I'm embarking upon what you might call the next chapter in my hippie-fication. Hippie-ness? Hippie-something, because now, after steel-cut oats, breastfeeding, and home birthing, I'm gonna start running barefoot. More or less.
It started several months ago, when I had a couple visits with my physical therapist for my same old back/butt/SI issues. She whacked me back into place--except for the dang sacrum--and we pretty much determined that exercises are the key to my feeling as well as possible until the time comes for me to get needles stuck in my butt and whack the sacrum into submission. But that's another post.
So the PT told me how she had started running barefoot, and how much she was enjoying it. And while she played college soccer, she was not a runner before. But now she runs barefoot, and actually looks forward to running, and she thought it might be a good fit for me, and that I should consider trying it.
I was listening with my ever-so-slightly skeptical Uh-huh's, but I gave her more credit than I would give average-crazy-runner, being that she is a PT (a good one), and wouldn't just embark on something without being reasonably sure that she wasn't about to injure or maim herself. I mean, she went to PT school and knows a lot about joints & muscles & stuff, so I trust her judgement. Anyway, she told me about a book she read called Born to Run, and said I should read it. She gave me an impromptu book report on it, and everything.
Well, after that I was intrigued. It so happened that I had some Target store credit, which I used to order the book online. And then I read it, and then I realized I most certainly had to give this barefoot running thing a try.
The theory goes that people have been running for thousands of years, and it's only in the past 30-40 years that we started wearing special shoes for it, so how on earth did Joe-Caveman do all that running without hurting himself, while today we have to worry about pronation, and plantar fasciitis, and popping knees, and stuff?
Turns out there's this tribe in Mexico called the Tarahumara (or Raramuri, depending on the situation and context) who are a running people. They live in the canyons of Mexico, and you have to go thru some serious danger to even find them, but they are a peaceful people, sticking mostly to themselves. They'll get together and have 60 mile races for fun. To warm up at school on chilly mornings, the kids will play a running game with a wooden ball for roughly 4 miles. Just to get the blood flowing, you know.
So in a nutshell, it's all about form. Basically (in true American style), by creating all these cushioned shoes for ourselves, we've actually weakened the muscles that are intended to protect our feet & joints & stuff during running. Probably the biggest difference is that our big ol' shoes allow us to run with a heel strike, which is a big instigator of a whole lot of forces and stresses and a huge contributor to a lot of running-related injuries. Take away most or all of the cushioning, and your body finds the form it needs to strengthen the muscles needed to cushion its own joints as well as possible.
That's the theory anyway. It's still pretty controversial in some circles, and some folks are adamantly against it, but I think there's a lot to it. One of the reasons I love running is for its simplicity, and to simplify it even further? I'm all for that. Plus there's a lot of leeway for running barefoot only sometimes if you want, as a sort of training supplement or something.
It can't be done all at once though. I can't just up and run 3 miles barefoot without risking serious injury. I mean, I've been running (really running) in shoes for 20 years. My muscles are very accustomed to this way of doing things. So it has to be done very gradually. A couple weeks ago, I ran on a treadmill in sock-feet for just 5 minutes after my regular workout, and I was tired! Per the program I looked up online, two days later I did 10 minutes "barefoot" (this time in socks on the base gym floor), and had a little soreness in my calves. This is normal as my body adjusts to the altered form, and I will work my way up from there.
Now, since then I have been outdoors only, and it's waaaaaay too cold to go barefoot. Unless I want to freeze my toes off, which I don't, so it's been shoes for me. Plus it turns out I'm a bit of a priss about my feet. I'm not huge on calluses and stuff, which I would certainly have to develop if I took up full-time barefoot running. Thankfully there's an in-between option called zero-drop.
Remember how I talked about our thick, modern, cushioned shoes? One of their characteristics is that they elevate the heel several millimeters. No big deal at first glance, but even a little elevation can have big effects on stride, and form, and muscles. Taking away this "drop" between the heel and ball of the foot (hence the term "zero-drop") brings things a little closer to what it's like to run barefoot.
There are always the Vibram Five-Fingers--those are the things that look like gloves for your feet. It would certainly be funky & cool to run around in those. But they are on the order of $150, and my problem is that, if I'm going to go all hippie with the running, I don't want to start having to pay MORE to wear shoes that deliberately do LESS. No, if I'm going to be a hippie about it I want to do it on the cheap.
I think I may have found a nice middle ground. Back in the day lots of my friends wore track spikes and/or racing flats at meets...tiny little shoes with next to zero cushioning. In theory they maximized speed, minimized times, and made you look like a real runner (I did not have them at the time--I did not look like a real runner). The weakness with the racing flats is that they are snug and don't let your toes splay properly, but I think if nothing else they will be good enough for me to decide if I want to pursue this barefoot-thing further.
There's a little more transition as I find the right size racing flats. As it turns out they are not super-accurate to one's normal size so I have to do a little back & forth with Zappo's. I'm hoping by the end of this week I'll be able to try out the new shoes for 10 minutes outdoors, and go from there.
Here goes (next to) nothing...