Experimentation isn’t Just for College Anymore: How Playing With Yourself Can Make You A Better Barefoot Runner
“Each of us is an experiment of one-observer and subject-making choices, living with them, recording the effects.” -George Sheehan
George Sheehan was a wise man. Was he talking about barefoot running when he wrote that quote? I like to think so.
Experimentation… it always makes me think of college. After all, that’s where we are likely to learn about the scientific method and what not.
What? Thought I was talking about something else?
Anyway, earning to run barefoot will require you to try many different techniques and methods. You must be open to experimentation. You must be willing to adopt anything that works and discard anything that does not. Whenever you encounter something new, try it a few times. If it seems to lead to improvement, stick with it. If it does not, revert back to what worked best.
This is the heart of learning great form. One of the principles I discuss in my book revolves around the idea that we’re all individuals. We have unique physiology. We all have idiosyncrasies. As such, we all have slightly different tweaks that make our ideal form different. There is no one single right answer.
When going through this process, it is important to only change one variable at a time. Do not try changing multiple things. If you do, it will be impossible to determine which variables were successful or unsuccessful. It may help to keep a journal of the changes you try. This will help you objectively determine what does and does not work. Make a game out of it. Have fun with it. Play with yourself.
New barefoot runners, once they develop the basics, are free to refine their technique. Everything from how your foot touches the ground to how you hold your arms to the position of your head can be altered. Try anything and everything. Get advice from others, but be willing to abandon their advice if you give it a fair shake and it doesn’t work.
I spend a significant amount of time actively experimenting with every aspect of running. I work on form, but I also work on other aspects of running. I do the majority of this experimentation on long runs because they closely approximate the conditions I will experience in the races I run. On any given long run, I may experiment with my form, what I eat before, during, and after running, clothing options, hydration options, equipment, anti-chafing measures, pacing, and a whole host of other variables. For me, this experimentation helps make running an endlessly exciting adventure.
There are many standard practices involved in running. Many runners blindly follow these practices without considering if they improve or degrade their performance. As an example, I used to wear shoes, stretch religiously before and after every run, wear running shorts and moisture-wicking technical shirts, and carb-load by eating a ton of pasta. How I run barefoot, never stretch, wear a cotton shirt and kilt, and avoid wheat-based products like the plague. After testing all of these variables, I found what worked for me. Remember, we’re all an experiment of one.
What unique things that work for you that are unorthodox?