One foot at a time | One sole at a time | One hell of a good time


Thursday, April 29, 2010

So, you wanna start running barefoot?

Firstly, before you begin, you want to evaluate what it is that is leading you to even accept the logic behind the concept of barefoot running. We all know that barefoot running has gotten a lot of attention lately. Much of it is valid and deserves your attention.

Yet, one must still ask: is this a viable option for me?

Before you answer that question, let me explain why I think barefoot or minimal footwear running may not be good for you. It is not good if you are thinking it is some sort of cure-all that only requires taking off your shoes and starting to run injury free without radical changes in the way you may have been thinking of running up to now. If your running strategy has been about very specific time or distance goals, and you have been willing to push through pain to injury, then I would caution you: your bare feet will not allow you to continue this way.

Alas, the hallmark of my barefoot running philosophy is regaining connectedness, mindfulness, and presence in your running and in your body.

Barefoot running is not about blocking or pushing through pain, or at least it shouldn't be. Rather it is about tuning-in to your own body's highly sophisticated set of integrated awareness systems, systems that communicate through feelings and senses that are being collected in real-time as you move. From my perspective, learning how to run well means learning how to tap into the feeling of running well, which more often than not requires baring the foot to get the full feel of what happens when you move.

However, even if you decide that barefoot is the route for you, take one step backward and realize you are most likely in the process of rehabilitating your feet and legs from years of being differently-abled, shoed, and cast. Atrophy, loss of range of motion, weakness, neglect, the foot has not been treated well lately. All the padding and support and protection has not led to stronger feet...sadly.

So, the first key is to start slowly, incrementally and avoid over-exuberance, avoid being driven by your ego. Think orchard growing, not fast food. Think lifetime of development and growth. Think joy.

So, what are my secrets, what is it I share with clients who take my Introduction to Barefoot Running Clinic?

My goal is to get people to learn how to feel what good running feels like. I want them to develop a feeling for it. One of the primary feelings becomes an awareness of the texture and hardness of terrain and of impact. This awareness is the beginning.

To master this awareness, I have clients learn to move on hard surfaces first. Not focusing on distance or speed, I have my clients first walk and then trot on hard, fairly smooth surfaces. I work with them to focus on and begin to master three goals: quiet, quick, in balance.

The Three Goals

1. Master gentle, quiet, forefoot-centric landings, silent and smooth.

Learn to move with no hard edges, no pounding, by learning how to have the impact of landing flow through the entire foot, starting in the forefoot and quickly spreading through the legs smoothly. Notice how silent your movement becomes. Imagine the movement of a big cat. Watch your dogs trot. Let them be models for tuned-in, flowing movement that wastes little energy on pound or sound.

2. Quicken your cadence: Running in bare feet encourages this naturally.

Some shoe runners are plodders. You can hear them coming. Lots of wasted energy on poorly timed impact. Quicker cadence ends up making sense when you realize that your ability to absorb and recoil energy through elasticity in your body dissipates quickly and is lost if not used. Learning how to get back in touch with the sweet spot of optimal recoil efficiency is easier to find when you can feel your feet, feeling that encourages a landing phase with foot more in line with your center of gravity (thinking about how you land if you jump down onto a hard surface in barefeet, not on your heels!). Overstriding is discouraged, nearly impossible barefooted.

3. Stable upright posture: balanced head, core engaged, unbent torso, the feeling of balance, relaxed, yet strong.

I think that good running can be judged aesthetically. It should look good, not painful. When you see someone moving or running well, it looks smooth and fluid and graceful and efficient. The opposite looks painful, when someone is hunched and stiff, robotic and plodding. Indeed efficient running is tall and stable, the upper body acting as the fulcrum from which the legs and arms can move freely with a serious lack of bouncing or swaying of the head.

Ultimately my coaching goal is to help people perfect what I call a persistent hunt trot...a gait not purely about speed, but about smooth, flowing, efficient, sustainable movement, movement that leaves you ready to hunt or play another day.

Barefooting itself is all about mindfulness and presence. Running like an upright Primate, not like a Robot. Aware of your body and your environment AT ALL TIMES.

Listen to your body...learn to hear what it is telling you. Adjust accordingly. Advance accordingly.

Best Regards, Barefoot Ted



Anonymous Joseph said...

I'd start running barefoot but whenever I try I have this sensation of fear that I'm going to step on a rock and hurt myself severely. I don't think I'm going to get over that because at least a bit of rubber does prevent you from getting cut.

At god forbid you step on a piece of glass or anything...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Blogger Barefoot Ted said...

Joseph, the real "god forbid" in my opinion is with people who error on the side of too much caution when it comes to mastering smooth barefoot movement.

I have covered a lot of territory in my bare feet, and they are much hardier than most would assume.

Indeed, one needs to be MUCH MORE focused on what one is doing while barefooted, but that is the whole point.

By becoming MUCH MORE focused, you become MUCH MORE in-tune with your own body and environment.

Therefore, you are MUCH MORE likely NOT to step on things that are unfriendly (although it is still quite possible...it is far less likely than first assumptions), you will be MUCH MORE likely either to avoid hazards, and if encountered, MUCH MORE likely not to make a full impact.

If all else fails, you are MUCH MORE likely to live a fuller life by learning how to move barefooted, joyfully and self-sufficiently, rather than waiting around for a product to solve the problem for you...in my humble opinion.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Blogger GymX said...

Great timing. This morning after a gentle 3-mile run, concentrating on form and a high cadence, I took off my shoes for the last 1/4 to 1/2 mile on the sidewalk just before getting home. It felt GREAT. I can feel the connectedness you talk aboutand my stride and cadence 'softened' and felt natural, although a bit odd because it's new. Looking forward to extending the barefoot portions of my run from 1% to 100% over some time.

Thanks for your posts and the information you provide Ted. I caught your google talk and looking forward to running 'free' in the feet.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Blogger Kevin Kleinfelter said...

I'm a VERY low-mileage runner, building up. I'm using the following checklist, extracted from this (and other) posts.

Run "SQUB":
1. Silent
2. Quick steps
3. Upright
4. no Bobble-head

VFFs for now. Maybe less someday.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Blogger Primal Toad said...

I am new to going barefoot so I will have to ease into it. I have walked around my neighborhood a couple of times barefoot and love it. When I am on flat, soft surfaces I will always go barefoot.

I went to buy some vibram five fingers last week but they were out of my size. I am running in a 5K run on May 8 - The Fifth Third River Bank run and will be running in a 5K 1-2 times a month for the next 5-7 months.

I hope to get the VFF's soon. These tips and this blog will help me ease into it.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

Blogger Barefoot Ted said...

I highly recommending adding more barefoot running in the beginning...even if not far or long. It seems to be one of the most effective ways to get in touch with an efficient running form that eludes many running in shoes.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Blogger Peter said...

Hi Ted

Looking forward to see, hear and run with you in Copenhagen, Denmark on May 21st. Take care.

Best regards

Monday, May 03, 2010

Blogger Duncan and Joan said...

As always, Ted, your words and coaching are so incredibly inspiring. Thanks for giving us a start and hoping to see you in Seattle again one day soon!


Monday, May 03, 2010

Blogger Tristan said...

I can definitely vouch for easing into barefoot running. Starting out, I dumped the shoes altogether, but I also dropped my mileage down to a bare minimum. Maybe a mile or two a few times a week for a couple weeks and then I built up from there. I was sore for the first two weeks or so, but once those muscles strengthened up, the soreness went away and I was able to increase my mileage.

Now I've been running either barefoot or with VFFs for about 7 months and I'm by far a better runner than I'd ever been with shoes. Also, no more knee problems!


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Anonymous Jill said...

Hi Ted-

Thanks for sharing so much of your inspiration with us. I've been running in VFFs for a month or so and am very comfortable running in them on trails and on the treadmill. Pavement, not so much. Is it just a matter of continuing to gradually ramp up? I'd like to get to a point where I do all my runs in the VFFs no matter what surface I'm on.

I keyed on what you said about needing to be much more focused running barefoot (or in my case, VFFs). I feel so connected to the trails, more nimble and playful - and am falling in love with running and the environment all over again.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Anonymous scaramouchex said...

Ted, I love yr blog, lots of beautiful ideas. I have been running in VFF's for a year, and it's been so cathartic...you write very well of the experience.
I wonder, have you heard of the 'lung-gom-pa' runners of Tibet?
Thanks for the blog, it's agreat resource.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Anonymous scaramouches said...

Also: I wrote an article for trailrunner.ca that you ight enjoy: it's to be found at that website, under, 'Trail Stories, Running Without Shoes, Pts 1 and 2'.
It's about the first trail race I entered with the VFF Flow.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Anonymous Oxnard Dan said...

Great post Ted! Perfect refresher to the sessions at PrimalCon...thanks again for your help!

On a somewhat related note, do you skate barefootted as well? Reason I ask is that I rode for a really long time a few days ago in my VIbrams, and now the outside edge of my kicking foot is super sore! At first I thought it was from my beveled board, but it was only on one foot. Maybe I just need to ease into it more like I am doing with running?
If you do go barefoot on your board, did you ever have the same problem?

Keep up the great blog!!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Blogger jenny said...

Having spent every summer in my childhood and two or three years of my hippy adolescence in bare feet (arriving at home one day with a large piece of glass embedded in my foot), plus minimal shoe during my pregnancies, my feet are now too wide for most shoes. I also have a bunion which just gets worse and I'm limited to Crocs or my ancient, ripped up Nike Frees (you can't get them any more).
I bought some Vibram 5 fingers in February but because of the cold here in England have only started running with them recently. They really give your feet and calves a workout and you really do need to go slowly. I managed a 5k run with them last Monday and felt brilliant!
Thanks for your site, I always knew barefoot was best and now other people do too. Hooray!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


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