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What Have You Learned About Barefoot Running?

Posted by on May 18, 2012 | 34 Comments

Since I first took off my shoes and started seriously running barefoot, I’ve learned many lessons. In the beginning, I learned all the typical lessons new BFRs learn- elements of better form, the dangers of too much too soon, etc. Next I learned some of my own limitations as far as where and when I could run barefoot. After that, I started exploring the issue of shoes and barefoot running, which I’m still doing today (hence the recent discussions with podiatrists).

Any of us that have ventured down this road will have similar experiences, but we may encounter something unique. I’m curious about your experiences. Share three to five things you’ve learned since starting barefoot running in the comments section. Also include the length of time you’ve been running barefoot. Also feel free to ask each other questions about their experiences. Have fun with it!

My apologies for a lack of posts and replies this week. I’ve been camping in my mother-in-law’s front yard this week and do not have Internet access. It’s significantly hindered my Webbin’. Shelly and I are hitting the road today for our Chicago/Maryland/New York City/Maine barefoot clinic road trip, so I’ll hopefully have a little more opportunity to respond.

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34 Comments

  1. Chris
    May 21, 2012

    Its been said before – take things very very slow. Ive had difficulties with plantar and achilles since incorporating some barefoot running into my training over a year ago. I did too much too soon. Ive slowed it way down now and really enjoy the experience of running barefoot. Still a little scared of ramping up the miles though. Also, find going up/down hills the single biggest challenge barefoot. So be careful!

  2. C-A
    May 19, 2012

    After reading Born to run I finally started running again after 18 years of injurys and “restarts”. Last August I tried it in VFF and slowly worked my distance to Christmas at 7,5km without any injury. My goal was met.
    However, my feet shrunk and one blister made me remove my VFF to get home. I made it to my car and home.
    Same next try, I started to get a blister again and removed my shoes and made it home by car…

    Taped my blisters and next day it happened. Skipped my car and after my 7,5km on my trail it’s 1km asphalt home. I removed my shoes and tried it… Barefoot running on the pavement.
    First time in 30years…. And I was laughing. First time it was fun running since I was a kid.

    1. It’s fun running barefoot
    2. You connect with your body on a whole new level
    3. It doesn’t hurt
    4. Even I could do it.

    • Steve
      May 20, 2012

      Funnily enough, my first barefoot pavement run happened when I found my VFFs uncomfortable. I had a bruising sensation right above the Vibram logo on my left foot, so I took them off.

  3. Bare Lee
    May 19, 2012

    I’ve also learned that there are no minimalist runners (or minimalist sites for that matter), just barefoot runners who wear shoes.

  4. MatD
    May 19, 2012

    Hi, been running minimalist with occasional barefoot for about 18 months now. have had a couple of days off running in that time due to minor muscles strain etc but nothing i consider unusal, and mostly due to my own eagerness not to rest/recover enough.

    things I’ve leaned:
    1. Barefoot is fun and the best tool to fix form & learn to run softly, BUT a shoe like trail glove or bare access allows more mileage, speed and makes long runs more enjoyable. I am strongly opposed to raised-heels but ok with a little cushioning (bare access is the upper limit for me).
    2. I had sore feet getting out of bed every morning for months but this never caused problems or injury. just the structures of the foot adapting/strengthening I assume.
    4. At a comfortable ‘cruising’ speed, think about a ‘whole foot’ landing. Don’t overcompensate and think you have to be up on your toes, that’s just as bad as heel striking.
    3. RELAX.

    • Steve
      May 19, 2012

      Oh yeah, I often had mild pain TOTF and in front of my ankle first thing in the morning, so I hobbled out of bed. Then, sometime in the winter, it just disappeared, and hasn’t returned.

  5. Kate Kift
    May 18, 2012

    Minimalist/barefoot running for 3+ years.

    1) Ignore all the advice
    2) Understand the basics
    3) Listen to your body — it is always right
    4) Perfecting form takes a long time — you may never stop learning
    5) Barefoot running is fun. Enjoy it. Smile!

    6) Barefoot runners are awesome and we never confine ourselves to rules. Three to five insights into barefoot running? – Ha!

    I haven’t even mentioned Tutu’s, kilts, really short shorts, skirts, alcohol, boobies, and wicked sense of humour. Alcohol? Did I mention alcohol? ;)

  6. Steve
    May 18, 2012

    I started barefoot walking, running and going barefoot in public about a year ago. Here are some of the things I’ve learned.

    There’s no substitute for running form tuition. I suspect that my session with a ChiRunning instructor, combined with avoiding TMTS, explains my lack of injuries. Anyway, running better certainly makes it more fun.

    This leads me to discovery number two: I really – REALLY – love running barefoot, and almost as much in minimalist shoes. Usually, at some point on the run, I find that I am laughing. By the time I’m back home, all is good in the world.

    Petroleum jelly is great for stopping new VFFs from rubbing my heels.

    I should not run unshod if my feet are numb from the cold.

    Love your blog.

  7. Hetty
    May 18, 2012

    If I’m doing it right it feels like 1.)I am ten feet tall 2.) being pulled along by a water ski rope attached at my tan teen (judo term for area of the body where center of gravity is) 3.) it doesn’t hurt

  8. Rob Y
    May 18, 2012

    I’ve learned that for my running lifestyle and goals and the types of terrain I love to run on that I need a bit more shoe. I’m most happy with a shoe that lies somewhere between what most folks consider “minimalist” these days and a typical neutral training shoe. I’ve learned that for me the most important aspects of a shoe is ample toe room and minimal drop. That ground feel and lack of cushioning may be fine for me on short, non-trail runs but that for anything long I like having more protection. I’ve also learned that, for me, arch supports are not a bad thing; they’re actually have been and are very helpful.

  9. Emily G
    May 18, 2012

    That I can nearly PR on a chip sealed course that is really really flat…

    Chip sealed roads SUCK!

    With Raynaud’s I have to limit my outside winter running to 40 degrees and above.

  10. MB
    May 18, 2012

    1. The easiest way to learn “the proper way” to step (forefoot first, then touch the ground with the heel) is by running down the stairs.
    2. Bottoms of my feet are somehow way too sensitive for walking/running outside barefoot, but Vivobarefoot’s minimalistic soles help. No problem walking barefoot in my house all the time, for years.
    3. Years of serious mountain biking (with SPD pedals) won’t save you from sore calves when switched to barefoot (in my case minimalistic) running
    4. I feel I could run much longer, and not much slower, while in minimalistic shoes
    5. It is much much more fun than running in traditional running shoes

  11. Sheel K.
    May 18, 2012

    I have learned some really important things from barefoot running

    -There are high school kids like me who are starting to test the barefoot waters! (I’m still the “expert” because I barely wear shoes and I went through Pitt campus barefoot with no injury.

    -There are adults who talk a ton about natural running like experts who don’t do it themselves and have kids with heeled shoes, or they try it and don’t listen and mess up bad. (I really wish they would start running barefoot instead of just talking)

    -A barefoot walk alone is really relaxing. I prefer it to running. I try to walk every day barefoot. !

    - The barefoot walks have led my to find myself, not a mental construct, myself. I am really calm now, It’s so wonderful

    -I see the most beautiful sunsets or other scenes on my walks. I have learned about how the world is so beautiful through walking

    -I learned about Movnat and now go crazy at parks. I increased my sit-ups in a min. by 20 only through karate and movnat, BARELY any sit-ups.

    -I feel proud of the fact I wear Luna sandals. I am posesssive about my shoes

    -I’m going outside, cheers to all barefooters!

  12. Martin
    May 18, 2012

    1) running is fun.
    2) salted snow is damn cold, it can give you in combination with wet 5°F-conditions second degree burns within five minutes if you don’t treat your feat right afterwards.
    3) I can run a marathon barefoot on asphalt even if it’s wet and only 45°F, without training and two months after the second degree burns on the soles of my feet. I’ve heard about this couch-to-marathon program, but I didn’t read it and left the couch only to run the marathon.
    4) running downhill on gravel road is doable barefoot. the bare feet don’t slow you down enough to avoid horrible aches in the quadriceps.

  13. Jen
    May 18, 2012

    I started minimalist running 1.5 years ago. What I’ve learned:
    1. better form
    2. less shoe = more fun
    3. a foot massage = heaven
    4. I must have had decent calf strength to begin with because I hardly ever experienced the intense calf soreness that many people report.(or maybe I’m just running very very slowly…haha)

  14. Scott
    May 18, 2012

    1) Stepping on giant lag screws sucks.

    2) Pavement can give you second degree burns.

    3) Barefoot running is *not* always slower than shod running. Don’t count on it to “slow you down.”

    4) Barefoot running in FUN!

    5) Some people think you are a kook for running barefoot.

  15. Johnny
    May 18, 2012

    1. My kids love it when I do things more like them and less like other adults.

    2. Their delight makes it that much more fun for me :), and teaches them (and me) that it’s more important to do what’s right for you than to do what others think is right.

    3. There are many great and fun weirdos in the world who are willing to give something nutty a shot…a lesson I learn over and over in my life.

    4. Just because I’ve spent much of my life disliking something (running) doesn’t mean there isn’t another way to approach it that will make it something I can’t live without (running barefoot).

  16. Chris
    May 18, 2012

    I started running barefoot in March 2011 shortly after returning from deployment to Iraq. Here’s what I’ve learned to far:

    (1) It’s easy to run too much too fast. When you think you’ve rested enough to start running again, rest some more and take it slow.

    (2) I discovered that I’m a bit of an exhibitionist and that when I think of people gawking at my bare feet I actually want to run faster.

    (3) I actually like to run.

    (4) Doing physical training (running) in the Army with minimalist shoes is easier as an officer. This is because as an officer I’m able to take more runs at my own pace, and my pace has slowed considerably having transitioned to minimalist/barefoot running. My enlisted Soldiers are not as fortunate because they participate in group runs more frequently, so I’d definitely be looked down upon because I don’t run as fast as most other Soldiers.

    -I’m in Afghanistan now and running in Merrell road gloves and couldn’t be happier. still slow, but hey, i’m having fun.

    Cheers,

    Chris

  17. Jeremy
    May 18, 2012

    Running bare/minimal for 2 months. Started with 5 min runs and now up to 18 minutes. I have soreness in my Achilles but not pain. My feet feel stronger and my knees no longer hurt from lack of support in my shoes. I work in the medical field and am on my feet a lot. I now wear minimal shoes to work with little problems. I have found rest helps. If any part of my lower leg hurts to bad, I take a few days off. Massaging your calfs help. A guy showed me the trigger point self massage system. It is neat, but costly. He was able to workout knots (causing pain in the arch of my foot) in my left calf in minutes. Maybe I will get it for fathers day! I use a 4 in cardboard mailing cylinder for now. I also think trail running has helped my form. I feel like I have to be smoother on the trial vs the road. I have also noticed I don’t get stitches like I used to with conventional running shoes. Maybe it’s because I don’t look like someone dancing at a grateful dead show while running any more.

  18. swptmp
    May 18, 2012

    Minimalist lessons learned:
    You can run waaaaay farther than you thought could.

    When you run waaaay farther you lose more weight.

    When you lose weight you are more attractive to your spouse (cue porn music).

    When you run farther you get faster (cause you are skinnier and whatnot).

    When you get faster you start winning medals.

    When you win medals you take those medals to your local running store and they donate them to schools and charities to hand out to kids who are just getting in to running.

    Your own kids see you running and start to get threatened because you are bearing down on their cross country PR times so they run faster.

    Your kids get faster and then they start getting noticed by college coaches.

    That money you were going to spend on their education is now once again yours because they just nabbed a scholarship.

    Since the kids are now covered there is no need to continue working as much as you used to, so you may as well go for a run.

    And you do. All because you ditched the shoes.

    • Dustin
      May 18, 2012

      My son is going to be born in july, so good to hear that I am not going to have to pay for his college! :)

    • Bare Lee
      May 18, 2012

      Yes, Madam or Sir Swptmp, this is a good barefoot example of one of the barefoot benefits of barefoot running, or really a meta-barefoot example, if I think barely about it, or perhaps barely think about it, because through running barefoot running and tuning into this barefoot running blog and reading through these running comments on barefoot running and then spotting your own particular barefoot running response(comma) I now know of a solid barefoot running plan for my barely barefoot kids’ future too. And I thank you barely for that and will now check out your barefoot blog for further barefoot nuggets of barefoot wisdom.

      • swptmp
        May 19, 2012

        No need to barely mention it. :)

  19. Daren
    May 18, 2012

    1.5 years. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that people are funky about shoes or lack there of. They take pride in shoes. How much $, what brand, technology etc. Not wearing any away from the beach can be a slap in the face for some. We like our status symbols. Of course I feel superior for not needing them. :-)

  20. Bare Lee
    May 18, 2012

    I’ve learned that barefoot running can teach you to run with good form, like the shod pros do, but without the coaches. It allows your mind/body to learn good form as it is meant to, through proprioception and sub-conscious adjustment. Once you learn good form, you stay with barefoot running if you enjoy the sensations and aesthetics of it (which I do), but it’s not necessary if you’re not into that. I’ve also learned that podiatrists tend to be a silly lot. Finally, I’ve learned about blogs and forums through participation in barefoot blogs and forums.

  21. Malva
    May 18, 2012

    I started running barefoot and in minimal shoes when needed a little over a year ago.

    1. Using Couch to 5 k as a tool for progression barefoot is tmts (at least for me).

    2.In the winter, if you’re wearing really minimal shoes and you wouldn’t run on that kind of surface barefoot, don’t run on it with minimal shoes either. You’ll get hurt.

    3. Most people don’t even notice you’re barefoot, so no need to feel self-conscious.

  22. The Pooch
    May 18, 2012

    I’ve been mixed barefoot/minimalist for about a year now. Lessons learned and in progress:

    1-Tendon injuries take _forever_ to heal.

    2-On days when I’m not up for a run, a barefoot walk is just what the doctor ordered.

    3-Zero-drop shoes are life savers at work–I can stand comfortably for hours.

  23. Dustin
    May 18, 2012

    I have been running in barefoot style shoes for a few months and occasionally going all barefoot. My feet are getting tougher as I can walk or jog on roads that previously hurt very bad…not a lot of sidewalk where I live. My form has gotten much better than when I first started and stamina has increased as well. I have learned to think of shoes like a tool, similar to chains on your tires for winter, sometimes they may be necessary sometimes not.

  24. Neil
    May 18, 2012

    I have been using the technique for 20 days. My achilles are really sore all the time, never really recover fully. Don’t know whether I am trying too much too soon. Running 3 times a week 5-7k each run, although this week only managed 1 run. I am running in vivo barefoot shoes in varied terrain. Training for marathon in October, really hope that the soreness eases soon!

    • wiglaf
      May 18, 2012

      Neil, I found it very important to massage out that area. I didn’t learn about it until about a year after I started barefoot/minimalist. Suffered from sore achilles the whole time. Two things that helped:
      1. make sure I didn’t push off in my running form
      2. using a rolling pin or a 1 liter aluminum water bottle filled with hot water and roll back and forth on soleus, achilles, and calf using body weight.

      • Dustin
        May 18, 2012

        I have been having issues with my Plantar Fascia (my arch) I have found rolling a tennis ball or golf ball under that helps, but I may try that aluminum water bottle trick, it sounds pretty nice.

        • wiglaf
          May 18, 2012

          Oh, I always roll the plantar fascia too. A hot aluminum bottle feels really good.

    • Kate Kift
      May 18, 2012

      Ensure you roll out the calf as much as possible because that is probably causing the achilles tenderness.

      Whilst running ensuring that your heel is touches the ground after your fore/mid foot landing.

      Bend the knees more. (Ken Bob trick). Whilst running try to sink lower into the landing. (I imagine that someone is gentle pulling down on my shoulders).

      Ignore everybody’s advice — Including mine. We just complicate matters. If it hurts play with your form until it doesn’t. :)

    • MatD
      May 19, 2012

      I think it’s important to differentiate between achilles and calf soreness. Is it actually the achilles tendon that is sore, or is it actually your lower calf?
      If it’s the calf, I’d say it’s less of a worry, just manage your mileage, recovery, stretching, etc and try to relax while running.

      If it’s actually the achilles, be MUCH more careful as those injuries take *forever* to heal like someone else commented.

      It might just require less mileage or more rest days, but could also be a symptom of some form needing tweaking, like maybe you’ve gone too far forefoot and need to bring it back a bit to a ‘whole foot’ landing under your body (always remembering that not overstriding is the most important bit).