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.

Why I Barefoot

First, a little bit about my life before barefooting. I severely injured my back six years ago and have suffered from back and sacroiliac (SI) joint pain ever since to varying degrees. I tried everything I could think of to relieve the pain.

Last April, I read an article online called 'You Walk Wrong' by Adam Sternbergh. The premise of the article is:
"It took 4 million years of evolution to perfect the human foot. But we're wrecking it with every step we take."
Basically, with our shoes. This article has profound revelations in it (at least for me). So I thought I'd try one of the barefoot alternative shoes mentioned in the article: the Vibram FiveFingers (VFFs).

I drove down to my nearest retailer and tried them on. It's hard to describe the feeling of putting them on and walking for the first time. It was a completely eye-opening experience. I didn't realize until that moment that every step I took in shoes with a positive heel (a shoe with a heel higher than the forefoot) causes pressure pain in my SI joints. You'd think I would have realized this when just taking off my shoes but I never did until my first steps in the VFFs.

I wear my VFFs as often as I can. I own six pairs now. I still feel those same pressure pains whenever I have to wear regular shoes, which I do reluctantly and mostly because of winter weather conditions.

So, why I barefoot? Because it's healthy, comfortable, freeing, natural, pain-free, gives me a greater connection with the ground I walk on, and it's the way my feet evolved to be used.

April 27, 2009

Barefoot vs Barefoot Alternative

I sometimes feel like a hypocrite when I say, "I go barefoot." I usually don't go barefoot, unless it's in my own backyard. I do wear barefoot alternative shoes, as often as possible. It's just easier for me to say 'barefoot' than 'barefoot alternative shoes' all the time. So, I mean no offense to hardcore barefooters for my laziness in terminology.

Not going completely barefoot is a hygienic issue for me. I hate having dirty feet. I also have 'pansy' feet, meaning they are very sensitive to sharp. I know that the bottoms of my feet would eventually get tougher...but then there's the fear of what I might step on around where I live. Mostly I'm afraid of stepping on gum, dog poo, banana peals, cigarette butts...I guess my list includes other people's garbage that interferes with my feet's interaction with nature (I do NOT consider people's garbage to be nature). If we lived in a world where people were always responsible, I think that I'd be completely barefoot as often as the weather permitted.

Speaking of weather, I live in Alberta, Canada where winter conditions can easily last six months of the year. For those six months, it is simply not feasible to be completely barefoot. Socks and some kind of shoe is absolutely necessary to protect from the cold, slush, ice, and salt. (More on my opinion of the perfect winter barefoot shoe in later posts.) Kudos to those Canadians who can go barefoot in winter, I am not one them.

So I wear my VFFs (as they are the only barefoot alternative shoes I own at the moment). I am eternally grateful that there finally exists barefoot alternative shoes for those of us who have discovered the joys and benefits of being barefoot and feel the need to wear something on our feet to protect us from whatever our individuals needs happen to be. Thank you Vibram for inventing and producing such a comfortable, healthy, and forward-thinking shoe.

April 26, 2009

Origins of 'Toe Girl'

It's been over two years since I switched to the barefoot alternative. I bought my first pair of Vibram Fivefingers (VFFs) in May 2008. They're a pair of grey/palm KSOs (more on those in later posts). I loved them the second I put them on. I thought it might be nice to catalogue my adventures in them then but I had no idea what I would write about. It took a year of collecting stories before I started this blog. Now that I have, I feel like sharing more of my experiences wearing barefoot alternative footwear and venturing into the world of going completely barefoot.

This blog will include stories about where I've been and what I've done with my barefoot alternative shoes, reviews of the shoes I wear, race reports of races I've completed while wearing them, and hopefully be somewhere that I can share my barefoot alternative findings with websites, products, and blogs from other barefooters.

Where does the name 'Toe Girl' comes from? I started going back to school shortly after buying my first pair VFFs and some of my classmates were fascinated by my shoes. One of them nicknamed me 'Toe Girl' when they saw my shoes with toes. I was very proud. It's been very rare in my life to be nicknamed anything from anybody. It was a happy moment for me and one that's stuck with me. I couldn't think of a better name for my blog about sharing my barefoot alternative adventures.