My Thoughts on Barefoot running
Barefoot running means different things to different people. Taken at face value it means running without shoes, but to most runners it means running with very lightweight shoes and to have a zero drop (no height difference between the height of material under the foot compared at the heel and the forefoot).
I first came across this theory in the book Born to run (read my review). This is the book that led me to ditch my trainers for Fivefingers way back in 2010. Other brands jumped on the success of ‘Born to run’ and the minimalist movement; brands such as Vivo, Vibram and New Balance produced running shoes that were zero drop and featured less support and less weight. The idea being that they promoted a forefoot or midfoot stride (like the Kenyans) making you a better runner.
Its interesting though when you think that minimalist shoes have always existed, much before ‘Born to run’- look at any track or cross country spikes to find light weight and zero drop- the difference was that now minimalist shoes were being sold to the everyday runner, not someone from a track or cross country team. To runners without any training on running form or any base off fitness and drill work. This might be the reason there is now a backlash against barefoot running shoes- brands like HOKA adding more and more padding and support under the heal.
With the benefit of hindsight for myself, I don’t think it was a bad thing to stop using my standard running trainers. I think I developed a better, more efficient, running stride and I’m convinced the knee pain I used to suffer only went away because of the switch to minimalist shoes. The pain transferred from my knees (bad pain) directly to my calves which strengthened and adapted.
Nowadays, the common and accepted belief is that barefoot running should be used as a drill or an exercise to improve your individual running style; that means 20-30 minutes once a week or as strides on grass at the end of a run. I read this article from red bull interviewing pros about barefoot running: https://www.redbull.com/gb-en/elite-runners-shoe-picks and it really put an end to my belief that barefoot was always better. I ran everything up to half marathon in Fivefingers as well as my own interval sessions and park runs. Recently though I’ve switched to lightweight trainers with a 8mm drop and run with my Fivefingers now and again about once a week. I have some more cushioned shoes for longer training runs over 15km and I genuinely think swapping between trainers has helped me avoid injury so far this season.
If anyone is thinking about using barefoot or lightweight shoes I would say go slow and expect your calves to hurt. It is definitely not a magic fix, your park run time won’t improve by 5 minutes just by switching shoes. Think of them as a tool or a drill to help you become a stronger runner overall.