Whelp, today was a pretty big day for me. I literally "stepped" into a new direction with running.
My brother is lending me the book Born to Run, and I'm almost near the end. Right before he gave it to me, he said it changed his life. So I'm almost through it, and I too am a new addition to many runners (millions in the world) who run barefoot.
There is one close park where I'm comfortable "getting my feet wet" as I learn the technique and allow my feet to adjust to the big bad world out there. Friendship Park is located on the east end of the riverfront in Cincinnati. It has a 1/2 mile helix-shaped cement/concrete sidewalk that winds through a beautifully manicured and landscaped park. Lots of gorgeous flowers and plants you just don't see all the time everywhere. The helix is rolling...but the ascents and descents aren't a big deal. The surface is very smooth...no cracks or crumbling areas that could pollute the rest of it. No broken glass, nothing except the occasional pebble (I stepped on one the whole time). In other words, if you run there in your bare feet, you won't leave with gashes and holes in your soles. I can't guarantee you won't stub your toe though!
SO, I've been pumping myself up for this for a few weeks. It's pretty nice out...cloudy, so the sidewalks weren't hot by 9am. I dressed in my normal running outfit, but with flip flops. Drove down to the park, left the flip-flops in the car and started walking. As soon as I realized how smooth it is, I started to jog. It was so nice...I haven't run outside in a few days. The flowers looked great, the birds sounded great. Almost had the whole place to myself. Earlier I had planned to switch between walking and jogging, just to be nice and safe.
After about a half mile, I started noticing some things that were SO different than when I run in my Asics.
WHEN I RUN IN MY SHOES, I tend to run faster than I should. As much as I try to slow down, it's hard to because it's uncomfortable. So, I usually end up huffing and puffing through, trying to keep up a nice healthy pace that I can maintain for a bit. But I find it very hard to synch my breathing with my pace...I have to force myself to do it.
TODAY, I didn't even have to think about my breathing. I just breathed what I needed to. Because I was running at a better speed that was coming naturally, my body just did it's thing. I could actually enjoy the colors and scents, all while keeping a careful and frequent eye on the concrete ahead of me. Today I paid closer attention to my body and what was happening to it, but in the future as it becomes normal, I'll probably spend more time paying attention to the world instead.
WHEN I RUN IN MY SHOES, my back tends to hunch a little more as I lean forward. The cushions in my shoes make me work harder to propel forward, so I have to kind of push myself off of the bouncy cushioning and try to also be strong on my feet. My head seems to wobble more, too, probably because I'm going faster, bouncing around.
TODAY, there was an immediate change in my body's posture. My back was straight, chest forward (and for me, that means FORWARD), head was up, looking straight ahead. This made the whole running experience so much easier and more pleasurable. It felt so right.
WHEN I RUN IN MY SHOES, my arches burn. (I had "corrective" surgery 15 yrs ago that gave me totally flat feet.) My ankles and knees get small twinges of pain. My right hip sometimes burns. My lower back also gets really tight and un-comfy. I get regular side stitches, too. The other day...like 3 days ago....I started getting shooting pains up the front of my left leg.
TODAY, the only discomfort I felt while running was some tightness in my lower right calf. Completely normal part of the transitioning to shoelessness. There will be a lot of aches and pains as I slowly re-train my feet and the unused muscles that have been "protected" by shoes for so long...and likely re-shape them into what they were before I had my central tendons cut. But most of the aches and pains today (it's been a few hours) are in my legs. I'll probably pop an OTC painkiller before work, just to take the edge off.
The way you land on your feet is completely different than when you are in shoes. Shoes allow you and encourage you to thrust your feet in front of you and land on your heel, which transfers a lot of shock straight up the leg and through the back, resulting in a plethora of potential injuries and health problems down the road. Barefoot running doesn't allow landing on the heel. The impact on the rest of the body is diminished because the foot is taking in the pressure. All of the pain symptoms I listed above didn't exist today. SO, instead of switching between walking and running for one mile, I ran a whole 1.5 miles straight, and could have gone farther. Having been warned by my brother than the day after is rough, I followed up with some hot tub, swimming some laps and the dry sauna at the YWCA around the corner from my apt.
I will likely buy a pair of Vibrim Five-Fingers (function over form, folks) so when I run in the winter or at Lunken or on trails while I'm re-training my feet, I won't get discouraged by rough surfaces on my soft skin. But I do plan on doing it totally barefoot as much as possible.
If this whole idea disgusts your or intrigues you or makes you want to try it today, I found this awesome site by an old-timer barefoot runner (who was the only one doing it in races in the States for decades). He has lots of great information, and answers to a lot of the questions that people have.
Another fabulous side effect of barefoot running is the money I will save by not replacing shoes and socks. ;)