I started running “barefoot” this summer. No, I don’t run around like Huck Finn along the banks of The Mississippi. I wear shoes. But they’re “barefoot,” or “minimalist” shoes that lack the cushioning, and toe-to-heel incline, of modern running shoes.
These shoes force you to run with a completely different form: that of a man running barefoot. You first hit the ground with your mid- or fore-foot, instead of your heel. This makes your stride much softer and sends a lot less shock through your feet, shins, knees and lower back.
What good does this do you? Let me count the ways.
1. Speed. Google “barefoot running” and you’ll see story after story of people setting personal records after switching to minimalist shoes. This makes sense: “Barefoot” shoes are very light. My current pair weighs four ounces; typical running shoes weigh twelve to fourteen. So you’re hauling less weight each time you take a step. This can only help your speed.
But “barefoot” running may help your speed in another way: It makes your form more efficient. There’s less up-and-down—your head should barely rise and fall with each stride—so you conserve energy when compared to a conventional running style. This should help you run faster on longer runs.
2. Your Knees Will Thank You. Speed is hardly the only benefit of barefoot running. The biggest difference for me is the way my body feels after I run, and the following day. With the traditional, heel-striking form I’d feel strain all up and down my legs.
Now that I run “barefoot,” my legs still get sore after a hard run. But it’s muscular soreness. It’s not my knees, shins and feet. My joints and bones feel great, my body energized and invigorated.
3. Increase Training Mileage. This one goes hand in hand with how my body feels. When I trained conventionally, I’d limit myself to 45 miles a week, to ease the burden on my knees. And I’d still feel the pain.
Now that I run “barefoot,” I can kick it up to 60 without feeling that strain. I quit distance running twice before due to knee pain, but now I’m back in business: I’m training for my first full marathon in eight years.
4. Reduce Risk of Injuries. One of the biggest banes for runners is injuries. Repetitive stress injuries can take you out of the game for a month or more, and nag even those of us who keep running through the pain. Shin splints, sore knees, stress fractures you name it. Ouch. Stop jamming your heel into the ground over and over again, and start floating along. Your doctor and physical therapist may miss your company, and your money, but your training schedule will be more consistent, and more enjoyable, than ever.
5. Look Really Cool. Let’s face it. You’ll be in the vanguard. Only those of us who are innovative, open minded, bold, adventurous and confident will go for a totally new running style with crazy looking shoes. This only speaks well about you to everyone you streak past while you’re running at unprecedented speeds.
So, what are you waiting for? Find some good “barefoot” kicks and learn the “new” form. There’s so much to gain and so little to lose.