There is an ocean of information available now about minimal and barefoot running, including technique, transition and injury possibility. However, as with all running challenges how you adapt and the problems you encounter will be unique to you. Each person has a physical body with its own strengths and weaknesses so we are all going to have different issues along the road of barefoot and minimal running. What will happen is that as you strip your footwear down to the basics of a rubber sole your gait imbalances will gradually come forward for transformation to build you into a stronger injury free human runner.
Here are a few experiences I have had in the hope you can glean some information and inspiration:
- I first invested in some barefoot shoes 3 years ago when they first came into the UK market. I was fortunate to work at Run and Become and was able to wear them at work. I started with half a day and built up to wearing them all day. I wore them at work for 2/3 months before doing any running and I feel this gave my feet and legs a chance to strengthen and prepare for what was ahead.
- I have always been interested in gait through techniques such as Alexander technique, pilates and yoga. Experiences of any of these or similar can help you with being aware of your posture whilst running. Important if you are in minimal shoes.
- I started using my barefoot shoes for speed work at the track and used the Mizuno Wave Elixir - a light, supportive racer trainer - for longer runs and hill work. Occasionally my achilles would tighten or my feet would twinge and I would just wear my Elixir for a few days and the problems went away. This worked for me and allowed my body and feet to adapt to new movements and the muscles and bones find new positions and strength.
- One day at the track I decided to train up and down concrete steps and was delighted to find I hardly felt any impact and decided my technique and muscles were ready to go into full time with my barefoot shoes. Your body will tell you when you are ready to increase your time and distance in your minimal shoes.
- Everything continued swimmingly for 2 years, until about 5 months ago I started getting calf and lower back problems. Very annoying! Why now after all this time? I went to a Run and Become workshop with the Italian Vibram crowd where we worked our feet in all directions, and I realised what was missing. I had been landing rigidly on the forefoot and only running on flat surfaces. I started doing foot exercises recommended by Vibram and also running off road sometimes. You can use barefoot shoes but if you don't flex and bend your feet in them lower leg problems will arise.
- In another workshop with barefoot people from Primal lifestyle I realised one of the other things I had not been doing was allowing my heel to lower and the Achilles to lengthen and on each step and then therefore the spring action of the foot and lower leg did not kick in. Another remedy for the tight calves. The third thing my calves taught me was that I was not allowing my leg to fall behind with each stride. I was still foot striking ahead of my body. One trainer at the workshop asked us to imagine running with a shopping trolley ahead of you for a few hundred metres to stop your legs coming forward too far. I found that effective.
- You can use imagination improve your gait in many ways. For example I imagine I am running as if my back was sore - very lightly, or I imagine I am a little kid sneaking into the kitchen as quietly as possible to raid the biscuit tin! I like the idea of running silently - ninja like - which also encourages the light and fast gait ideal to reduce impact for barefoot running. Sometimes people won't hear me coming up behind them which is satisfying!
- Considering the sedentary lifestyle most of us live and work in it is important to keep your core strong. Also do the sensible things: cross train, build miles slowly and take recovery days.
- Whatever footwear you choose for your 'running and becoming' always listen to your body.
- Keeping your mind open and flexible to absorbing new ideas and approaches to training will keep you on the path of progress and self-transcendence.