There are as many reasons for running as there are days in the year, years in my life. But mostly I run because I am an animal and a child, an artist and a saint. So, too, are you. Find your own play, your own self-renewing compulsion, and you will become the person you are meant to be.
- George Sheehan

Saturday, June 2, 2012

"Barefoot running leads to injuries!! ZOMG!!1!" article

The Recent AP article that goes by various terrifying titles

^This article has been floating around recently online, and has been picked up by many, many news sites around the country.  I thought I'd add my $.02, seeing that this is my blog and probably only three people in the world actually read it.

The article states:
"Swept by the barefoot running craze, ultramarathoner Ryan Carter ditched his sneakers for footwear that mimics the experience of striding unshod.
The first time he tried it two years ago, he ran a third of a mile on grass. Within three weeks of switching over, he was clocking six miles on the road.
During a training run with a friend along a picturesque bike path near downtown Minneapolis, Carter suddenly stopped, unable to take another step. His right foot seared in pain.
“It was as though someone had taken a hammer and hit me with it,” he recalled.
Carter convinced his friend to run on without him. He hobbled home and rested his foot. When the throbbing became unbearable days later, he went to the doctor. The diagnosis: a stress fracture."  - The Associated Press

Text in bold for emphasis.  He went from a third of a mile on grass to six miles on roads in THREE WEEKS.  Sorry Mr. Carter, I know you can run better in your sleep than I ever could even on my best day, but that was a stupid, stupid move.  There is no secret danger about barefoot running that led to that injury.  You can't go from 1/3 mile to 6 miles barefoot in a matter of three weeks.  Thanks for playing.

That's the point I was trying to make in my recent, and extremely verbose vent-fest.  People need to take responsibility for their safety.  NO ONE should try barefoot or minimalist running if they're not willing to completely start over in their running training, and build themselves from the ground up, a few hundred yards at a time.  They have to listen to their body and know when to stop, and allow the transition to happen slowly.  This will take at least MONTHS for most people, upwards of a year or more for others.

High mileage, experienced runners like Mr. Carter often run into this situation.  Their experience and fitness is, in a way, their downfall.  They don't want to have to start from scratch.  So they knock the mileage down for a few weeks, thinking it's enough, and start ramping up quickly again.  And they run themselves and their weak feet into the ground.

The article then goes on to make some reasonable points, such as:
- People jumping into barefoot/minimalism "too enthusiastically" and getting overuse injuries as a result
- Runners get injured in regular running shoes too all the time.  Between 30-70% of all runners get injured according to this
- Scientific research is severely lacking for both barefoot running and shod running
- Start slow and add distance in small increments
- People with decreased sensation in their feet should probably not run barefoot (I agree with this; feeling the ground and using that input from your feet is everything with barefoot and minimalist running)

I especially like the closing with Mr. Carter's running shoes sitting unused in his closet.  Perhaps if he had started completely barefoot, and used some barefoot training exercises to supplement his regular distance training (in his regular shoes), he could have strengthened his feet, improved his mechanics, AND kept up his mileage. 

Ultimately, it's about running better.  Whether you're barefoot or not, this "barefoot running movement/craze" is really just about finding a more efficient way to run.  It's about natural running style.  That can be achieved in shoes too, with the proper education and some controlled use of barefoot exercises instead of trying to transition to barefoot/minimalism.  People that are completely unwilling to dedicate themselves to a year or more of careful barefoot transition should not try that.  But a couple minutes of barefoot drills each week can slowly improve your running form in shoes.  I tell a lot of people I know who are experiencing issues running, that they don't have to throw their shoes away, but if they try some barefoot drills, that they might see some improvements in their shod running. 

For me...

...Peace is a beautiful bit of land, a perfect sunny day, and some friends to enjoy barefoot running with.  Thanks guys/girls for a wonderful time this morning!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

"Barefoot running" craze and the "Me me me!" attitude are hurting barefoot running.

I was recently contacted by local press about doing a couple of pieces on barefoot running.  Now I can't help but sit and ponder how exactly I'm going to best represent what barefoot running is.  What it means to me, what it can mean to others...where do I start?  Most importantly, how do I best educate and inform the general public, who seem increasingly afraid of the "dangers" of barefoot running?

A public who has brought this fear on themselves.  Wherever I go on the internet, or whenever barefoot running comes up in conversation, I find myself more often having to defend its safety and practicality.  People are quick to point out that more and more people are getting injured by taking their shoes off, or using minimalist shoes.  Some of "those" podiatrists and the traditionally shod runners with tight sphincters are beginning to say, "HA HA WE TOLD YOU SO!"  This is particularly amusing, because they have absolutely no idea what they're talking about.  It has nothing to do with barefoot running.  It has EVERYTHING to do with people not taking care of themselves.  Which apparently, is no longer their responsibility.  Ridiculous!!

The "I want it now" attitude is what injures people
I hear about the "outbreak" of barefoot running injuries, and it makes me want to slap someone.  First off, most of those new injuries are with folks who run in minimalist shoes, not barefoot.  YES, there is a difference.  Secondly, with all the attention that barefoot/minimalist running is getting, and all the numbers of new people trying it, OF COURSE there will be a higher number.  Simply because there is a higher number of people trying it.  This isn't indicative of how dangerous barefoot running is!  It does say everything about how greedy and impatient people are these days.  Our society's impatience and "give it to me now" attitude are getting people injured, and giving the podiatrists and the anti-barefoot running camp ample ammunition.

When I first started getting back into running in 2009, all of my running buddies told me: "Go to a good running store and get fitted for high quality running shoes.  That will solve all your problems!"  Unfortunately, it didn't.  My issues were about me, and no shoe was going to correct them.  But over the last couple of years and through my transition to barefoot running, I hear that advice ALL the time.  There is a pervasive idea amongst runners that a shoe can make them a better runner.  That simply by throwing something new on their feet, that all their ills will be cured.  This is not the case.  Running is about the runner.  A fundamental issue with the runner (ie. truly poor form) will NOT be fixed simply by throwing on a new shoe.  It's like throwing new tires on a car with a broken engine or drive train and expecting it to just work.  Life doesn't work that way.

YOU CAN'T TRANSITION QUICKLY TO BAREFOOT RUNNING.  You just can't.  For some people it'll take months to properly (and slowly) strengthen/condition their feet for the workload.  For others, it may take a year or more.  Yes, your feet (even those living in shoes all the time) are designed to do this.  But not right away because they're atrophied and weak from years of not being exercised naturally.  Muscles need to be built back up.  Bone density needs to be recovered.  This process happens very slowly for a lot of people.  It takes a great amount of time, dedication, and patience most of all to safely condition your feet for barefoot/minimalist running.  It cannot be rushed.  

Responsibility is extinct
Back when I transitioned to minimalism in 2009, then finally barefoot running in 2010, I didn't blame the Vibram FiveFingers or barefoot running when I got injured.  It never occurred to me to sue Vibram or Mizuno for their ultra light, minimalist shoes I wore.  Why?  BECAUSE I CHOSE TO WEAR THEM.  It was MY responsibility to take care of myself.  Vibram includes little educational pamphlets with their FiveFinger shoes.  They have an educational website.  They, as a company, do a reasonable job of telling people "Hey, these shoes require you to do some research and strengthen your feet."  The vast majority of people just seem to be completely unable to read.

There is a class-action lawsuit gathering against Vibram for their FiveFingers.  The argument is that people have sustained injuries because of the health benefits Vibram says will come from their shoes.  This is arguably one of the most absurd, idiotic, and disheartening pieces of news I have to read.  I'm no longer the world's biggest Vibram fan, but that's not actually the company's fault.  I just get sick and tired of listening to minimalist Vibram wearers talk about how they're "barefoot runners."  Just a nuisance, really.  However, the company now has to bear the burden of a group of people who have been injured in the FiveFingers, and are blaming it on the shoes.

Not themselves, the shoes.  Like the shoes made them run too fast.  The shoes made them run too often.  The shoes made them run too far.  The shoes made them COMPLETELY IGNORE the warning labels and educational material the company offers regarding safe transitioning and foot strengthening/conditioning.  And finally, the shoes landed these people in the doctor's office.  It's the shoes.  ...right?

No.  This utterly sickens me because people, as a whole, do not take responsibility for themselves anymore.  How you transition to barefoot/minimalism is ultimately on YOU.  There is educational material online and through shoe manufacturers.  Merrell has an entire website now dedicated to barefoot/minimalism education, like Vibram. There are online resources through independent groups that will teach you everything you need to know about barefoot running. There are barefoot clinics around the country where people can go to discuss and learn more about running minimalist or barefoot.  There are avenues to learn and become educated.  People just flat out ignore it.  Then, because they're too lazy to take responsibility for themselves, they blame it on the shoes.   They think the shoe will "solve all their problems."  After all, it's what they've been told for years.

I feel badly for Vibram.  They're being punished because their products requires that people not be complete idiots when using them.  Apparently that's too much to ask.

This is also a problem because as soon as these people mess up and blame the "barefoot running shoes," they then blame barefoot running.  I have long said that minimalist shoes like Vibrams have their own danger because they're not like actually running barefoot.  But the public, and indeed the press, does NOT distinguish between the two.  And it makes me sad.

"Barefoot Running" means barefoot running
I can't stress this enough - don't confuse running in minimalist "barefoot running shoes" with actual barefoot running. They are NOT one and the same.  They are fundamentally different.  And one is killing the other.

People are rushing out and grabbing any minimalist shoe they can find these days.  The "barefoot running" craze is getting more attention now than it ever has before.  I am afraid to say it's officially a fad.  Unfortunately with fads, it doesn't always end well.  Why?  Because people equate these minimalist shoes with actually running barefoot.  But, they're clearly shoes.  Yes, because they're minimalist, they require your foot to do all the work.  Unfortunately, they deprive the body of the vital sensory information and feedback that you get from the bottoms of your feet.  This sensory information tells you how softly to land, where to land, how quick your rhythm should be, when and how to adjust because something isn't right.  Your bare feet will literally tell you everything you need to know.  Most importantly, it tells you when to STOP.  This is the most important thing about barefoot/minimalist running transitions.  By going purely barefoot and listening when the bottoms of your feet tell you to stop for the day, you run a minimal risk of stressing the bones, muscles, and other soft tissue in your feet.  Let your skin be your guide, and it won't steer you wrong.

But because minimalist shoes deny that sensory feedback, new minimalist runners don't know when to stop.  They keep going because it feels good; it feels new.  And it's not long before some of them end up in the doctor's office with stress fractures.  And they can only blame themselves.

Start barefoot.  Ditch ALL the shoes, even the awesome minimalist ones. 

Finally, take responsibility for your actions and safety.  Stop and educate yourself.  Slow down.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Principles of Natural Running

Whether you wear shoes or run barefoot, these are great explanations and examples of solid running form.  Well worth the watch!  Thank you Dr. Mark!

Monday, March 5, 2012

I love my feet

Even after the most stressful and emotional wrecks of weeks, I can go out for a run, push myself, and feel great afterward.

Wherever I go from here, my feet will carry me there.

Friday, February 24, 2012

How Cold Can You Go?

Above is a video from the Chicago area featuring a local barefoot runner.  The piece is very good - focuses on the basics of barefoot running, the whys, the hows, and the how to get started.  All very solid and reputable information to follow!  The piece also covers running barefoot in winter.

This winter was my first "cold" one as a barefoot runner.  Last winter I spent down south, and mainly restricted to running in shoes for reasons well outside my control, so I didn't get much barefooting in last winter.  This year though, I wondered the age old question posed in this climate:
"How cold can you go?"

Today was probably my coldest run yet.  I've done several runs in the 40's, no big deal at all.  Temps in the 50's is like tropical weather after awhile.  I've also run a few times in the 30's, and after the first couple of minutes, it's business as usual and my feet were perfectly warm.  Today's run started with an air temp in the high 30's, but dropping quickly down to freezing due to a sudden incoming snowstorm.  I snuck my run in anyway and dealt with the wind chill.  Surprisingly enough, my feet never got numb this time around.  Usually they do for a minute or two, then warm up to normal with full feeling of the ground.  Today they were a little cold starting, but never numb.  They warmed up quicker and overall I had a nice 40 minute run with a few tempos in there.

It felt great out there today, and I was glad that I got to run instead of putting it off for tomorrow.  Every run in the cold builds confidence that I can get out there and have a good time and be comfortable.  I still don't think that I wish to try anything in the 20's or teens, but anything in the 30's is fair game for me now and I don't have to think twice about it.  By putting my regular window down into the 30's, I increase my opportunities to go run and enjoy what I do.  The whole point is to keep it pleasant and fun; it's not about pushing my limits all the time or trying to impress anyone.  Because believe me, it's shocking enough to people to be out there running barefoot when the snow is beginning to fall!  ;)

Here was what rolled in at the end of my run.  This photo was taken maybe 10 minutes afterward:

The Trap of Technology

The beauty of barefoot and minimalist shoes is simplicity.  Something that barefooters are intimately familiar with, and what only a handful of minimalist shoe manufacturers actually understand.

Above is a link to the Skechers Go Run, the company's entry into the minimalist shoe horse race.  The video at the top of the page is mostly good information, regarding foot strikes and biomechanics, the necessity of full flexibility of the foot and the need for a shoe to be able to twist as well as flex, and the need to for the industry to get back to natural running.  But what bugs me about this ad is the assumption that runners need protection ("ZOMG RUNNING IS GOING TO HURT!"), and that the "sensors" on the shoe are going to tell your body how to move.

Hint: you get better feedback from the ground by having less material between your foot and the running surface.  Hence, some of the best minimalist shoes out there are the simplest ones: they just have less crap between you and the ground.

The sensor pods on the Go Run are complete and utter bullshit.  I say that because if you listen carefully to the video, there is not one single piece of hard scientific evidence actually justifying their existence on the shoe.  The guy states: "These sensors are obviously completely decoupled, they're allowed to move so that no matter how you land on the shoe... there is is always going to be data transferred through the shoe through these sensors.  It really is one of the key components of these shoes; you can offer more cushioning but still get a dynamic sense of what is going on with the ground..."

...But HOW, exactly?  I strongly feel that those sensors are nothing but a false aesthetic designed to give buyers a sense of technology being on their side, keeping them safe.  There is no hard proof in that testimony of how the sensors actually function.  We as a running culture have become so accustomed to gadgets on shoes to improve our runs and reduce injuries, that I believe runners come to expect some sort of ground-breaking technology included on even the simplest-at-heart shoe.  It's a little silly, because again, the best minimalist shoes are the ones without the bells and whistles. 

The Nike Free has its own issues, but that shoe's success derives from its fresh simplicity.  The design of the sole is just a bunch of deep-cut grooves along with lighter materials to make the shoe not only lighter, but more flexible than the average running shoe on several planes.

At the end of the day I applaud Skechers for their entry into the minimalist market, and providing potential minimalist runners with another option for them.  Not every shoe works for everyone, so hopefully the Go Run will help some people get back to slightly more natural running and enjoying the sport.  I think it's a mostly honest effort on behalf of the design team, but once again (like the Reebok RealFlex), the Go Run is just one more example of an overly-engineered shoe that doesn't need the bogus gadgets to do what is actually intended.  Clearly the shoe designers think way too hard on these things.

Flat.  Light.  Flexible.  Those are the only things that a good minimalist shoe needs to be worried about.  Leave the sensor pods on the design table.

Don't Be That Awkward Runner

This is just too funny not to share!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Winter Wonderland - or not

When I started barefoot running, I didn't exactly know how I was going to handle the winter weather.  Spending last winter down south and away from the constant snow and cold certainly hasn't helped.  But thankfully, runners (both shod and barefoot) in my area have been blessed with a pretty mild winter thus far, and I've managed to squeeze several BF runs in the middle of winter.

Back in January, we had a short deep freeze followed by some 30 degree weather.  I hate running on treadmills and inside on the track (in shoes), so I jumped at the mini-heat wave and left the shoes home.  It was AWESOME to get out there again!  Feet felt great, and unlike the track (in shoes), my run was effortless and I didn't have to focus on keeping my good form.  It was easy, it was natural, it was perfect.  It also emphasized that I really can't have anything between my foot and the ground, because I rely heavily on that feedback to maintain effective form. 

Later in the month it warmed up to a very unseasonable 50-something degrees on its way to 65.  I got to run a couple times that week, and it was so fun being out there in shorts, a t-shirt, and barefoot at the end of January!  Today it was mid-40's with some wind, but even with that, the ground was warm enough and the run felt great.  I found it interesting on my way back in that my hands were freezing (so I put my gloves back on), but my bare feet were happily floating along down there, nice and toasty.  The small wonders of barefoot running are what keep me interested on EVERY run.

People's reactions are always interesting.  I've had a lot of looks as usual, some nods of approval, some cyclists thinking that they're clever for yelling "BAREFOOT!" when they pass, and of course some positive and negative comments from other runners.  I also had a couple of ladies on different occasions stop and ask me about barefoot running and why I do it.  Very pleasant conversations.  That's always nice.

Don't your feet get cold?
Sure they do, but not for long.  The more I run in cold weather, the better tolerance I've had.  Anything below 55 used to be terrible.  Then it was 40's.  Now anything below 30 is rough for me.  Today with the air temp in the 40s (not including windchill), the ground felt cool when I was standing still, but warm as soon as I got moving.  When it's in the 30s, my feet get numb for a couple minutes at the beginning, then warm up and regain all their feeling (which is vital).  So really, the cold part only lasts a couple of minutes at most, then it's business as usual, amazingly enough.