Free To Run

Free To Run

There is something ‘afoot’ with the running world.  A movement that has existed on the fringes of running for many years is gaining momentum and becoming significantly more main stream.  Its exponents claim it will make you faster, happier and healthier than any other form of exercise and, despite myself, I can only agree.  Two blindingly obvious facts should be considered at this point:
•    Not a single reader of this was born with shoes on their feet.
•    We (Homo- Sapiens) are weak and slow, virtually weapon-less and senseless when compared to the rest of the natural world.  In the race for survival our ancestors were outgunned on most fronts.  Physically we are only good at one thing; Endurance running.

You, I and everyone was born to run.  Our body is littered with evidence to support this fact.  Comparing the anatomy of us with that of our closest living relative, the chimpanzee, our bodies have:
•    A strong Nuchal ligament at the back of the head – perfect for keeping the head still when moving quickly – and no other primate has one.  What does? Other specialist endurance runners like dogs and horses.
•    Enormous Gluteus Maximus (butt) muscles – almost devoid of activity at walking speed, but a fundamental motor of running gait (grab your butt when walking and then speed up to a jog if you don’t believe me).
•    Moving down the legs we find long tendons on hamstring and calf muscles that are ideal for storing and returning energy in running gait.
•    Short toes, which appear to make little difference to walking, but,  you’ve guessed it, they  are vital to make endurance running efficient.
(REF: Bramble, DM and Lieberman, DE (2004) Endurance Running and the Evolution of the genus Homo. Nature 432: 345-352)

Our ancestors relied on these adaptions to survive and hunt, chasing prey through the midday sun until they simply keeled over from heat exhaustion (the prey not our ancestors).  What’s more, they seem to have managed OK without pronation control or gel sacks stuffed between them and the surface of the earth.

Call it what you like, but minimalist footwear and barefoot running seems to make sense and looks to be here to stay.  In my personal experience and opinion, I’m not sure it will make you faster (despite making the conversion, I’m still distinctly average), but I do believe for most people it will make running a lot more fun and help you reduce overuse injuries which are the plague of so many people.

The trouble is, after a lifetime of wrapping your feet in cloth then binding them in leather or plastic prisons on a daily basis, running the way your forefathers did  will take a bit of getting used to. The good news is that Rocktape is the perfect tool to help your body throw off its shackles and convert (or rather revert) to the way nature intended.

Rockdoc, practising what he preaches.  Not barefoot this day, but halfway through 44 miles of coastpath and the form isn’t too shabby (yet).

KEY STEPS TO BAREFOOT STYLE RUNNING
A wise man once said that the path to true barefoot enlightenment does not lie in shoes.  Going directly from structured conventional running shoes to minimalist shoes will often end badly as the body fails to adapt fast enough.  I believe a better way to convert from structured shoes to barefoot is to GO BAREFOOT.   Take your shoes off and spend as much time as possible barefoot.  Potter around the house, go for walks or do the gardening, but don’t run yet.  I don’t think it unreasonable to say that, no matter how good a runner you are, if you are not used to spending time barefoot, you should aim to walk 20-50miles barefoot before you even try to run without shoes.

Beware of going too far too soon.  If sore muscles don’t fail, your skin might.

That done; start with running for just a few minutes and try to cover a variety of surfaces and terrains running AS QUICKLY AS FEELS EASY.  On those first few barefoot runs the skin on the soles of your feet will limit both how far and fast you run, but this is exactly what you need to let the rest of your body adapt without breaking.  As your skin toughens up and those quick little steps start to feel natural, you can start to build up distance and time.
The easiest way to start converting your running style is to take your shoes off and introduce the bottom on your feet to the top of the Earth.  Run on all but the most unforgiving surfaces and you will find your body making most of these changes without having to think about it:

Anton Krupicka, world class ultra athlete and advocate of barefoot style running,  takes the minimalist thing pretty seriously.
•    Take more steps (150+ per minute)
•    Aim to land on a perfectly flat foot with relaxed ankle
•    Bend your knees more.
•    Keep your toes up.
•    Keep your spine long and tall.
•    Focus on placing the foot and picking it up again with as little impact, slide or push as possible.

Once you can run barefoot for around 30mins (in my humble opinion), you should be ready to try out some barefoot shoes.  These will protect your skin, leaving the shock absorption down to you, and vastly expand the roughness of terrain you can run, on which is great. They also let you run quicker than barefoot, which is where the danger of minimalist shoes on the wrong feet arises.   Even when you pace your conversion right, it’s not that unlikely a few bits will hurt or be exposed as being a little weak. Next up we will look at the most useful tapings to help you run free.

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