Barefoot Running Phenomenon

Ive been getting pretty fed up with struggling through every run with sore ankles, arches, knees and hamstrings and had almost given up and decided perhaps I just wasn’t built to run any further than 5km (even though I have in the past completed 2 half marathons and 1 full marathon, how I did this I have no idea!) until one of my clients started training for a half marathon and it got me thinking again about Barefoot Running.

The theory goes that over the last few hundred years or so (I’m no historian!) our feet have slowly been getting weaker from constantly being put into highly cushioned and “protective” footwear. Because our feet have not had to use their natural sensory and proprioceptive abilities, the muscles and tendons have become weaker and the pathway that sends messages from the foot to our brain’s has all but grown over.

What most of us don’t realize is that our feet are a highly sensitive tool, similar to our fingers and lips. If you think about how much we use our fingers to tell us whether something is hot/sharp/cold/slippery and then imagine trying to use your hands in the same way but whilst wearing giant mittens, this is basically what wearing highly cushioned shoes has done to our feet.

We no longer use them the way they were made to be used, resulting in 8/10 runners being injured over and again. The other major influence highly cushioned shoes has had upon us is the “heel to toe” technique. If you are anything like myself I have been rocking a pair of Asics and a solid heel to toe running technique for years. And I have the injuries to show it.

Landing on your heel with a dead straight leg sends an impact weighing twice your body-weight right through your ankle, knee, hip and into your lower back – there is no shock absorber other than the joints it travels through. When you land on your mid-foot, your knee is slightly bent; helping to absorb some of the impact into our calves and quads and away from our joints. If you take your shoes off and try a few hundred meters barefoot, you will most likely find that you naturally start to run mid foot. This is how we were made to run.

If I look back to when I was a kid right up until about 16, I never wore shoes unless I had to, ran like the wind and suffered no injuries. This is because each step I took I was landing on my mid-foot ( the wide fleshy bit just behind your toes) and my feet were using all their sensory abilities to send messages to my brain that increased my proprioception and in turn strengthened my muscles and tendons!

So, long story short I have brought a pair of vivo barefoot shoes ( the streets of London are no place for actual barefoot!) which are basically a thin bit of traction rubber designed to ease my feet away from my Asics towards a more natural and strong gate. I have also purchased “Born to Run” by Chris McDougall and 3 chapters in I can highly recommend it as an entertaining and educational read.

This, of course, could be another fad like all the rest, but the more I read the more sense it makes. I think Barefoot is onto something good and here to stay. All I need to do now is stop writing about it and get outside to give it a whirl!