This morning I woke up with every muscle below my knee screaming in pain. Apparently there are lots of tiny muscles I didn’t know I had.
Why? I’ve been hearing about this barefoot running trend, and wanted to give it a shot. Obviously it’s not a great idea to simply launch on a three- or four-mile run barefoot if you haven’t done it before – I wore these odd shoes called Vibram FiveFingers – essentially a layer of rubber countoured to your foot, with a thin upper to hold things in place. And a separate compartment for each little toe.
Of course, the whole idea is completely nuts. At least, so claim a whole host of anti-running-barefoot sites, like this guy, and also one who has gone to the trouble of buying a domain, runningbarefootisbad.com, and spends his time debunking the claims made by the Evangelists of the Church of Barefoot Running. One of the leading advocates being a Harvard Professor. Here’s his video that explains:
So my first thought was, “surely it’s completely nuts to go running without the cushioning and support of a good pair of ($100) running shoes.” But running shoes have been around for what, 30 years? And people have been running for at LEAST, oh, 50. Or two million – give or take. Before that we were mainly climbing trees. So the human foot should logically be an engineering marvel, perfectly designed for running long distance.
So why do my legs hurt? Well, we have been wrapping our feet in these protective boxes for so long we have become WEAK. The brochure that comes with the Vibram FiveFingers warns to start slow. So I figure, 3 miles should be OK to start, right?
The thing is, your body learns really quickly not to land on the heel when that inch of foam rubber is suddenly missing. And that extra inch of padding in the back, compared to the half inch in front, means that your achilles tendon must suddenly adjust to an extra half inch of play. And now that your feet are not crammed in that box, you land on the ball of your foot, which spreads a bit to absorb the impact, and your heel comes down and you spring back up. And a whole bunch of tiny little muscles spring into action absorbing the impact, maintaining stability, and springing back off again. So now they are all sore.
But the experience, being in contact with the ground, using all your senses to avoid uneven spots (I didn’t manage to avoid every pebble), and smoothly gliding rather than bouncing on your heels, was something unique. So I’m thinking the next challenge is to run my 17th marathon barefoot.
I’m not quite convinced of the claims that this reduces injury. The thickened rubber under the ball of the foot is a bit unnatural, and it didn’t manage to protect me from things like pebbles, pine cones, acorns… And the separate toes tend to pull my own toes apart a bit, which takes some getting used to. Apparently 25 years of cramming them together in shoes have caused them all to turn inward a bit. But if our ancestors could do it for 2 million years, I should be able to manage. Try not to stare at my shoes when I run by.
Oh, and one more video: