Is Barefoot Running For You?

It’s been all the rage; starting first like a random snowflake, as an occasional runner was spotted without shoes or using those strange-looking Vibram 5-Finger ultra-light shoes.  Then the storm grew into a blizzard.

Or so it seems.  While barefoot running and minimalist shoe running is now a hot topic, not every runner is on board with it.  Most seem to be wisely waiting to see what the concensus is: is barefoot running good or bad?

Jsut a few days ago, Christopher McDougall, weighed in on the subject in an article in the New York Times.  McDougall is the author of Born To Run, a great book that is part adventure story and part science lesson.  McDougall apparently became a convert to barefoot and minimalist running during the writing of the book, and now spreads the word.

But for me, the questions is not about what you wear, but how you run.  Tucked away in McDougall’s article is one true gem of a paragraph that sums it up nicely:   “’Barefoot-style’ shoes are now a $1.7 billion industry. But simply putting something different on your feet doesn’t make you a gliding Tarahumara (long-distance running tribe-member from Mexico featured in Born To Run). The ‘one best way’ isn’t about footwear. It’s about form. Learn to run gently, and you can wear anything. Fail to do so, and no shoe — or lack of shoe — will make a difference.”

To put it another way, take a weak runner with bad form and remove his shoes, and you have a weak runner with bad form running barefoot.

While the details are a little more complicated than that (since barefoot running will reduce the incidence of heel-strike, which is a good first step), failure to take care of everything else from the ankles up will still leave you performing at less than top level, and leave you open to injury.  Barefoot and minimal shoe running might work for some people — I’m not against it — but it’s not the miracle cure-all that some people seem to believe.

So how do you learn to run gently?  By strengthening the muscles that are used in running, and teaching your body proper form.  To learn how to do this, follow the running drills, core work, and strength training sections of Smart Marathon Training.  Then wear — or don’t wear — whatever you like.


About horowitzrun

Jeff is a certified running, cycling, and triathlon coach, and is the author of "My First 100 Marathons" (Skyhorse Press 2008) and "Smart Marathon Training" (Velo Press 2011). An obviously addicted runner, Jeff has run at least one marathon in every state and on 6 continents, including marathons in South Africa, China, Bangkok, and Antarctica. Jeff is available for group, one-on-one, and virtual coaching. Options include: 1. Basic Training Plan. This includes a customized training schedule geared towards a goal race, with a detailed running schedule that would include all distances and target times for each workout, including speedwork, tempo, and endurance sessions. 2. Complete Fitness and Race Plan. This includes the plan listed above, plus the non-running workouts and drills that runners need for better overall fitness and performance. You would get strength & core workouts, as well as run-specific training drills and stretches. 3. Virtual Coaching. This includes all of the above, implemented on a week-by-week basis. We review each week's progress at week's end so that adjustments can be made. The program is tailored to suit you right up to race day. It involves more contact, on a weekly or even daily basis. 4. Full Coaching for athletes in the Washington DC area. All of the above, plus a weekly workout together including speedwork, drills, and strength training. 5. Individual track sessions. One-on-one track-based workouts. Contact Jeff for pricing.
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