Monday, March 17, 2008

Running Barefoot!?

After some comments I received about the barefoot run I did last Monday, I decided to talk a little about the subject. I am far from being a purist on the matter of running barefoot, but I do occasionally enjoy the benefits of a little barefoot run (jog).

While training for my first 100 miler in '06, I thought about all the horror stories I have heard about blister problems. Those little things are quite often the cause of some disappointing DNF's (stands for: Did Not Finish). People try to prevent them by wrapping each toe with duct tape (the fix all), wearing two layers of socks, wearing no socks at all, wearing socks with fingers that fit like gloves over each toe, rubbing big globs of Vaseline over the toes, and various other tricks that; in my opinion, often waist time, are messy, cause more problems, or cost too much money.

I had another idea: toughen up my feet to where they can endure anything. So, against the advice of many who thought I was a freak, I went for a two-mile jaunt in the middle of the summer (my biggest mistake) at a local trail. The trail provided many textures: dirt (the best), gravel (the worst), pavement (feels fine--unless its HOT!), grass (feels good as long as there are no stickers), etc. Believe it or not, it felt like therapy. Everything was great--until my feet started to burn and blisters the size of golf balls started to form at the balls of my feet.

The problem was that I started out with too long of a run. Later my feet got conditioned to it, and a two-mile barefoot run was perfect way to recover after a long run on the previous day. I found that it not only toughened my feet--which must have worked because I've never had much of a problem with blisters--but it helped my keep my best form which, if followed, allows me to run injury free--for the most part.

Well, wasn't I surprised that a guy who went by the name of "Barefoot" Ted, would be running that very 100 miler I was training for. It wasn't a publicity stunt. As it turns out, there is a whole philosophy out there on the matter. Later I will try to post some of his comments and maybe even run a link to his website.

So, why run barefoot with a HEEL injury? The answer is simple. Running barefoot, I am able to slow down, enjoy each step (sort of) and move to the balls of my feet which is a lot more like shock absorbers for your feet. I'm not going to try any long distance runs that way anytime soon, but the little ones seem to work for me.

So far, here are some comments I have received through e-mail:

1) Uncle Mike (missionary in Australia) says:
...I USE to run barefoot some. I enjoyed it. It was good at stretching your achilles. Not only that, but I found that I ran FASTER barefoot than in shoes (on the right courses). I actually ran my PR for both 5, 10 and 15 kilometers barefoot. I don't know how far you are running, but I wouldn't think that it would be a problem unless you are running on hard courses. When I was running barefoot it was on a grass track. I also had to work up to the longer (for me) distances, but eventually went 10 kilometers about once a week.

One last story, I have a good friend here who thinks that he can not run in shoes. He has run barefoot in road races. Not a great idea in my opinion. I have seen his feet mangled and bleeding after a race on the roads. Can't be worth it, even if there are some advantages. We also use to run cross country races here. They would be on many different kind of courses, but all over hill and dale, off the streets, and in "the bush". This same fellow wanted me to run barefoot, but I told him I wouldn't even consider it. All I needed was to step on one piece of glass, or some barbed wire, or even an animal bone and it wouldn't be worth it (as I say, theses courses were not on golf courses, but in a more wild setting!). He thought I was being foolish, but one race he was running through a large area of standing water in a farmers field (we ran cross country during our winter, and there had been a LOT of rain). The water was fouled from the cattle tramping through it mixing it with mud and waste. As he ran through it (between ankle and knee deep, I know because I also ran that race and my pants had the stains to prove it!) he stepped on the exposed two inches of an old T post, which because of the dirty water, he did not see. He DID feel it pierce his foot, but he kept running and finished the race. We took him to hospital after and you can imagine how dirty the wound was by then. What with running on it, through dirty water, mud, etc. it was infected and he ended up in hospital for a few days. After he got out, he went right back to running barefoot!

2) Molly says:
I am very much in favor of running barefoot on the beach. After having to undergo foot surgery this summer for multiple warts on my feet(from barefootness), I am not a fan of being barefoot anywhere but there and my own house. My doctor told lots of horror stories about situations like mine. It's gross but the moral of the story is: be careful with your footsies!
...By the way, I think running barefoot where few people tread is very admirable, and it makes sense.

3) See "comments" below for additional remarks.


Lars said...

Funny to see a barefoot-running related post....:-D
I run a lot of marathons (in city) barefoot for charity, wearing a costume.In germany.... That´s funny. What helps is barefoot! And to run barefoot! :-D

Mollotov said...

Yay! It's exciting to see my comment included. I do have another one to piggy-back on Uncle Mike's. When I was in high school on spring break, I was surfing with my brother on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I stood on the side of the road, changing into my wetsuit, and (I didn't realize it at the time) I stepped on a tiny piece of glass. The next week at school I could barely walk. My foot was swollen and red, and I had to take these horrible antibiotics that smelled bad. Moral of the story: be careful please.

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