Friday, April 16, 2010

Running barefoot

I've run tiny distances in my Vibram Five Fingers over the past week, and worn them around a bit to get used to them (and embarrass my children) but I hadn't done a proper run in them until today. I decided to do an easy 5k and see how it felt. It felt pretty good. My calves have to work harder, for sure, and I was feeling a bit of a strain in them by about two thirds of the way through, and I felt the beginnings of a blister starting on my big toe -- typical for running in a new pair of shoes. Other than that I felt just fine. The weather was fantastic. I wore shorts and a tank top and even walking through the shade during my warm-up I was plenty warm enough. We have entered the perfect running season here.

I decided to do a regular easy 5k run. I figured I'd be using new muscles and getting used to a new running style and therefore it would be good not to push things. I brought a little metronome along and used it to keep my stride cadence at about 184 per minute -- quick little strides that are much shorter than my usual heel-strike running style in my stability shoes. I found that felt pretty easy and natural once I got into the rhythm. I pushed things a little on the downhill but for the most part I kept my effort in the "moderate" range. When I got home I entered time and distance in my on-line log.

My regular 5k runs are shown above in green. The pink ones are the ones where I've pushed myself a bit, the "tempo runs." You can see that I typically run 9 to 9.5 minutes to the mile on my regular runs, and a bit under 9 minutes on my tempo runs. What amazed me is that today (shown far right) felt like a regular run, but plotted out as my fastest 5k run (8:40/mile) since I started back at regular running a couple of months ago. And that was despite the fact that I ran the last kilometer completely barefoot, and felt like I slowed down fair bit. My Garmin told me the truth. While the last km felt like a cool-down, it was exactly as fast as the previous four.

It seems that the less there is between me and the road, the faster I am, even though I don't feel like I'm giving things any more kick. This is very fun.


  1. Hi there, I'm Sarah. I read your blog for the homeschooling stuff but I also just started running. Well, jog/walking on the couch25K program. I'm really slow, but I've been able to keep up with the program and I'm really enjoying it.

    So a question about shoes, if you had it to do over again would you start out with barefoot running? I've just been running in a pair of North Face sneakers because I wasn't sure I was going to stick with the program and I'm cheap :). I don't want to run truly barefoot because I'm running on a road, but I don't want to spend $85 on shoes that are going to make running miserable.

    But I guess the idea is that traditional running shoes increase the risk of injury? Anyway, I don't know any runners IRL, so I just thought I'd ask, if you had it to do over again, would you start barefoot?

    And what's the advantage of the five fingers over the Nike Free?

    Thanks so much! I've gained much inspiration from your blog :)

  2. Hey Sarah, congrats on starting C25k! My friend J., a coach who gave me some tips about running a few weeks ago believes that the real secret is to have a mid-foot strike and body weight forward with a fast cadence. Barefoot running makes that natural and necessary. Traditional running shoes don't prevent you from doing that -- they just just don't make it necessary in the way bare feet do. I think if I was starting over again I'd probably use shoes, but I'd try to avoid letting them make me use a "lazy" heel landing.

    I've never seen or tried Nike Frees, but I'm told they still have a lot of running shoe in them. They still have a built-up heel and a fair bit of cushioning.

    I'm too early in the barefooting / minimalist thing to say that I'm committed to it. So far I'm enjoying it and it feels right, but it still feels like an experiment to me, so I'd be hesitant to recommend that other people go with it. I would highly recommend reading "Born to Run." If nothing else it's a fascinating read: at a story-telling level, as a vicarious trip into another culture, as running inspiration and some pretty neat science. Then form your own opinion!

    In the meantime, enjoy your current running program, and don't change too much if you're doing well and feeling good!

  3. Thanks for your reply! I was thinking about switching shoes also because I was having some ankle pain for a little bit, but that seems to have cleared up. It must have been my body adjusting to running, which I haven't really done since high school.

    I have tried paying attention to my foot strike and I can feel my body lean forward when I make an effort to stay with a mid-foot strike.

    I'll definitely check that book out, I read a review of it a while ago and never picked it up. Thanks again!

  4. I'm curious how these are working for you. Are you still wearing them?

    I've been doing the Couch to 5K as well in order to train for this ridiculous thing I signed up for called the Warrior Dash. It isn't just running, but going over obstacles and through mud. I guess I'm motivated by the ridiculous.

  5. The Warrior Dash sounds like a heap of fun!

    My minimalist running is coming along gradually. I find that my calves are really needing a lot of time to get used to not having the heel cant. I've strained my calf muscle three or four times doing a little too much too soon. So right now I'm doing some of my running in shoes, some in VFFs and a couple of kilometers a week totally barefoot.


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