I have recently been reading up on the idea of barefoot running. It seems as if lately it has become more of a conversation topic in the running world. The idea of barefoot running takes us back hundreds of years to when our ancestors ran without any type of shoe on their feet. As we evolved, many still ran with minimal support on their feet and often only wore sandals or moccasins. The modern running shoe wasn’t even invented until 1970! Today we only know thick soled shoes that offer a great amount of support. We are told that these shoes will keep us injury free, but is that really true? Studies have shown that barefoot running actually decreases injuries as it takes us back to the way we were born to run.
If you watch a young child run you will notice that they run on the balls of their feet. This is actually the way we are supposed to run. We start out as children running correctly and then our feet are shoved into “proper” running shoes and we lose that technique. After years of only wearing thick cushioned shoes, we begin to strike our heels as we run. Heel striking, which can occur around 1,000 times per mile, sends a shock of force from our heel, up our leg and into our backs. Barefoot runners point their toes as they land and spring off the balls of their feet instead, avoiding the constant heel collision. Using this technique will also help keep you moving forward into your strides versus slowing you down every time your heel strikes the ground.
I have been desperately needing new running shoes, but have been trying to hold off until I read more about barefoot running to decide if I wanted to go that route or not. After trying on a couple different pairs I finally decided to buy the Nike Free 5.0 running shoe. My decision came down to the Nike Free and the Vibrams. I wasn’t ready to give up all of my support in a shoe so I went with the Nike Free. The Vibram Five Fingers are a really cool shoe though and I definitely would like to get a pair to try running. However, when it comes to spending 80-100 dollars on a pair of shoes, I wanted the best bang for my buck. I knew I would get more immediate use out of the 5.0s as there is less of a learning curve. Nike Frees offer the barefoot-like experience while also giving you extra traction and just enough support to aid stability while running.
The shoe itself is a completely flexible and lightweight shoe that allows your foot to move in its natural way without restriction. This will cause your gait to change as you run. Because of this it is extremely important to start slowly and work your way up into your mileage. It is recommended to go out for no more than one mile at first and gradually build from there. The reasoning for this is you will be using different muscles in your feet and legs that you are not used to using. It will take some time to build and strengthen these new muscles, so starting slowly is greatly advised. I have had my Frees for a week now and am only running 1.5 miles at a time. So far I really like the shoe and can definitely tell a difference in my stride as I run. The first time I ran in them, the balls of my feet were a little sore and I only ran for one mile. I am going to try to increase by ½ mile every week, but I will let my body tell me if that is too much.
Barefoot running isn’t for everyone, but if you are a distance runner, consider this not-so-new technique the next time you go to lace up.