Where to start?


Fine, it’s slightly more complicated that that, but the most important message you should take away from this article, is the single statement above.

After years of walking, running, jumping and pretty much anything else that is legal, illegal and downright strange in shoes, our feet and legs aren’t quite ready to “go it alone.” When we support our bodies physically (usually due to injury), our bodies can go into a state of atrophy. When the strapping comes off we have to regain the strength in our weakened muscles.  The scenario transfers to our feet when we take off our shoes.

When you ask a veteran barefoot runner for advice on how to start, those runners will usually say that you shouldn’t run.  They recommend that you walk around barefoot as much as possible — definitely a case of walking before you run.

Walking barefoot gives your feet a chance to build up strength. Imagine your feet are waking up on a Friday morning after a week of late nights in the office.  They need an extra five minutes to wake up.

After a period of barefoot walking, you can take the next step.  YOU CAN START RUNNING!

It’s usually recommended that you run 400m to 800m barefoot during every run. The jury is out if you run barefoot at the beginning or the end of the run. Some say you should run barefoot at the beginning so that you can continue to run in a barefoot style after you have put on your shoes. Some say you should run barefoot at the end to allow your feet and ankles to warm-up and avoid overstraining weak muscles. My advice is to try both and see which way suits you.

Firmer surfaces are an easier surface to learn good form. Paved roads (not chip and seal) are better than sand and grass.

Ensure you are always aware of any pain in your lower legs and feet. If something doesn’t feel right, the likelihood is that it isn’t. Sharp pains, or pain that doesn’t go away with rest or RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) should always be investigated. You will experience aches similar to those you get when you start any new sport. So don’t be overly concerned if you ache the next day after your first barefoot run.

Once you are running pain free, you can consider running longer. It’s suggested that you adopt the same 10-per-cent-a-week rule that you would use when building any mileage. So if you are a marathon runner, you could be a while before you are running that marathon completely barefoot.

Of course, the above is a guide. Any advice I give is based on one huge variable. You. Every barefoot or minimalist runner will take different times to transition completely to this style of running. There are a huge number of variables: the amount of time you spend barefoot or in zero-drop shoes, your physical condition and the condition of your form before you go barefoot will all affect your transition time. Even deciding to transition in minimal shoes or completely barefoot will affect your progress. Generally, your running form will come together quicker if you start off completely barefoot.

Don’t get complacent. There is still a lot of work to do — you now need a mental workout.

It’s clear that a lot of injuries cited due to barefoot running are usually due to a lack of education. Some runners feel all they need to do to start minimalist running is to by a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. Then they run in their mentally ingrained, poor form with disastrous consequences. At this point, the minimal shoes are unfairly blamed. The barefoot and minimalist running community have concentrated a lot on education over the last couple of years to combat this scenario.

Here’s a list of important resources.

Barefoot Runners Society

Barefoot Ken Bob

Barefoot Running University

Natural Running Centre

Maple Grove Barefoot Guy

You will get there: have patience. Remember, good running form is like marriage. To keep your form happy, you need to work at it constantly. Having occasional periods of barefoot running in your training will keep your form in check.

The journey will seem painfully slow. Those looks of amazement at your next race will be worth it.