For barefoot running beginners the start almost inevitable brings frustration and setbacks, especially for those who were already shod runners. Patience, don’t give up! This has been my experience.
My first try at barefoot running resulted in blisters, due to the fact that I was running too much on the balls of my feet. Five symptoms of this bad habit:
- your heels rarely touch the ground
- you develop blisters on your toes and/or the base of your toes
- you develop these same blisters when you run uphill
- your calves ache
- you have pain in your Achilles tendon
I had gotten accustomed to running this way because I had been wearing minimal shoes that didn’t allow me to feel the excessive friction between my forefoot and the ground. In the end, all shoes have this important disadvantage, that they don’t allow your feet to feel. Additionally, I was ignoring the pain in my calves thinking that it was inevitable or necessary. This way of thinking, that pain should be tolerated, goes against the guiding principle of barefoot running and is typical of athletes.
After doing some research and receiving helpful tips from Barefoot Ken Bob and Barefoot Josh (Thank you!), I came to understand what went wrong. First, I learned that my mistake consisted of landing completely on the forefoot (forefoot strike) making the forward moving motion come from pushing off my toes (toe push-off). This came as a surprise to me; the forward motion (when running barefoot) does not come from pushing the ground with the forefoot, but rather from the the hips! Secondly, I learned that to correct this I had to land on my midfoot (midfoot strike) and let the heel touch the ground lightly. This change can be obtained by bending the knees more and making a conscious effort (at least in the beginning) of lifting the entire foot.
At the second barefoot attempt the difference was very clear. By changing my form with these points in mind, I ran with no blisters and no aching calves. In fact, so light and and with so little friction were my steps that even where my skin was tender and new from the previous blisters my feet were unharmed. It was a testament to the lightness of barefoot running.
Don’t use minimal shoes until you have mastered running barefoot (but most likely you wont want to by then). The fear of running barefoot and impatience will lead you to think that minimal shoes will serve as a transition between shoes and the bare feet. However, it will be a waste of time and furthermore it will expose you to hurting yourself more seriously (because you’ll unknowingly hurt yourself until the problem is serious, ex: tendonitis). I ditched the shoes and found myself at square one. Had I done it earlier I would have saved my self some unnecessary pain and bad habits.
Before you go out and run: read THIS completely and ditch the shoes (in that order). Believe me!