Saturday, October 15, 2011

Barefoot running: my new obsession

I have to admit, I am a hypocrite. When I first saw Vibram 5 Fingers at work, I made fun of my coworker relentlessly for having "monkey feet." He kept telling me how amazing they were, and I ignored him and made jokes instead. 
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What started out as a search for the perfect shoe to wear while lifeguarding led me to the barefoot running movement and a new love for running. 

When I was lifeguarding I needed a comfortable shoe that I could wear all day on the hot pavement, but also one that if I had to jump in I could easily swim in them. I also wanted them to breathe easily, dry quickly (little kids think it's hilarious to splash the lifeguard), and give my feet more support than flip-flops. I ended up buying a pair of Merrell Pace Gloves. 
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The more I wore them the more I fell in love with a shoe that I could barely feel. After wearing them for a few months and running in them a few times, I decided to go all the way and buy a pair of Vibrams.

A year after making fun of my coworker I was walking out of the store with my new shoes in hand and a huge smile on my face. I had read "Born to Run" and done some more research on the benefits of barefoot running before making the leap. I have always had problems with my feet and ankles, and just by walking in "barefoot" shoes I had been having fewer problems and my feet were getting stronger. It took me a few weeks to get used to running properly (having a mid-foot landing instead of a heal strike) and tone my muscles.

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The enjoyment I get out of running now is incredible. It feels completely different from running in a heavily cushioned shoe that often leads to poor form/body mechanics and increased injuries. Instead I say no to Nike's child labor made shoes and explore the way my feet were designed to work. 

Thinking of going "barefoot"? Things you need to know:
1. You cannot put on a pair of "barefoot" shoes and just take off. You have to work up to running and give your muscles a chance to strenghten. I made this mistake and I do not want anyone else to do too much too fast and give themselves micro-tears in their muscles like I did (you will not be able to run at all for 3-4 weeks if you do, so save yourself the pain and annoyance). Trust me, you want to take it slow. If you normally run 2 miles, run 1/4 to a 1/2 mile in your new shoes for a few times before you slowly build up to running more. Better yet, start walking and work to running.  

2. Try running on grass or a track without any shoes and see what you think before buying the shoe.

3. Find everyone you know in the barefoot movement and ask them every question you can think of.

4. If you don't know anyone, there are great resources online that can answer your questions and give you the support you need.

5. Utilize the online resources that teach you the best way to run (regardless of the shoe you wear, a mid-foot strike is proven to be the most efficient, natural, and safest. Don't believe me? Barefoot runners have less injuries and are faster. Stanford's track team and most Olympic runners train barefoot). There are videos as well as blogs that are solely focused on barefoot running and advice. 

6. If you have a bit of time, read "Born to Run." It's an interesting read and it inspired me to give barefoot running a try. 

7. Find the shoe for you. Some shoes are more intense than others. The Merrell Pace glove and a few others are not as extreme and will provide more of a "running shoe" feel without sacrificing the "barefoot" experience. If you are wary of having anything between your toes there are options. I would highly recommend trying on different shoes in the store to see which one feels the most like what you are looking for. 

8. Even if you do not like to run, these shoes are amazing for just walking around town, hiking, the gym, and any other outdoor/indoor activity (with some limitations, I wouldn't wear them as formal shoes.)

I used to hate running — I thought it was one of the worst forms of self-torture. Now I will spend all day looking forward to when I get take off and explore the way my body was meant to move. 

Questions? Comments? Feel free to leave them below or on Twitter. 

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