Barefoot Running Two Years and Counting

Barefoot running through reality

Barefoot running through reality

This is something I never thought I could do. It’s actually been more than two years since our half marathon and crippling due to high tech running shoes. Podiatrists, planar fasciitus treatment, advice, healing–all that stuff we gave a good shot actually didn’t work for either of us very well. Now both of us are running in huaraches, a thin sandal of vibram lashed to our feet Indian style. Alice converted to it just recently since I’d had such good results and seems to be responding in the same way I did–very slowly but positively. I have no idea how long it takes for other people to adjust, but for me it took years and a lot of semi-scary pain. It’s always hard to go against the advice of doctors even when they aren’t doing you any good. For me, it paid off. If you look around you can even find a professional podiatrist who’ll tell you that people who do barefoot running have fewer foot problems than people who run in high tech shoes. If you want medical advice, pick the doctor who’ll tell you what you want to hear. They’ll tell you all sorts of things, at this point.

I found huaraches harder to accept than I’d expected. The way I run changed. The speed at which I ran decreased considerably at first, and my ability to run long distances without pain crashed even farther than it had. I got new pains I’d never had before, burning sensations in my arches, tendonitus in my calves, crunching sensations that fortunately didn’t last long. If you’ve worn shoes all your life you can expect a painful transition.

This many years later there have been plenty of ups and downs and I’m beginning to have a clear look at what is possible and isn’t, in terms of running in huaraches. As yet I wouldn’t try this totally barefoot and I don’t know that it will ever be wise. Modern roadways have too much glass, sharp metal and poisonous chemical residues to make running totally barefoot sensible. But I’m sold on huaraches. I’m sold on the whole concept of natural running and I see how the other style nearly ruined me. There’s a right way to run, and I hadn’t been using it.

The big differences I see include the way my feet hit the ground. I don’t reach ahead and land on my heels. I step forward only as far as landing on the ball of my foot allows.  I push off with my loadbearing leg in a much different and more efficient way, pushing back with my leg instead of powering forward with my quadriceps. There’s a much better balance of strength in the front and back muscles of my legs. My calves have grown stronger, no longer allowed to cruise while my heels took up the load. My hips, which for years had been feeling like ground glass, have only the faintest remaining pains–enough to remind me that what I used to do was wrong.

On the other hand–or foot–my speed is just now approaching what it used to be when I could run without considering how my feet hit the ground. I have to move my legs at a faster pace rather than take a longer stride. I’m very close to the speed I used to have but not quite there. I’m confident I’ll surpass what I used to do.

There are still places I have problems running in huaraches. I’ve seen the videos of huarache clad runners pounding over rocks, and those aren’t the rocks I run on. I’d be impressed if they ran the old course I used to run in shoes. Rounded pebbles are no big deal. Deep layers of gravel are nothing. Put sharp quarry gravel on a packed clay roadbed and it’s the equivalent of running on caltrops. Caltrops could grind a sandal clad army to a halt in the old days, and you’ll find lots of back roads paved with them today. Select a one inch pyramid of cleaved stone, place it on the surface of an anvil, and smash any part of your foot straight down on the combination and you’ll see what I’m talking about. There’s a four and a half mile stretch of that we used to run daily, and it has taken two years for me to work up to surviving it in huaraches. I have to run carefully to cross it now, watching for the best places to step and the worst things to stomp, but I can actually run it now without serious damage. There will be at least one place where I have to stop and overcome the pain and consider whether going any farther will be an accomplishment or a mutilating act of stupidity, but I’ll make it through the course and I’ll still be able to walk. I’ll typically have two or three deep bruises on each foot which take few days to heal. It’s not a course I want to run every day.

Someday when my feet are tougher I may not notice the rocky roads, but I’m not there yet. If you’re going to take up the art yourself you have to use some common sense. Feet will never be invulnerable.

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