Call me trendy, but I like to think of it as having an open mind. I’m willing to try most things and when I saw a guest on the Daily Show a few years back, the now infamous Chris McDougall, my interest was piqued. I’m talking about barefoot running. Now it is very difficult to be a true barefoot runner, especially while living in a city like Baltimore, so I like to think of it as natural running since I do wear footwear, most of the time and it is more about a style of running then what is one your feet.
I have always been a runner; I think everyone is a runner, even if you don’t run. I think all people should, if physically capable, be out there running. The human body is made to be in motion and the physical, psychological and emotional benefits are enormous. I always say: unless you get hurt, you always feel better after you run. There are countless reasons to run and countless excuses not to, but excuses come easy and mean nothing. So, if you are going to run, why not run as naturally as possible?
So after I saw the author of Born to Run on the Daily Show (I didn’t read his book until a year after I started running naturally) I started trying to be barefoot as often as possible. I would walk my dogs while barefoot (they are always barefoot without any problems), I was doing P90X at the time and I started doing that barefoot too. It makes total sense when you think about it, the foundation of your body starts in the feet. Can’t have a strong body without strong feet. What I found out early on is the more you are barefoot the less sensitive your feet become. Odd as it sounds but now I find walking on dirt, cement, black top and most surfaces you find in the city as a very enjoyable experience; like a foot message.
It wasn’t an easy transition for me to make as a runner. I had to change my form from heel striker to the natural forefoot strike. It takes time. For me it took about a year to return to natural form. I endured foot pain, muscle pain, tendon pain and a healthy dose of frustration. My advice is to take it slow and listen to your body. I also suggest doing the transition totally bare, that way you get all of the feedback from your body and can adjust things on the go. (Also read up as much as you can on the subject, I’ve read countless blogs and articles and watched tons of video to help me do it) Now I feel like a much more efficient runner. My stride is light and easy and I am pain/injury free except for the occasional over-training. I run mostly on city streets but don’t shy away from trails and rough off-road runs. My longest barefoot run to date is about 9 miles (totally bare). I have 4 pair of minimal footwear I use in my rotation. In my rotation, I use two pair of Vibram FiveFingers, Merrell Trail Glove still use my first pair of VFF KOS I bought while still in the transition phase. They have a couple thousand miles on them, I’m sure. They’ve seen better days; many seams are held together with handy Gorilla superglue and they smell pretty bad. But they are awesome. The longest run I’ve done in them is 18.5 on a converted railroad trail and they are my go-to shoes for hiking and most outdoor adventures. The key to footwear once you are a natural runner is the ability to feel the ground; stretch out your toes and let your natural biomechanics do their thing. These are great for that. I have a second pair of VFF, the Flow, these are nice for winter outdoor running and hiking. I also like the Merrell Trail Glove. Huge toe box and rugged Vibram souls make these a nice addition. They are solid on muddy trails where the VFF I have lack traction. I also use them while riding my bike and to wear at work. Perfect shoe to bring to the office (if casual) if you run home or do lunchtime runs like I do. In all, they are a great utility minimalist shoe for just about any activity. They too can get a little funky, especially without socks in the summer. But all of these can go into the wash or I prefer a little dish soup and the hose. In between cleanings old school Lysol spray can help.
My latest footwear is huaraches made by Barefoot Ted’s company Luna. These are fun and don’t get as many stares as one would imagine. During races the VFFs get more whispers and comments, but the huaraches are a conversation piece. They are basically a 4 mm piece of Vibram rubber cut to size and shape with a 18 inch piece of elastic leather that comes between the inside the big tow, over the foot and around the outside of the heal and back around to the top of the foot. In the hot and humid Baltimore summer I’ve found they work best off road and on the most rugged trails. I feel super confident wearing them and love the super dirty feet I get from an intense run with the dogs tough trails. The simple technology works and they stay put on your feet. They can be loud on the streets producing a clapping sound when you first wear them. Being lighter on your feet, which is the goal, alleviates this. They also can slide around when you are really sweaty. I ran a 10-mile race through Baltimore with the Lunas and it was super hot and humid and next time I may just wear VFFs or go totally bare. They just slipped around a little too much.
My adventures in natural running will continue for as long as I can run. I’m likely to get another pair of VFFs this fall to replace my well-worn KOS. But I don’t think it is necessary to go all in with natural running and wear such minimalist footwear. Once you make the transition to a natural running style you can wear anything you want. But I think once you start running this way and ditch the clunky moon-shoes you will never go back. I never will.