The very day I decided to take up barefoot running I found myself chatting to a podiatrist at a barbecue. I told her my plan, thinking that she would be impressed. I was completely unprepared for her reaction. In front of my eyes she transformed into Charles Montgomery Burns. Her eyes squinted, her lips smirked, her head craned forward, she rubbed her hands together and discharged a spine-chilling chuckle.
“Oh, goodie”, she said. “I’ll soon be seeing you in my clinic with collapsed arches, lining up with all the other barefoot idiots”
I felt like Homer Simpson at a Mensa gathering. I gulped my beer and promptly found somebody else to talk to.
A few months prior I had decided to train for my first marathon. I had not run further than the distance to the nearest taxi for over 20 years. When I first hit the pavement I encountered serious problems. Despite being shod with professionally fitted top-of-the-range running shoes, my knee erupted in pain after less than a kilometre. Then an acute pain, plantar fasciitis, developed in my heel. Then shin splints! I tried everything the running sites suggested to prevent the pain: I applied ice packs, had long warm up and cool down periods and stretched myself like a yogi.
It made some difference but not enough. One short run would have me limping for days. After a few months of constant effort the furthest I could run was about three kilometres before pain forced me to stop. There was no way I was going to achieve a 42 kilometre marathon.
Then a friend suggested barefoot running. My initial reaction was that he was mad. But I followed his advice and checked out some running forums. There is subculture of runners that swear by barefoot.
Arriving home from the barbecue, still feeling pretty offended, I jumped on-line to review any scientific research on the subject. I found this study from Harvard explaining the biomechanics and benefits of barefoot running.
- Barefoot running strengthens the muscles in your foot, especially in the arch. A healthy foot is a strong foot, one that pronates less and is less liable to develop a collapsed arch
- Running barefoot has been shown to use about 5% less energy than shod running
- Your feet have lots of sensory nerves. And because there is minimal impact forces on landing it can be very comfortable provided you develop calluses on your feet
That convinced me. The next day I headed out for a barefoot run. For the first time in 20 years I ran 4 kilometres without any pain. The next day it was 5, then 6, then 7 …
Okay, I got blisters. Bad ones. But they healed in just a day or two. And pretty soon my feet toughened up. Fast forward 6 months and I am running 20 kilometres, completely barefoot, on bitumen. I have not experienced one iota of pain in my knees or heels. I do not bother with any stretching and the only ice I need is in drinks.
The best part is that my running form has improved immensely, I am going much faster than I ever anticipated, and with much less effort.
Barefoot running works, it really does.
So, to the podiatrist from the barbecue—a big fat raspberry to you. You chump!