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Recapturing Distance and Speed: Hope for the new barefoot runner

Posted by on Oct 23, 2009 | One Comment


Learning the art and science of barefoot running is an exercise in patience. The basic form required to run injury-free is generally fairly intuitive, but mastering that form does take time. This time frame can be disheartening to the new barefoot runner. Maybe the new barefoot runner is accustomed to running a certain weekly mileage that simply isn’t possible when learning to run barefoot. Or maybe the new barefoot runner regularly runs at a fast pace and cannot match that speed without shoes. When transitioning, some may opt to still continue their shod running. While this can be a good strategy to pacify the inner-competitiveness that simply cannot give up the mileage or speed, the new barefoot runner will eventually cross a threshold where running in their old shoes will be uncomfortable at best; injurious at worst. At this critical juncture, the new barefoot runner will invariably question their decision to run barefoot. They may have been an accomplished runner. Now they can only muster short, slow distances barefoot. Shoes are no longer an option. What are they to do? Worry not, new barefoot runner! There is light at the end of the tunnel!

The progression of speed and distance is very slow when beginning barefoot running. Finding a form that works well for you can be a difficult task. It may take considerable time and patience. Once found, the buildup of mileage is slow. Your body needs time to acclimate to the new style of running. Bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments need time to adapt from the time they were imprisoned in the foot coffins (thanks again, BF Ted). Run too far or too fast and you will likely develop soft-tissue injuries, such as the dreaded “top of the foot” pain. Worse, you may develop a stress fracture. It is critically important to go slow while learning and adapting. It is necessary to exercise patience to learn and adapt. This period can range from annoying to frustrating to downright depressing. It will feel as if you will never regain your old speed or distance. Worry not, new barefoot runner! There IS light at the end of the tunnel!

Once you find a form that works for you AND you allow your feet, ankles, legs, and the rest of your body to adapt to the feeling of losing the shoes, you will be free to radically increase both distance and pace. You should still exercise caution and follow reasonable guidelines, but the rate of improvement is NOT linear. You will reach a point where you CAN run longer and/or faster. You will reach a point where you can run more weekly mileage because you will be less prone to injury. You will reach a point where you can run faster without the anchors tied to your feet. You WILL recapture your previous abilities. It just takes patience. Have fun with barefoot running. Your feet will enjoy the new-found freedom… you might as well enjoy it, too. Relax. Smile. Enjoy the journey!

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1 Comment

  1. Stacey Jehlik
    October 23, 2009

    As someone currently in somewhere in the "annoying to frustrating to downright depressing" stage, I thank you for writing this much needed reminder.

    Stacey