“Yet with all this ultra-running going on, no data on running injuries exists prior to the creation of the modern, super-structured running shoe in the 1970s. Does that mean no one ever got hurt? More likely, it means runners were gentler on their legs and landed more softly because they weren’t relying on air-injected foam.” ~Christopher McDougall, Author of Born to Run
FYI, if you want to start from the beginning, you can get to Part 1 here!
In 2011 I discovered Vibram 5-Fingers (VFFs). On my way to the gym one day I stopped in at my local running store and found that they had my size in stock. I bought a pair, put them on, hit the treadmill, and never went back to running shoes again. This was a mistake, a very big mistake.
I was in severe pain the next day. I hurt from the heel of my foot all the way up through the top of my calf, including my Achilles tendon. I was smart enough to rest but not smart enough to get back in to my regular shoes. This was my beginning of being the “Primitive” guy and I was not going to do something as silly as wear shoes. However, I was a real estate agent at the time and still wore positive heeled dress shoes most of the day. I still had a lot to learn.
I continued running and training in my 5-fingers and my body slowly began to adjust. Then I read “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall and, like an idiot, I decided I was going to start barefoot running. Now, in case you haven’t read “Born to Run”, let me tell you that this is pretty much a story about a race. An interesting one at that but it is definitely not an instructional book on how to run barefoot. For some reason though, it inspired me and a bunch of other dummies to go out unshod, and try to run like the Tarahumara Indians.
So I hit the park for my normal run, but this time I ditched my VFFs. This resulted in big, giant, painful blisters on my feet. As smart I was at this point in my life, I was not smart enough to know that the blisters were a sign that I was doing something wrong. I thought it was just part of the process to make my feet tough. Tough enough to run marathons and stuff. I thought that these blisters would heal and create a thick protective pad on my feet, perfect for barefoot trail running, but they didn’t. In fact, I would just develop new blisters under the existing dead skin. Oh, and that dead skin – the stuff that I thought would be that thick pad I thought I needed – would come off, exposing fresh, soft, newly developed skin, which of course, I would destroy by going out on another barefoot run.
Then I read Barefoot Ken Bob Sexton’s book. That’s when I realized I was doing everything wrong. Ken Bob’s book was an actual “how to” book and, boy, did I learn a lot. One of the things that has stuck in my mind after all these years is his claim that minimalist shoes aren’t a transition to running barefoot but rather running barefoot is a prerequisite to running in minimalist shoes. He claims that if you move from regular shoes to minimalist shoes and try to run in them you will get hurt, which is exactly what I and so many others have experienced. He says that if you first learn to run barefoot you can then apply this running technique to your minimalist running.
Just to be clear, although Ken Bob suggest your learn to run barefoot first, he does not suggest you ditch your shoes immediately, like I did. Instead, he suggests you slowly work your way into barefoot running, albeit through baptism by fire. Two of Ken Bob’s training techniques are pretty hardcore. One is to go running at night so you can’t see the ground and therefore don’t look down. The other is to drive out to a gravel road and get out of your car, and run barefoot. This may sound extreme but it works. It forces you to adjust your gait so that running doesn’t hurt. Which, by default, is the “right way” to run barefoot.
When I did this I learned a very important lesson, take your shoes with you! I went to a park where I usually run. I knew there was a gravel part of the loop. This part was going to be my baptism by fire. I ran about a half a mile to get to the gravel and at first had no issues, but it didn’t take long for my feet to be in so much pain that I was ready to quit. The problem was, I couldn’t quit. It was literally not an option. I could have turned around and went back but I estimated that I was already half way through the gravel part of the trail so I thought I might as well press on. My estimation was wrong. I was far from the halfway point. I ended up walking the rest of the gravel part of the trail. Each step with a bent knee and relaxed foot. I was practically in a meditative state trying my best to stay relaxed. You see, if you tense up your foot, it causes even more pain when you step on stuff like rocks or Legos. They key is to keep your foot relaxed enough so that it will mold itself around whatever you are stepping on. The cool thing about this experience is that as soon as I set foot on the black top trail, I took off. It was the best two mile barefoot run I ever experienced. When I got back to my truck I had very dirty and tender feet but not one blister, all because I had learned how to run barefoot.