Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Running.. barefoot... barefoot running

The book "Born to Run" by Christopher MacDougall is worth reading - whether you just want to hear a good story, or you enjoy running, or you enjoy reading about other ways of life, this book will keep you turning the pages. It's an amazingly true story about a "secret" tribe called the Tahumara. They live fairly "simple" lives in canyons in Mexico. They run more than they do anything else, and are incredibly good at it. While the story weaves information about their incredibly interesting culture, and the equally strange culture of ultramarathoning, (culminating in an ultra marathon foot race between several members of the tribe and a few brave U.S. ultra marathoners), what struck my interest in a "Hippie Earth Mama" way, was the information presented about barefoot running.

There is contradictory evidence on the topic of barefoot running from all sources - runners, shoe companies, scientists, and physical therapists. It does strike me as ironic that doctors encourage parents to have babies walk around barefoot as often as possible to learn balance and proper foot strike, but people doubt the efficiency of a barefoot running community. My overall understanding is that people love it or hate it, and there are even varying degrees of barefoot running. There are the "true" barefoot runners, then there are people (like me) who will keep their socks on and do a brisk walk on the treadmill, there is the Vibram Five Finger shoe which for all intents and purposes is just enough rubber to prevent the runner from stepping on glass while maintainging the feeling of barefootedness. Some runners simply run barefoot long enough to regain a more natural heel strike, while others run barefoot at all times, including while running in marathons or ultra marathons.

The evidence presented in the book made an extraordinarliy strong case for barefoot running, and I must admit, I was intrigued. I didn't want to hurt my feet on pebbles and nature, so I jumped on the treadmill, putting it at the speed I normally ran at. The clomping and stomping that ensued scared the pants off me! I obviously did not have a good footstrike, and was not going to achieve one if I kept up at my normal speed. It turns out, other people have made the same mistake I made and ended up with huge blisters. The recommendation is to start slowly. Seriously slowly. At a walk. Build up from there as you feel more confident. Also, don't do all runs barefoot at first, because you won't have the proper calluses formed yet, and the skin is more liable to tear.

Personally, I feel this idea of barefoot running really does help a runner, walker, or general person gain perspective on how we use our feet. The shoes we wear make our feet so numb to the way we walk, we can often develop problems. I won't run barefoot all the time, but I do think its a worth while thing to do at least once a week at a walk. It helps us gain the proper footstrike and it connects our feet directly with nature - which we can always use more of.

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