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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Half Marathon in Vivobarefoot Evo IIs

Hi guys, so this school year I've been enjoying running barefoot quite a bit. On October 27th I ran my second half marathon in minimalist footwear. This time I was on home turf on the back roads of St. Johnsbury and Lyndonville Vermont. While in my first half I ran in my Xero Shoes (formerly Invisible Shoes), this time I was sporting my Vivobarefoot Evo IIs. I had recently purchased them in preparation for cooler weather. Last winter I had the Softstar Original Runamocs, but after a trip to New Zealand they took a little bit of a beating. Because the shoe broke down in less than a year, I decided to go with a different one. I had heard a lot about Vivobarefoot, a minimalist shoe company out of London, and how they had produced consistently solid minimalist footwear since their founding in 2003. After comparing all of their running shoes online, looking at weight, sole thickness, and upper material, I decided on the Vivobarefoot Neo. What's that? The Neo? I thought you ran in the Evo II? Well you'd be right. I bought my shoes through Leftlane Sports, which is a great discount site/app that sells name brand sports gear (if your interested in signing up let me know. If I invite you we each get ten dollars), and they only had the Evo II in my size. The Evo is a close second to the Neo, the Evo only weighs a little more. Since buying the shoe, I really love it. They fit well, there's no adjusting like my Xero Shoes, they fit right everytime, and they still keep my foot close to the ground, just 3mm away! The shoe is very flexible, you can roll it into a ball, and it's very light. So far they have fared very well for me.

The shoes were great for the half, although I could've worn my Xero Shoes. The morning of the race I described as "not warm but not cold". I ran in my tshirt and shorts but wore a long sleeve shirt up until GO. I got a personal best, 1:53:51. This is a great race for anyone who lives in the area. We had people from all over Vermont, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Quebec. I would describe the course as difficult but fun. As they told us before the race, "So there's rumors we took out the hills....we didn't. Actually we added one but we're not gonna tell you where it is." There was over 4,000 feet of elevation change, so you can imagine there were some big hills. So while it was substantially more hilly than my essentially flat half in New Zealand, I still had a lot of fun and enjoyed the familiar scenery, and some back roads I'd never been on. The last four miles of the course was where I had track practice in high school. As I was cruisn to the nine mile mark I told myself "Just another day of track practice." The toughest hill was about a mile long and was just before the seven mile mark. After reaching that highest elevation sign, I knew it would be smooth sailing from there. After the race my feet felt great, I felt great, and it was great to see many familiar faces I hadn't seen since high school. Many of my teachers were there, including Mr. Fink, a physics teacher who left after my Junior year to go work at a fiber optics company in Brattleboro. He has just recently planned to move back up North and so I had the pleasure of seeing him again. Many other teachers, friends, and fellow Vermonters were there, whom I had not seen in over four years. I also had the pleasure of cheering on my mentor teacher Jared Bailey from Williston Central School in Williston, Vermont. He and Joy Peterson, another teacher from our team, ran a great race, especially after the long drive across the state. Overall I had a great time and encourage all of you to do the Kingdom Challenge!

This was a big victory for me because after my last half marathon my feet were hurting a bit. This time my feet felt great, which really gave me confidence that my barefoot form has improved. When I'm training, I use the "posture reset" from Merrell Barefoot and Chis McDougall's 100 ups to correct my posture and form. I strongly recommend both of these for new or current minimalist runners. Now I'm back to casual running and looking ahead to a marathon in Hyannis, MA. Maybe I'll see you guys there in February! Until then kick off your socks and shoes and Go Barefoot!

P.S. I'm also running a Santa 5k on December 2nd in Burlington, VT! You get a full Santa suit and you get to keep the Santa suit!!! Can't wait!

The Kingdom Challenge Website:
http://www.thekingdomchallenge.com/

Vivobarefoot:
http://www.vivobarefoot.com/us/

The Evo II:
http://www.vivobarefoot.com/us/evo-mens-38.html

Friday, September 28, 2012

Invisible Shoes Has Color!

Hey guys, my favorite minimalist shoe company just got better. Invisible Shoes changed their name to Xero Shoes and released four new sole colors! Check it out here:

http://www.invisibleshoe.com/colors

Perfect for those who want to stand out or enjoy mixing and matching color. Also, I just read Steven will soon be releasing a video on walking in Xero Shoes. Stayed tuned and have fun. As always, kick off your socks and shoes and go barefoot! (Especially when winter's soon approaching!)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why the Dates?

Some of you may have noticed the date next to previous blog posts and are wondering, "What's going on here?" Well I started my telling my barefoot/minimalist story on posterous.com but recently decided to move to Blogger. As a result, I have transferred all of my old posts over to give new readers the whole story. Please read previous posts at your leisure. They say a lot about barefoot running in general, as well as my own personal story from shod cushioned shoes to now. I hope you have an interest or a love of barefoot running and if not I hope you do after reading some of these posts. Welcome and as I like to say, kick off your socks and shoes and go barefoot!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Technicalities and Chia Seeds (Feb 4)

Today I want to discuss a couple of topics: one the language I use to describe different kinds of shoes and running and two the great endurance food/drink, chia seeds. So early on I differentiated barefoot from 100% barefoot from minimalist. However, having read some more literature on the topic, including a post by my favorite, Steven Sashen, I have decided to reclassify how I reference this topic. You may have already noticed I switched over to calling all minimalist shoes, including huaraches and toe shoes, by the same name....minimalist footwear. Barefoot running, I now consider just that, running without any shoes. Go figure it makes sense now. Finally I will do away with the phrase "100% barefoot" except when wanting to add extra emphasis. Sorry to change this terminology, but as Steven says, it really doesn't make sense to call a shoe barefoot. Barefoot means just that. It's a small distinction but an important one. This doesn't change the fact that some shoes are more minimalist than others. Birthdayshoes.com created a continuum to more and less minimalist shoes (see here: http://birthdayshoes.com/barefoot-running-shoes under "barefoot running shoes continuum"). To see Steven Sashen's post on the classification of minimalist shoes vs. barefoot go here (http://www.invisibleshoe.com/1085/the-little-lie-of-barefoot-running/).

 

Now the other topic for today is the magical food chia seeds. Well I guess they aren't exactly "magical" per se, but they are an excellent source of just about everything. This is just a section I took from wikipedia to give you an idea:

"In a one ounce (28 g) sample, dried chia seeds contain 9% of the Daily Value for protein (4g), 13% fat (9g) (57% of which is ALA) and 42% dietary fiber (11g), based on a daily intake of 2000 calories.[8] The seeds also contain the essential minerals phosphorus, manganese, calcium, potassium and sodium[8] in amounts comparable to other edible seeds, such as flax[9] or sesame.[10]"

However, many sources have also applauded chia seeds, just type them into google. In addition, they also contain a substantial amount of calories, which make them a great endurance food. The Tarahumara put them in in water with a lime and a bit of sugar, also known as Iskiate. This is one of two endurance drinks that the Tarahumara live on when running 100s of miles non stop. So whether you use them for a natural daily superfood or for endurance running, these little guys can't be beat! They are also incredibly cheap and can be purchased at your local grocery store, I got mine at the bulk section of a local coop. They also have a shelf life of two years if kept in a cool, place. One CNN article praised the nutritional benefits but cautioned the amount of calories per serving. But if you use them for endurance running, they are perfect! (here's the CNN article http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/29/are-chia-seeds-a-superfood/) Well that's all for today but definitely go buy some chia seeds and try them out. One last note, if you let them sit in liquid for a while they develop a gel coating, which creates a second kind of fiber (both are good for your body!). This gelling also helps them fight hunger if you are trying to lose weight or are running long distances non-stop. Chia seeds magnify the taste of what they are put in, making limeade taste more lime-y, chocolate chip muffins more chocolatey, etc. They can also be used in baking! You can substitute chia gel for butter in many baking recipes as well! As you can see there are endless benefits to these magical little seeds. However, if you need to take any drug tests any time soon, be warned that they make you test positive for salvia. While legal in the U.S. and many other countries, some businesses will not let you test positive so just be aware.

 

As always kick off your socks and shoes and go barefoot!

 

P.S. I wanted to share this hilarious video done by Steven Sashen. It has already been put on birthdayshoes.com and it getting lots of attention.

http://www.invisibleshoe.com/1304/sht-barefoot-runners-say/

Today's Run: Success! (Jan 11)

Hi guys, I just went for a short run and it was awesome!  This morning when I got up I knew I wanted to go for a run but I wanted to watch some more videos on form.  What I found caused a couple of epiphanies to occur, which finally fixed my form (or so I think)!

First I watched:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkF61mAJZxI

Which compared running forms.  What I took away from it was the reinforcement of rolling the foot from the outside in, and that toe striking is best and the hardest for shod runners.  However, when looking at his barefoot form he almost midfoot strikes, but I digress.  I had been going back and forth over toe and midfoot strike, this video encouraged me to stick with the toe strike (a form I had even with conventional shoes before my barefoot awakening) over new attempts at midfoot strike.  It also returned me to the foot roll, which Steven Sashen talks about on Living Barefoot:

http://www.livingbarefoot.info/2011/07/we-interview-steven-sashan-owner-of-invisible-shoes/

Next I rewatched a favorite,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pd1QvXJS9m4

here we see Tirunesh Dibaba, an Ethiopian Olympian, doing a 10K.  What I take away from this video is her kick back with her feet, how far her knees come out in front of her, most of what the pop up comments say.  Today though, the biggest thing that stuck with me was that there was minimal up and down motion and maximum forward motion.  This was a central part of my run today that really improved my form and speed.  

Finally I watched "My transition to barefoot running - 7 months (#4)"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUP0-q_wjPU

This video further reinforced the idea of rolling the foot from the outside in and also brought my attention to his kick back.  It isn't as significant as Dibaba's but still more than what I believed myself to be doing.  In the previous video, it noted that Dibaba was leaning forward slightly; however, here he is straight up and down.  I played with this on my run, but mostly agree with a straight body position.  However, there may be a slight lean forward at high speeds.

With this new found/renewed video form knowledge I took to the streets and went for a 15 minute run.  Another thing I thought about from the second part of the first video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlm4SCzpCkU

is that because I haven't been minimalist running every day, my feet and calves aren't as strong as they should be.  I do walk around barefoot or in my Soft Star Runamocs ALL the time, but it may not be enough to keep me in "barefoot shape".  Keeping this in mind I limited my run, also considering the cold.  Today the temperature came in right around 30 (nice and warm!) with no wind.

On the run, I focused on rolling my foot from the outside in, landing on my toes, keeping my body straight (although sometimes leaning slightly forward), stepping under my body, although the knee is allowed to come in front of you a bit, minimizing my up/down motion and really flinging myself forward down the road, and finally kicking my feet back and up.  My main focus was definitely moving forward quickly.  I know many sources say not to push/pull the ground but to place/lift your feet, however my mindset was to throw myself with my steps so as not to just bob up and down.  This made me a LOT faster.  At the same time I made sure to step light, being conscious of rocks under my feet, and to keep a high cadence (many steps per second).  Between my speed and the cold, I found myself having trouble breathing and my heart rate up before I became cold or felt any pain!  This is a first (at least for a long time)!  I actually was quite warm having worn long spandex and my winter jacket.

Overall I had a great run and look forward to many more in the future with the confidence of success!  Nevertheless, I am open to the fact that this form may not hold up over long distances, but I'll let you know as I experience it!

 

A shout out to Robert Ingram from the first and last videos of this post!  I loved his idea to record himself running everyday for a year!  He has some great info on running and it's fun with the snippets he throws in about his life.  It's easy to relate because it's just him running, no exceptions, no matter how he's feeling.  Check it out.

Thanks for reading and as always take off your socks and shoes and go barefoot!  Until next time.

Snow Shoveling Barefoot (Jan 4)

I recently read this post at invisibleshoe.com and have been meaing to share it:

http://www.invisibleshoe.com/1250/barefoot-in-the-cold/

Steven Sashen has built an incredible tolerance for the cold and wears his invisible shoe huaraches all year long!  Check it out!

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrb7jjo202c&feature=player_embedded

Colder... (Jan 4)

Just went for a three mile run, it's a balmy 15 degrees outside with wind here in Vermont.  Today I ran in my Soft Star Original Runamocs.  I found that my feet stayed warm except for what was outside of the shoe, i.e. the part of Achilles that was exposed and the bottom of my leg.  I wore long under armor spandex pants, which came down most of my leg, but the area around my ankle was still uncovered.  Overall, the coldest parts of my body were not my feet in my Runamocs.

Some things that were cold were my upper head and thighs simply because I dressed too cold.  As I have been recently, I worked on my form today.  After I was a third to half the way there my body got cold and numbed a little, which took my focus, and feeling, away from the sensation in my feet.  I know my right foot wasn't doing the same thing as my left because it hurt more in the ankle and was stiff.  I found my neck and shoulders were somewhat stiff also.  This prevented me from completely relaxing, which would allow me to move more easily and smoothly.  I tried a variety of things but couldn't really get my right foot to do the same as my left.  Nevertheless I tried everything from allowing my foot to "collapse" after the ball hit, springing up to prevent push/pulling the ground, shortening my stride/ taking more steps, bending my knees and compressing my legs more, all to no avail.  I also experimented with running faster and slower.  Certainly running slower allows one to focus on the details of their form more but sometimes going too slow causes one to over think things.  As creator of Invisible Shoes, Steven Sashen, says, everyone's barefoot form is different and cannot be "taught" (paraphrase).

After the run I noticed a couple of things: (1) I was cold, (2) my feet didn't hurt at all or feel any different except that my big toes hurt a bit.  I have found that I bruise my big toes due to my poor form.  Recently I have been trying to lighten my stride and experiment with placement to prevent this from happening.  

Next time I go out I will look warm up the area around my ankle, either with socks or sweatpants, etc.  Also, I will continue to work on feeling the ground and properly placing my feet so that no injury results.  Thanks for reading and remember to take off your socks and shoes and go barefoot! (Unless it's below 50, then consider minimalist shoes :))

Winter Hiking (Dec 31)

First I would like to say that I wish I had found a posting like this when I transitioned to barefoot running/walking.  

 

I just came back from my first winter hike of the season.  Here in Vermont it is 20 degrees and has been snowing through the night and this morning.  This means that the trail my brother and I walked on has a fresh coating of snow over the leaves.  On this lovely hike I wore my Soft Star Original Runamocs with medium cushion Wigwam wool tube socks.  My Runamocs had been getting a bit cold in weather below 30 degrees.  

One night my brothers and I went for a walk around on a paved road with little snow.  After about 30 minutes my feet began to get cold and move towards numbing.  On the walk back I flexed my feet, stomped on the ground, and stretched them, tightened them, etc. to get some warmth back in them.  This did work, to my delight, but it wasn't comfortable, just good enough to get me back to the warmth of my house.  However, my experience today has changed everything.

The first thing I noticed on the hike up was that the ground was slippery, and not just for me but also my brother who was wearing thick, waterproof army boots.  The snow coating made the trail slick, so one had to be careful on the steep inclines.  However, I was able to feel and grab roots, rocks, etc. very well!  The ground feel was incredible for the winter!  My feet cool actually bend around rocks and roots like they might be able to in the summer with bare feet or huaraches!  As a result my feet got a major workout, seeing as I haven't been doing minimalist runs lately.  Once back on flat pavement I could feel like slight ache that athletes crave.  But the best part of the hike was that my feet stayed 100% dry!  While the uppers of my Runamocs got a bit wet in the toe, the Wigwam socks kept me warm and even a little hot at times!  I was so happy with this experience that I wondered how my Smartwool toe socks would fair.  After getting back home and taking off the moccasins, I check the wool socks and only the tips were slightly damp and I believe some of that was sweat.  I am very very please with the result because this allowed me to practice my form on the trail, stepping light and on the mid/forefoot.  At the same time I stayed warm but didn't compromise ground feel!  I will test out hiking with toe socks soon and post about their effectiveness as well.

Thanks for reading and as always, take off your socks and shoes and go barefoot! (Unless it's below 30)

 

P.S. I recently got some other great advice on going minimalist in a read cold winter.  One comment on birthdayshoes.com recommended going to a shoe guy to get the sole removed and replaced with a zero drop sole (like the Vibram Newporter in his case).  He said this cost about $50 and could be done by any shoe repair place.  Here's the post:

"Comment from: JD Hall [Visitor]

JD HallThese are very similar to boots that I modified after falling in love with VFF and minimalist shoes. I had an old pair of Red Wing boots that I stopped wearing because of the huge heel. I took them to a local shoe repair shop and had the sole, shank, and everything else removed. Vibram Newporter soles were then stitched on. I love wearing them in the winter and for work now and the modifications only cost around $50. Any shoe repair store can make this conversion for you. I'll post pics in the forum section.

12/08/11 @ 10:33"

It was from this new post on the Oetzi 3300 Troop Boot:

http://birthdayshoes.com/oetzi3300-troop-boot-review

Good luck and have fun!

 

Injuries and More Cold Weather Running (Dec 2)

  On Wednesday November 16th, I went running with UVM's Running Club on a 5 mile run.  Now for the average shod runner that's almost entry level, especially seeing as their pace was very slow.  Nevertheless, for a barefoot runner coming out of transitioning, I had a lot to learn.  

In the beginning I was doing fine, just holding my form and speeding up my steps when I needed to keep up with the group.  I lost the pack on downhills but could still see them.  When we got to flat turf I would speed up my steps and catch back up.  However, after a while I began to lose the group and had to alter my stride a bit to keep up.  I believe I opened my stride like I would if I was wearing conventional shoes.  By the time we approached campus, I was still in the back of the pack.  The group had decided to power it out and I could keep up with them.  One reason I couldn't keep up was my arches were KILLING me!  By the time we reached our starting point, my feet were throbbing.  "Stupid, stupid," I kept telling myself, "You get what you deserve."  I had thought I had done a good job transitioning and modifying my form, turns out I had been lying to myself.  A vacation from running 100% barefoot and instead running in my huaraches at a slow pace had convinced me I was ready to move up.  This just wasn't so.  

My next move was to stay away from running for a while to prevent any real damage from being done.  Yesterday, Wednesday November 30th, was the first time I ran since that 5 miler.  I decided that my form was off and I needed to go back to square one in a lot of ways.  This meant 100% barefoot running, except this time it is cold.  

Here in Vermont it is a balmy 35 degrees Fahrenheit, with wind in Burlington.  Today I went on my second barefoot run since my "injury" two weeks ago.  Before I went out yesterday I watched several videos on YouTube and revisited old sources to refresh my memory on good form.  I also practiced in my room a bit to get myself used to it before I ran out in the cold.  I decided on this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=787hU5R79JY

Even though he runs in shoes in the video, his form was correct compared to various sources I have read over the past year.  I still looked at other videos to compliment but I mainly used this one.  With this form in mind I set out to run around campus for a >1 mile jog.  I focused on keeping excellent form and put on my Original Chocolate Runamocs when I got cold.  Once my feet warmed back off I took of my mocs and ran barefoot again.  My form feels much better now, but I still have a slow pace and don't have a relaxed upper body yet.  Holding my arms up so high creates a little tension.  Nevertheless, I plan to continue this pattern until there is snow on the ground.

Thanks for reading, as always, take off your socks and shoes and go barefoot!!!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Running Cold in Minimalist Shoes (Nov 7)

Today I went for a three mile run; I have completed my 8 week transition I created and have now moved into longer runs.  Unfortuneately I was unable to do all 8 weeks, I was cut short at 7 about two weeks ago due to the cold.  I have decided that below 55 it is too cold to run 100% barefoot.  At this point, one's feet begin to numb and you cannot receive the signals from the ground that one needs to maintain proper form.  However, while running 100% barefoot means your feet touch the ground, minimalist shoes put a layer of material between you and the earth, allowing you to......run colder!  


 


Here in Vermont it was 50 degrees today, real feel of 45 with a light wind.  Sounds unpleasant?  Not for a barefoot runner!  After having played around with wearing my softstar original runamocs and my invisible shoes, I decided to wear my huaraches on my run today.  It took a little bit to warm up but after I did it was smooth sailing.  I actually think I ran faster and better today than any other day so far!  My form constantly improves as I run in minimalist footwear, especially huaraches, which let my feet be the most free and let me feel the ground excellently!  Remember, with my Invisible Shoes there are only 4mm between me and the earth!  So my point is that wearing minimalist footwear lowers the threshold for running in cold weather.  Creater of Invisible Shoes, Steven Sashen, says it does so indefinitely on this post about cold:


 


http://www.invisibleshoe.com/cold/


 


Now I don't know if I could go as far as he can this year, but it is definitely something to experiment with.  Another note, I just bought a pair of Smartwool Toe socks today!  I got the toe sock mini crew and tried them on briefly when I got home.  They do feel wierd when you first put them on, like your circulation is being cut off a little, however I think part of that was the toe compartments stretching to the different lengths of my toes.  Injinji's FAQs about toe socks says that after a couple of wearings and washings, toe socks sort of "remember" the shape of your feet and become easier to put on.  Although I found the socks easy to put on, espeically having worn VFFs.  They do feel very warm considering I haven't worn socks in two months.  That said, I'm hoping they will be a less rigid alternative to my runamocs in the winter when I'm lying around at home.


 


I learn something new everyday it seems as we move into winter.  Stay tuned for my experience with barefoot running in the Vermont winter, my justification for huaraches as the best form of minimalist/barefoot shoe, and my barefoot transitioning plan.  Stay bare and Feel the World (shout out to Invisible Shoes)!

Today's Run: Running in the Cold (Oct 26)

Today I went for a run, I'm on day 48 of my transition plan running 100% barefoot.  I ran 0.88 miles today, at the end of two months I will run 1 mile 100% barefoot and be ready to run in minimalist shoes full time.  I wanted to comment on my run today because it was 50 degrees (real feel of 41) and overcast.  This was the coldest day I've run so far, it being November this makes sense, and I noticed that my feet began to go numb.  Now this wouldn't be so bad, they weren't at risk of frost bite or anything, except that when your feet numb they can't feel the ground how they normally would.  Seeing as I have been running barefoot for so long now, I have a good idea of how I should step, but I still was at a loss because I couldn't feel when a step hurt as much.  This sounds kind of ironic, one would think no pain would be good, which isnt' the case here.  I once read a comment from a barefoot runner, I believe he wore Vibram Five Fingers, who said he wouldn't run below 65 in his VFFs (not flows).  Since then I have run much colder and not been bothered.  It is also a matter of conditions, sometimes it can be cooler and the sun is out or you can bundle up and keep your body warmer.  My advice is to run 100% barefoot (or in minimalist footwear for that matter) until your feet are just past the point where they are numb and you don't receive that feedback from the ground.  

 

In the next few posts I hope to put up my transition plan, which I created from a variety of resources.  I haven't found anything like it anywhere else and am happy to make it available to up and coming barefoot runners.  As always, take off your socks and shoes and run barefoot!

What is Barefoot Running?

While one may think "barefoot running" would mean running without any shoes, it doesn't.  Barefoot running actually means running with a very specific kind of shoe.  This shoe has zero drop, is anatomically correct, has no padding/cushion/or arch support, has a thin sole that provides ground feel, has plenty of room for the toes to splay, and is lightweight.  

What do some of these criteria mean?  

Zero drop

Zero drop means that the shoe doesn't have a raised heel or raised toes.  Most conventional shoes have a raised heel.  Take a look at your nike sneakers and you'll notice that they heel is HUGE!  This encourages us to heel strike, which is not natural.  One can also have raised toes.  This may seem an odd concept at first, but there are some shoes, especially new shoes claiming to be "barefoot" or "minimalist" that raise the toes so they can achieve "zero drop".  In this way, the heel remains raised but the toes and heel are still at the same height.  To see an example of this horrific marketing scam go to a store like Sports Authority or Dick's Sporting Goods and look at the "fancy" running shoes.  This is where I had my first encounter with raised toes.  Creator of Invisible Shoes, Steven Sashen discusses this in a podcast interview on the Living Barefoot Show (http://www.livingbarefoot.info/2011/07/we-interview-steven-sashan-owner-of-invisible-shoes/).  Having a shoe be zero drop allows for your foot to fall more naturally, on the toe or midfoot, instead of the heel.  This directs the initial and secondary shock to contacting the ground in the way nature intended.  Instead of the shock traveling up your achilles tendon to your knee, the majority of the shock is absorbed in the outside of your foot and then there is secondary shock that is absorbed in the rear of your foot and then up the leg.

Anatomically Correct

No Padding or Support

This may seem self explanitory, but why is it important?  Most conventional shoe companies market that arch support or padding helps protect your feet from the shock when you step or land on the ground.  It is also supposed to protect your arches by holding them in place, etc.  Even to write this now is hard because nothing could be farther from the truth when it comes to benefitting your feet!  Our feet are designed to absorb and handle the shock from stepping/landing in a completely natural and healthy way.  Individuals who have flat feet have actually redeveloped arches with barefoot shoes!  This is because when you run barefoot you exercise your arch and so it is strengthened.  Shoes with a lot of padding and "support" insulate our feet from the real world and prevent them from being used how nature intended.

Thin Sole

Most conventional shoes have a very thick sole (about an inch or more!), this is supposed to protect our feet from sharp and pointy objects on the ground or rough terrain.  Intuitively, this makes sense, but our feet can do the same thing!  While we may not be able to walk everywhere without any protection, we can walk on most surface (with some conditioning) 100% barefoot.  To allow us to walk absolutely anywhere, barefoot shoes have a very thin sole.  This sole is thin enough to let us feel the ground but still protects us from the sharpest objects and the roughest terrain.  Ground feel is important because it influences how we step.  When you don't have an inch sole on your heel, it physically hurts to heel strike.  Barefoot runners either land on their toes, their midfoot, or land on the outside of their foot and roll in.  These are all natural ways to run, I usually do the last of the three and I believe that is the most common and supported by barefooters.  A thick sole prevents your foot from getting any feedback from the earth, which makes your step unnnatural.  

Roomy Toe Box

Some barefoot shoes still have a unified toe box.  A toe box is the front part of a shoe that houses the toes.  Most shoes have a one toe box that holds all the toes together.  Barefoot shoes do their best to either ditch the singular toe box or provide a toe box that is as roomy as possible without being cumbersome.  A roomy toe box is important because it allows your toes to splay how they would if you were 100% barefoot.  This allows your toes to support your step/landing and also improves your balance.  Barefoot runners also find that their toes straighten out over time (as little as two months!) because they aren't being squished together in a tighter toe box.  Some barefoot shoes like Vibram Five Fingers and Huaraches eliminate the toe box and give your toe splay maximum freedom.  Other options, such as moccasins, still have a closed toe box but are open enough for your toes to fully splay.

Lightweight

Finally, barefoot shoes should be lightweight.  Most barefoot shoes only weigh a few ounces, comparable to the lightest running shoes such as track spikes.  Weight makes a difference because in nature we don't have shoes, so making shoes as light as possible is more natural.  Some barefoot shoes are so light and fastened to one's foot in such a way that people forget they are wearing them!  

 

So running barefoot means running in a shoe that meets these criteria.  Barefoot shoes should not be confused with "minimalist" shoes, which may meet some of these requirements but not all.  The barefoot community really stresses the separation between the two because they are largely posers and do not provide a barefoot experience.  Some of these shoes are the Nike Free, NB Minimus, and the Saucony Hattori.  Nearly every major shoe company makes a "minimalist" shoe.  These are not bad per se, but they are certainly not barefoot.  Some of them have enough padding or thick enough sole that one can still heel strike and not immediately notice any difference.  This is the worst possible outcome because minimalist shoes are not constructed like conventional shoes so you can cause injury to yourself if you don't exercise proper form (more on this in later posts).  

To conclude, in the barefoot community there are four types of running (and shoe to along with them): 100% barefoot (no shoes!), barefoot running, minimalist running, and conventional or shod running.  Shod just means that your land on your heel first.  I hope that you take up barefoot running and walking for that matter, but wearing a minimalist shoe properly is better than a conventional shoe.  So I certainly encourage you to try something in the right direction.  Barefoot running is beleived to have many health benefits, which I will explain later, but actually neither barefoot running or shod running are scientifically proven to be better than the other.  For most of us who run barefoot, we don't need hard data, we know from personal experience that barefoot running feels better and has improved our lives in many ways.  As always, take off your socks and shoes and go barefoot! 

 

For more information on what qualifies as a barefoot running shoe, see:

http://birthdayshoes.com/barefoot-running-shoes

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Beginnings

In the spring of 2011 I had my first encounter with barefoot running.  I was in class at the University of Vermont when my professor mentioned Vibram Five Fingers or "toeshoes".  He explained to me that runing barefoot (called this even though you still have something on your feet) is good for you and doable on any surface!  I didn't believe it.  Having been a distance runner in track who has heard of the benefits of running on grass or dirt roads over pavement, I couldn't believe these toeshoes allowed someone to run anywhere and still be good for one's joints, etc.  

      As soon as I got done with class I went to google and found this site: http://birthdayshoes.com/why-toe-shoes, which is actually a blog posting on birthdayshoes.com.  I read the entire article and all the comments with incredible speed (I'm not a fast reader) and a passion I haven't seen in ages.  I then looked at the VFF (Vibram Five Fingers) website: http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/index.htm and discovered Invisible Shoes from a comment on the original post I found (invisibleshoes.com).  I was 100% absorbed into the idea of barefoot running from this point to today.  

      I have been recently interested in anthropology, with regard to the earliest humans, their practices, and how to be minimalist or natural.  In the same class mentioned above my professor mentioned persistence hunting, which an old hunting style where a person runs an animal to exhaustion and then stabs it for its meat.  This is believed to be how humans hunted before they developed throwing darts, spears, etc.  But I digress (this may be a topic of a later post.

      After researching various types of barefoot/minimalist footwear (VFFs, huaraches, Merrel Trailglove, Moccasins, etc.), I decided to buy a pair of custum huaraches from Invisible Shoes.  I decided they were the cheapest option and they were a sandal, which would be most enjoyable as I geared up for summer.  My Invisible Shoes arrived at the end of June; I quickly tried them on and discovered the incredibly different feel they have.  From then until September I only wore huaraches, unless I had to wear conventional shoes (for work).  My only trouble with Invisible Shoes was that I never got the tying tightness right.  This was due to my own laziness, I only tied them twice the whole summer (adjusted them once).  Any other source will tell you, tying Invisible Shoes is an art and one may need to tie huaraches many times, adjusting the tension and tying style each time until it is just right.  However, the benefit of this is that huaraches are super custom!  My issues was that my heel strap constantly fell down, but I just pulled it back up as a solution....or went 100% barefoot on occasion!  

      I went back to school at the end of August, only to find that one of my suitemates wears VFFs!  Although he is new to them (only got them a few weeks before school), it encouraged me to see a barefoot follower after an entire summer of being the only one at home.  I continued to wear my huaraches and continued to read everything I could about barefoot running and footwear.  Over the summer I had only worn my huaraches recreationally and for everyday use, now I decided to take up barefoot running.  

      I started running in my huaraches for about a week or two.  I just did my normal workout routine (warm up, do dynamic stretches, run, do static stretches) and replaced my conventional shoes with my huaraches.  I kept my mileage really low (5k) because I hadn't run much over the summer.  After a week or two I came across some research that threw up a red flag.  When transitioning, most people try to do too much too fast and injure themselves (http://birthdayshoes.com/how-to-transition-to-running-in-vibram-five-fingers)!  This is very serious because there is almost no protection between your feet and the earth, so you are prone to foot injuries.  I must have read this post three or four times, trying to get every ounce of information out of it.  Immediately I stopped my running schedule and created a barefoot transitioning workout.  In all the literature I read I could only find guidelines saying "start with 1/8 or 1/4 of a mile and slowly work your way up".  I had little idea what "slowly work your way up" meant, but the post cited above said you should do this for 1 to 2 months.  So I read as much as I could and created a workout schedule in which I increased my mileage by 1/8 of a mile every week, ending with 1 mile at the end of two months.  Currently I'm in week 5.  Originally I would run the same distance everyday, even though I knew this wasn't great based on my track experience.  I needed to alternate longer and shorter days.  Eventually I came across a Marathon trainer book that my friend had.  Inside was a Marathon Training Program, so I just copied it and made a few changes.  I made the longest day of each week the mileage I wanted to be at (1/8, 1/4, 3/8, 1/2, etc.) and then divided by the appropriate number through the rest of the week.  Today I just ran 5/8 of a mile.  As the post says, you're not trying to build muscle in this stage, just foot strength.  This foot conditioning is critical for preventing injury.  And one more thing, the transitioning program must be 100% barefoot.  That way you can receive as much information from the ground as possible, which will alter your stride and foot placement to be as natural as possible.  

      That is how I got started and you can too!  Since I began my transition workout I have purchased a pair of Smartwool Classic VFFs and a pair of Original Runamocs from Softstar (for winter).  I live in Vermont, so I will be experimenting with the Runamocs in -20 degree weather this winter.  I have also been rediscovering Invisible Shoes the past few days, so there will be more on them later.  Please feel free to ask about anything in the discovery/transitioning process.  I have found that there is a lot of information on birthdayshoes.com but it can be hard to gather everything from various sites, and there is still much not written about!  Barefooting is still a relatively new sport/style of running, but have no fear, more informating is being made available every day!  So whether you are a longtime barefooter or thinking of starting, welcome and take those socks and shoes off!