Monday, February 01, 2010

Barefootin' It


Many thanks to David Biersmith, for loaning me the book "Born to Run." I found the book to be an interesting read, although it wandered and switched-back like a Wyco trail, at times. It was fairly complimentary to trailrunning and ultrarunning in general, while not embellishing upon the characters (too much). And, it brought some names out of the woodwork that aren't normally mentioned in running circles, because they shun the talk show circuit and aren't self-PR whores.

On to the subject at hand: Barefoot Running.

Barefoot running can be used as a tool for gaining better running form, I'll give it that. But barefooting it in the "real world," whether on roads or trails, has it's hazards.

Even the Tarahumara tribesmen in the book, "Born to Run" wear hand-made Huaraches, constructed of car tire treads. While not "cushy," they still offer a large (1/2" thick rubber) degree of protection from rocks and "sharps" to the bottoms of the feet. Barefoot Ted, a character in the book, sustained somewhat "shredded" feet after 50-miles (on desert trails), while wearing his Vibram FiveFingers. And we've had local runners' break their little toes while wearing Vibram 5Fs on our rocky trails.


Local runner, Barefoot Rick Roeber has run in a few of our Trail Nerd races, with varying degrees of success (and injury), as evidenced by this photo after a 10-miler at Wyco. He admits that he has difficulty (running unshod) with some types of surfaces, like ordinary dirt & gravel roads.
Barefoot Rick's Feet
And then there's one of the main characters in the "Born to Run" book...Scott Jurek, arguably one of the best ultrarunners in the world...and he's a heel striker! Scott excels at both trail AND pavement ultramarathons. He helped with the design of his shoe of choice (the Cascadia), which is a "substantial," and fairly heavy and cushy shoe, by any means of measurement.

Can a person run on rocky trails, while unshod?
There is one local runner that (I think) has the form, speed, and relative lightness to run barefoot on rocky trails fairly successfully...and that is "Barefoot" Josh Snellink. While I've seen him injure and bloody himself a time or two, he has a "realistic view" of what is possible with barefoot running (IMHO), and when it makes sense to wear shoes, to prevent injury or frostbite. For Josh to run absolutely barefoot on our local rocky trails, he needs to be obsessively observant of trail conditions, but he also needs to slow down on the downhills. This guy is no slouch...if he were wearing some type shoes and could run at his normal and (beautiful to watch) fluid pace - even on the descents, I think he would cruise to victory in quite a few races.

Where am I leading with all of this? Barefoot running can be a means to an end to improve your running form. It can also make you more aware of your body in relation to its surroundings. But, in the long run (pun intended), you will probably still need to have your feet shod, at some time or in some capacity. This is especially true for snowy/icy weather conditions, and rocks and "sharps" protection on the trails and roads. And, if you want to go faster in a race, you should probably be shod. Find out what's right for you, whether it's a pair of super-light 3.8 oz Universe, or a pair tire tread huaraches. And if you're not having issues while still wearing your "normal" running shoes, then don't fix what ain't broke.

Happy trails,
Bad Ben
PS:
Barefoot runners have ALWAYS gotten a free entry into Trail Nerd events.

28 comments:

Charlie said...

I came across your blog and liked your post. I read the book also and agree with alot of the anthropological support of why we were "meant to run barefoot." However, the open spaces have long since been paved over and our feet are faced with hazards that evolution has not been able to keep up with. I find that a minimalist shoe is a happy medium to the clunky conventional shoe and barefoot running. For example, for road running I like the New Balance 152, and for trails the New Balance MT
100. Both are racing flats, and are really nothing more than a pair of socks with laces and a very thin cushion beneath the foot. I love them both and feel I get (most of) the same benefits as if I was running with naked feet.

Scott Keeps Running said...

Nice post, Bad Ben. I've thrown some barefoot/VFF runs in my training and I think they have helped my foot strike. I've tried it on the trails too, but I like worrying less about what's below my feet and more about my beautiful surroundings when I'm trail running.

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Jannick Kjaer said...

Hi Ben,

I am sorry I am leaving a comment, I can't find your email. I am writing you in the hopes that you want to participate in an e-book we are writing about ultra runners.

We want to tap into the collective craziness (we mean that as a compliment:-)) of this community to challenge and inspire other non-runners to make their own life an ever-greater creative expression of their own goals and dreams… without limits.

Progress so far: We have currently contacted more than 250 ultra runners and received more than 60 answers.

We would ask you to answer a question about your experience with ultra running. Please note that these questions are related to your mental state and require that you are able to explain quite specifically what is going on mentally when running.

If you'd like to participate please shoot me an email at dreamit@juliossol.com.

Thanks!

All the best,
Jannick

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