I’ve mentioned here before that I am an avid runner. I run nearly every day of the week, and when I force myself to take a “rest day”, I generally feel like an underachieving slug. But my personal mental instabilities aside, I find going for a run helps to reduce stress, keeps me fit, and is good training for other activities.
Over the past year or so, I’ve been reading a lot about barefoot running, and the benefits that it delivers. I’ve seen converts to the style raving about how much they enjoy it, and that it is a more natural approach to the sport. I generally looked at these endorsements with a healthy dose of skepticism, wondering how someone could actually run for any distance like that. Heck, I can barely walk to the mailbox and back on bare feet. I’ve even checked out the odd looking shoes with toes that Vibram makes, but they did nothing to lessen that hesitancy.
A few days back though, I received a pair of Vibram Bikala FiveFinger shoes courtesy of the fine folks over at TravelCountry.com, and after taking them out of the box and trying them on, I was eager to give this barefoot running thing a go.
It had been explained to me that in order to run barefoot, or in the Vibram FiveFingers, you need to adjust your running style. Modern running shoes are designed to allow us to take longer strides and to land on our heels when we run, but a more natural gait is to take shorter strides and to land on the front of your foot. This allows the body to use its own natural cushioning to protect your feet and legs from the impact of running, and this is the way the human body has been designed to work. I knew for that to happen, I would have to adjust mine on stride, something I was advised to do over time, and to not rush the process.
Last night, I slid into my new non-shoes and prepared to hit the road for my first run. Just getting into the FiveFingers is a bit of a challenge at first, as the toe slots are a bit awkward to negotiate. I imagine this will get easier the more I use them, but for now, I seem to have a penchant for trying to cram two toes into one slot. Once they’re on however, the Bikila’s are quite comfortable and actually kind of fun to wear. But being fun to wear doesn’t mean they are fun to run it.
Heeding the advice that was given to me, I planned a short run for my maiden voyage in this new running style, but it honestly didn’t take me long to start to let my preconceived notions start to drop away. After a bit of a slow start, I was soon picking up the pace, and feeling quite good. I had to concentrate a bit too much on my stride, which kind of unnatural at the moment, but other than, I found that I was moving at a good pace, and best of all, not feeling the kind of pain that I thought I might. In fact, it was just the opposite, I was feeling quite good.
In the end, I only ran about 1.25 miles, which is way under my normal mileage which average around five per day. But, that 1.25 miles went well for my first go, and it was over way to quickly. I had to resist the urge to go further just to put the barefoot running style more to the test, as I knew that it was best that I just take it slow and save the longer runs for another day. Near the end though, I did start to get a slight cramp in my right calf, which I suspect is a result of not quite having the natural stride down just yet.
One thing I did notice while running is that you do indeed seem to feel more connected, for lack of a better word, with the ground. Yes, you feel the loose gravel and other items along your route a bit more, but there is also a nice feeling of touching the path, feeling it beneath your feet. It is odd to convey the feeling, but it certainly was a positive change from running in typical shoes.
Today I’m going to revert back to those other shoes however, as I’m scheduled to run 8 miles tonight. But I’ll be mixing in regular runs with this barefoot approach, and hopefully slowly building up my time and distances. I’ll post updates on my progress here, as I continue down this path. I can tell you that this may not be the style for everyone, but it definitely has me intrigued and excited at the moment.
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