April 28, 2009

Running Barefoot

I started running about nine years ago. In that time, I think I've suffered from a variety of running injuries: first metatarsal joint pain, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, patellar femoral pain, IT band tightness, hip pain, and back pain (not all at once but one or two afflictions most of the time). I started wondering why I was running.

I trained for and completed a few trail races like this, all through the pain. I could never run further than 25 km because training past that would hurt too much.

Last year, I discovered barefoot running (in my VFFs). Running is a completely different activity for me now. It's fun!!! I couldn't believe how fun it could be.

What makes running barefoot different than running in regular shoes? My gait is completely different: absolutely no heel striking, gentle steps, no bouncing, short strides, faster turnover, mid-food landing, and NO pain. This all changed without even thinking. For me, these changes just happened naturally.

When I started switching to barefoot running, I had to start out slow. My first attempt lasted 5 minutes before my arches exclaimed that they had had enough. I wouldn't call it a pain in my arches, more like a sensation of overusing a part of your body you don't normally use. I had extremely weak arches from many years of pampering them with orthotics due to plantar fasciitis. I added 2.5 to 5 minutes more to every run after that. My arches, feet, and legs (especially calves) eventually got strong enough to run barefoot for an hour non-stop. It was glorious! I had never before been able to run for an hour without something hurting.

A few weeks after being able to run in VFFs without switching to regular shoes for some time during a run, I thought I'd try a run in just regular shoes (I think it was muddy out that day). It was horrid! After running for 20 minutes, my ankles, shins, and knees hurt horribly. I don't want to blame the shoes, I think it has more to do with my gait while wearing the shoes. What I do know is that my feet and my body prefer to run barefoot so that is how I will run.