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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!