Janice Nichols writes over on the Barefoot Runners Society blog about being DQ’d for competing in a triathlon barefoot. I’ll let you read her post (and take a look around the site – some great stuff there!) but will give you my thoughts here.
Thought #1 – Irrational, that sucks, stupid, unfair, how could they, what?, haters, outrage! etc, etc.
Thought #2 – How very unfortunate for Janice and I feel genuinely bad for her.
It’s certainly too bad that the rules were written in such a way that she ended up with the DQ. It goes to show that barefoot running has a ways to go to become a more mainstream and acceptable method of running. It shows an overly narrow view of what makes a runner in the eyes of a select few. Fortuantely over time, that is beginning to change and barefoot running will continue to make inroads and become more accepted in traditional running formats.
Thought #3 – After reading about Janice’s experience, I will make it a point to check with the race organizer’s before hand if barefoot / minimalist shoes are allowed.
I think this serves two purposes. The first being that it gives me confirmation prior to shelling out the bucks for a race. My budget is pretty tight and running in organized (timed, etc) races is a luxury spend for me so it makes sense to make sure I will be able to compete prior to entering. Secondly, this gives me the opportunity to make sure the race organizers are aware that there is some barefoot interest out there. Race’s need participants to be successful and if a race director is not aware that they are denying a certain type of athlete this is a great opportunity to educate them and help them make the event available to a broader spectrum of people.
In the end, we should all take a lesson from Janice and if you are signing up for a competitive event that you haven’t been in before, make certain that they will welcome all runners.
Stand back and put on your safety goggles, I will be doing Science this year!
Okay, so not really me, it sounds like I am more of the lab rat (what are we going to do tonight Brain?). The University of Delaware (go Blue Hens) has a running injury lab (who knew) and is currently conducting a study in regards to injuries of barefoot runners. This study will collect data from barefoot runners over the course of the next year and then compile the results. Interested parties can contact the survey coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to qualify for the study.
My contribution will be to maintain a minimum mileage each month and report on any injuries, etc via a survey. I’ll keep you posted on my part in the science experiment ( same thing we do every night Pinky, take over the world!) and let you know the results of the study if and when they’re made available.
Here in the great Pacific Northwest it’s the start of the rainy season. For the next 12 months, there will be a steady drizzle from the skies, then it will start all over again Actually, we have killer weather here, a little bit of everything and if you give it ten minutes, you’ll get something different. and while it sometimes feels like it rains all year long, truthfully, we get to enjoy all four seasons. Fall is terrific running weather of course, the red and gold leaves begin to fall and the local trails and streets can become a carpet of color. The cooler temperatures are perfect for longer runs, while the crisp air helps to invigorate the lungs and the slight chill before getting warmed up is enough to get the heart pumping.
I have learned a lot about barefoot running in the rain recently and thought this would be a good opportunity to share some of what I’ve learned.
The first thing I’ve learned is that its damn fun! Running in the rain is wet, slightly cold, a little chilly to the muscles and your feet are cold – but its fun! It’s fun in a “I remember when I was a kid” type of way. Gliding over wet pavement and concrete, through muddy trails and dripping evergreens is an awesome feeling when you can feel every bit of the way with your toes.
I’ve found that the paint striping on streets and curbs can be slippery. Fallen leaves and wet clay can be like a greased pig – so be careful! Pavement can have as much temperature variation cold as it does when it’s hot outside. I have also learned that the ground feel while going barefoot allows you to really respond quickly and safely when you begin to slip. There is an immediate feedback mechanism when your toes and feet begin to slide and your body will strive to automatically compensate and search for better footing and balance. Because of the light step and low impact that I am making as a barefoot runner, when I begin to slide, the effort to recover is so minimal that I barely notice the interruption.
I have rediscovered that puddles are cool. It’s childishly fun to go streaking through the puddles. A note of caution though because a puddle is similar to a field of grass in one respect: you can’t see the ground underneath them. With grass you can’t see whats lying underneath – rocks, holes, dog poo, etc. With puddles, there’s great fun in going through them, but recognize that there is probably some debris in the bottom of those puddles that you will need to be sensitive to. I happily splash through smaller puddles but I work to avoid large puddles unless I’m very familiar with the route.
You’re going to get wet. Wetter even than in shoes. You’re bare feet will splash water and dirt up higher on your ankles, calves, legs, etc. But really, if you’ve come this far in barefoot running, who cares about a little dirt and water. Sure you’ll get dirty but you are also going to get dry faster. No wet shoes and socks to deal with. When I get home, it’s a simple matter to wash off and dry my feet and then I’m good for the next time. I don’t have my wet and muddy shoes that need to be dealt with or smelly wet socks piling up. A definite plus and one of the great side benefits of barefoot running – you don’t need anything to go run, just go!
The mantra of “if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter” can be a great partner in the rain. In a rainstorm, there’s a lot of distraction with the main ones being wet and cold. It’s hard to focus on the fundamental form and stride when your focused on being miserable. In the rain, it’s even more important to focus inward and concentrate on how you move through the run. By shifting the focus away from the discomfort and onto the fundamentals and moving through the environment, you can then work on absorbing the environment around you more. As an example by taking my focus away from what I could not control ( the rain) I have been able to run a PR, speed around a rabbit trying to avoid the rain, I’ve raced a small family of deer ( they won but I gave good chase for a hundred yards!), and I have waved at a bunch of friendly car honks. Truthfully, I’ve not been able to dodge all the raindrops, but I’ve managed to outrun a few!
Since my last posting here, I have been working hard on setting up my pacing and form. I’m happy to report that I think I have made some good progress in this area and have been able to increase my range to 2 miles without injury or pain. I am Hugely and Very excited about this! I should be to a respectable 5K distance and time within two months at this current pace.
As previously discussed, the form in running barefoot is very different than what I would run when wearing shoes. Barefoot running avoids the heel strike and instead focuses on a mid or forefoot landing with the arch of the foot distributing the impact across the foot followed by the lower leg structures absorbing and rebounding the stride. This type of foot placement necessitates that the stride length be shorter yet more frequent. Shorter strides allow your foot to stay centered under the body as you move forward which keeps the entire weight mass in a more vertical line versus the long extended heel-first stride when running in shoes. That’s all well and good but in reality, how the hell is that accomplished?
Enter the blogosphere. Through my learning and reading around the interwebs as well as various books there is a lot of talk about shortening the stride length. The shorter stride mandates less impact on your body simply because what goes up must come down. The short stride means that as my body is moving forward / upward with the momentum it’s coming down at a gentler rate than if I was in shoes and heel strikes. Go ahead and try it! Take off your shoes and run down the hallway of your house at a normal pace. Hear the pounding? Now do it my way, think “ninja”, soft steps, light touches to the ground. You can hear the difference as your body automatically takes shorter steps to accomplish the lighter ground touch. The stride has shortened and you are landing on the fore and mid-foot rather than the heel. That’s the type of form I’m after.
The BR stride measures out at around 180 steps per minute. The typical recreation runner (e.g. someone faster than me!) will cover the same distance averaging around 160 steps per minute in shoes. Don’t believe it? Go ahead and try it! Go run, count your steps over the course of a minute. I’ll wait here <twiddles thumbs>. Welcome back, 160 right, Ok let’s move on. What is the difference between 160 and 180? Stride length and impact.
That’s what I’ve been working on. I’ve also found a great tool to help me keep pace at 180 steps. This has been a huge help for me as it allows me to get into a rhythm and sustain that over time.
Here’s my great tool to keep pace with:
Tick Tock, Tick Tock, 180 times per minute.
So I did not really take my Grandma’s metronome running with me. Being the internet age that we live in, I instead found this: Reztronics.com
MP3 files in a variety of beats per minute that are perfect for pacing. I simply downloaded the entire zip file, donated a few bucks to say thanks, and then put the 180 bpm file on a loop that plays as I run. It’s not loud enough to interfere with my run, but its there in the background and when I actively listen for it, I can adjust my stride and foot falls to match. This has been a huge help for me in really getting to the target pace. There are other solutions as well, the most obvious is music that plays at 180 bpm (google for the playlists) but I like the simplicity of the Reztronics mp3 files. It matches the minimalist philosphy in my mind – “just enough to get the job done”.
I’ve been able to get my pace and stride length under more control with this method. I’ve increased my distance, decreased my times, expend less energy, and decreased my TMTS related soreness! With this little bit of rhythm I’ve found that I’m starting to cruise!
As you may recall, one of my goals in starting down the BR path was to increase my speed. In running shoes, I felt that I had reached a plateau of sorts and was having a very difficult time reaching faster speeds and better times over longer distances. I imagine with some pro coaching I might have been able to reach that next level but as an amateur recreational runner that just wasn’t a practical solution in my view.
Without shoes I hoped to increase speed, distance, and fun in running while reducing impact and injuries to my joints and muscles.
I can accurately report that I have quadrupled my fun. I’ve have been completely surprised by just how much fun I can have running barefoot down the street or through the woods! It’s incredible to me actually. That may be in part to how frustrated I was with my performance in shoes but I also think that it’s just plain more fun to run this way. Feeling the ground in such a new way is exciting and different. Interacting with the terrain in a much more conscious way also adds to the feeling of actively being involved in running rather than just a passenger along for the workout while my shoes pound out the miles.
In my shoes, I could “space out” and just go along for the ride sometimes while clearing my head of the stress of that day. Without shoes, I can’t check out of what’s happening around me, I will injure myself ( probably badly) if I’m not paying attention. What I do find is that by focusing on what my feet are feeling, where to step next, what’s up the trail, placing my feet under me, and all the little nuances that my mind is extremely occupied and that in turn pushes all of the same daily stress away. I get the same stress relief only its magnified by the concentration I’m putting forth. It’s not a hard effort ( I’m not thinking hard – trust me!) but it is a conscious effort to think about what is going on around me and that results in the same stress relief and relaxation that I was looking for in my daily shod runs.
The other half is definately the uniqueness / craziness of running without those shoes – its fun to see some of the looks, and answer the questions (very important to do this IMO) as I lumber down the street with my toes getting some sun. Being able to show people that anyone can do this with a little practice and lots of patience is rewarding, and fun.
So yes, I’m still a little frustrated that my speed and my distances are not where I hoped to be at this stage. I’m a little bummed that I have a few nagging injuries that hold me back some days. But I also understand that if I push through those problems it will result in even bigger problems and the dreaded TMTS. I know that it’s only a matter of time before I’m able to run pell-mell through the forest with a huge grin on my face and my toes seeking the light and shadows on the trail.
Until then, I’ll keep plugging along, building muscles, endurance, strength, form, and all those things. What I have achieved though is I’ve found the fun in running again.
Having decided to ditch the shoes and focus on barefoot running I felt it was prudent to begin slowly! After all I was leaving the security of closed and protected feet and now willingly exposing my toes to pavement, concrete, rocks, and the occasional dog poo ( a story for another time!)
In barefoot running (BR for short) there is a common phrase used: TMTS.
TMTS stands for To Much, To Soon. TMTS stands for pain and injury. If you do TMTS when first beginning to run / walk barefoot, you will be hurting.
If something starts to hurt when you start moving around barefoot, STOP! Take a break, come back and finish your walk later, put on some shoes. Whatever it is, avoid TMTS.
Shod runners have a tendency to “push through the pain”, “go the extra distance”, and other cliches. This results in injury which leads to poor performance and possible chronic problems later on. In BR we attempt to run lighter and more natural which results in less impact, less wear and tear, and injury free. Focusing on form over speed or distance takes a long time, the results are not immediately available to you as a BR runner. However, what is available is running at a comfortable pace that allows you to enjoy the process.
I started my transition by going barefoot around the house as much as possible. I still wore shoes to run in, but around the house I was using my bare feet. After a while, I moved outside the house, again being light and cautious as there was no rush to complete a set time or distance limit.
Finally, I began to move down the street, and within a few weeks was walking a mile on pavement and concrete. As my comfort level rose, I uppped the speed slightly, eventually reaching a full jog over time. Each time something did not feel correct or slightly uncomfortable, I stopped. On one or two jaunts, my old habits came back and i “pushed through” with immediate results – I had done T MTS and my calves and ankles were not happy.
Moral of my story – go slow. There’s no reason to push hard into BR. Start with 1/4 mile walking for a week, then go to 1/2 the next week. Once your up to a mile then start slowly jogging 1/4 of that mile. Again, watch out for TMTS and if you feel it coming on – STOP!
Welcome to Cascadia Path – a barefoot journal!
I hope that I can use my experiences and learning to help others who may be considering trying barefoot or minimilist shoe lifestyle.
First of all, let me be perfectly clear – I am no expert nor am I qualified to give professional advice to anybody about anything, much less on how to walk or run barefoot.
What I can do though is give you some of tips and tricks that I have learned through others as well as hopefully provide a forum for questions and concerns as you consider taking up a more natural approach to running.
Finally, I will be documenting for your amusement my ongoing transition from shoes to none and hopefully you can learn from my mistakes!
So take off your shoes and come along!