Thursday, June 24, 2010

Barefoot bandwagon

Since barefoot running is all the rage now, I thought I would hop on the bandwagon and give it try.
Here are some notes and observations

  • My feet have been encased in shoes for 40 years. They are very soft and weak.
  • If I tried to run my usual pace and distance in bare feet, it would be like trying to drive my car on I-40 with wheels of cheese. So I am taking this very slowly
  • The goal is to strengthen my feet and change my stride so I can transition to some thin and flexible shoes
  • My very first barefoot run was a painful half mile, which I chronicled here.
  • Since then I have been supplementing my regular shod miles with some very short barefoot runs,  totaling about 30 miles.
  • All have been on pavement, except for a 5K at the track.

Obviously I can't draw any conclusions from this tiny amount, but here are some initial observations.

The Good

1. It just feels good.
Put aside all the claimed benefits of barefoot running for a moment. Exposing all those nerve endings on the bottom of my feet to actually feel something for the first time is a revelatory experience. The rough texture of a cement sidewalk is an amazing sensation. It hurts, but in a good way. Like spicy food, or a really good massage, or a back scratch.

2. Birthday shoes fit perfectly
Finally I can spread my toes out. And there is no big lump of foam and plastic under my arch. And no thick wad of cushioning wobbling underneath. It feels right.

3. The ground is not hard
I did a 17 mile run in shoes recently, and at the end my legs we shot. My knees and feet were aching.
I took off my shoes and ran the last mile bare, at about the same pace. I swear, my legs felt so much better.

The change in my stride was immediate. It seems like instead of landing on my foot, I am placing my foot on gently the ground. The result is that I feel very light, and there is no impact at all.
I guess the idea is that the tactile feedback from the feet allows my legs to make the small adjustments necessary for a light contact with the ground.

The Bad

4. Blisters.

While impact is not an issue, friction becomes a huge problem. Mostly I get blisters or "hot spots" on my toes if I try to go too far or too fast. I am told the problem is that I am pushing off from my toes, and I need to lift and not push. BFJ says blisters are teachers... really angry, mean ones. I have learned to run with my toes pointed straight up so they don't touch the ground.

5. Steep hills.
How one ascends a steep hill without pushing off from the toes is a mystery to me. Descending without landing on the heel is another.

6. Gravel Roads.
Walking on gravel is almost impossible. Running? Are you freaking kidding me?

7. The Sun
Call me Captain Obvious, but Holy fuck, pavement can get hot.

8. Glass?
Got a tiny sliver of something stuck in my foot that Shannon had to dig out.

9. Tiny rocks
I keep getting little rocks stuck to my feet, and I have to stop and brush them off.
This seems to be happening less, so maybe my soles are getting more like leather and less like cookie dough.

The Ugly

10. Tar Heels
I ran over a poorly mixed asphalt patch job on the green way by my house. The sticky tar wasn't easy to scrub off.