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YOUR barefoot/ minimalist running experience

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  • YOUR barefoot/ minimalist running experience

    Hi Everyone
    My name is Daniel and I am a Sport Science Undergraduate at Bournemouth University, UK.
    I am currently doing my dissertation on barefoot and minimalist (BFM) running as it is a keen point of interest for me (I have been running barefoot and in Vibram FiveFingers for over two years). The title of my dissertation is:

    An exploratory study into the world of barefoot and minimalist running

    I am hoping that some of you will be willing to share with me your experiences of BFM running, which would help me achieve the overall aim of my research:

    To explore the experiences of those who adopt barefoot and minimalist running

    Below are a few questions which may facilitate responses:
    What motivated you to take up BFM running?
    How did you transition to BFM running?
    Has BFM running influenced your performance?
    Has BFM running influenced your injury rates?
    What barriers have you experienced/ overcome (if any)?
    Thank you,

  • #2
    Hi Daniel, good luck with your paper.

    1. I was initially motivated by the book Born To Run. That alone wasn't enough to make me go minimal though, I did quite a bit of research on my own to verify the ideas in BTR. As a physiology undergrad the biomechanics concepts were easy to understand and made very good intuitive sense. I also read about and watched the POSE Running and Evolution Running videos, and got involved in some barefoot running forums. Everything made sense, plus I like to experiment with these sort of things, so I jumped in.

    2. The transition was interesting and I love telling people about this. I was extremely reluctant to make the change because I was in the middle of a 5-month training schedule for my favorite local race (Utica Boilermaker, 15K). That year I was trying to achieve a life-goal I'd set of running the race in under an hour, my previous best was about 62 minutes. I wanted to try minimal running but I knew it would drastically affect my training. It says a lot for the science supporting minimal running that I was convinced to make the change, despite the obvious disruption it would cause.
    I made the transition by purchasing a really lightweight pair of Puma racing flats, and using a stopwatch to learn to run with a high cadence -- I think this part was critical, because if you don't learn to run with proper form, then going minimal will probably injure you. It took me about 3 weeks to unlearn my old running form and learn how to run with a forefoot strike, short strides, and high cadence. For those 3 weeks my running felt horribly awkward, then slowly everything started clicking and it began to feel natural. I ended up running the race that year in 59:37.

    3. Regarding performance, minimal running feels much more effortless. I can go longer and faster than before.

    4. Regarding injuries, that's the other nice thing. When I used to heal strike and take long strides in traditional sneakers I always had to worry about IT band problems (both knees). This has been a chronic issue for me in the past. After 3 years now of minimal running, no sign of ITBS.

    5. Barriers overcome? Just the challenging transition. I would warn anyone that the switch can be much more of a challenge than you might think. You're not just putting on a lighter, flatter, less cushioned shoe and then going running like you always did. You have to actually change your running technique, and this can be very difficult. I ran completely barefoot for very short distances (like up and down my driveway) very frequently during my transition just to practice getting the form right. It's completely worth it in the end.


    • #3
      What motivated you to take up BFM running?
      Running in shoes facilitated my awful running form during high school and college. I gave up running shortly after college graduation but never forgot how much it meant to me. Five years later when I became aware of the growing segment of barefoot runners I took it as a second chance, an opportunity to fix some of the damage.

      How did you transition to BFM running?
      It wasn't a transition to BF so much as learning to run again. Initially I was still scared of doing too much too soon, so I bought shoes that helped me put in more miles. Of course, the shoes also kept me from developing good, consistent form. It didn't help that I started the process during a very rainy Oregon October. I ran 10-20 minutes in shoes followed by 5 minutes barefoot or in Vibram Fivefingers. Each week my shod time decreased and barefoot time increased. This continued for 3 months, at which point I became a truly barefoot runner, no shoes allowed outside of huaraches (Invisible/Xero Shoes, now also my preferred everyday footwear).

      Has BFM running influenced your performance?
      Yes. It's taught me to truly take it easy and enjoy running for the act itself and to observe my environment. Races tend to get me fired up and I run too hard, resulting in blood blisters too often for comfort.

      Has BFM running influenced your injury rates?
      No. I was regularly injured before BFM. Since turning to barefooting I'm still injured most of the time, but in different places.

      What barriers have you experienced/ overcome (if any)?
      The biggest barrier has been my sense of what I am able to accomplish. Last year I did several 10k races and joined our local barefoot running chapter for some amazing runs of 15 to 20 miles and recovered without a problem. If college-age me saw what I have been up to lately he'd think I was nuts, that he'd never do that stuff. And yet here I am, nursing another couple of injuries and champing at the bit, ready to run more races and find new trails.


      • #4
        1. I'd been intrigued by the Vibram 5 fingers, but the Army didn't allow them in uniform, and they were ugly. I managed to get a pair of the New Balance Minimus shoes right when they came out (spring 2011, I think). I remember hearing a lot about how it was supposed to be better. Previously, I had to re-learn how to run after I broke my kneecap years ago, and the concept of reduced strain on that was enticing. While re-learning how to run, I tried different forms and found that some caused pain and others didn't. Trying to reduce impact on my knees by cranking up my toes only caused me shin problems.

        2. The transition was made during the same time that I started following Mark's PBF rules for fitness. I didn't walk in them much, but I spent an entire spring and summer doing sprints once or twice a week. I overdid it once or twice at the beginning, then was fine. My two-mile run time dropped 2 minutes by that fall.

        3. Like I said, I dropped almost two minutes off my time that first year, from just under 16 minutes to just under 14 minutes. A year and a half later, I'm down near 13:20 or so, for two miles. Not spectacular, but decent. At 33, I'm faster than most of the guys in my company, who are almost all in the 18-25 age group.

        4. I'm more prone to getting cramps in my calves now, but there are a million other reasons that could be happening. I have had no issues with my shins, and only very minor issues with my knees since I switched. I think the squats helped fix my knee issues as well.

        5. My feet have gotten wider. It doesn't sound like much, but now I have to buy extra-wide shoes. I spent six months trying to find a pair of boots that was wide enough without being obscenely long, or having weird arch support. The shoes that fit me when I started the transition are tight, the boots I had then got noticeably stretched out from my toes pushing sideways on the leather. Even New Balance, who normally makes wider shoes, is putting out shoes that feel way too narrow. As this grows in popularity, manufacturers are going to have to make more accommodating shoes.

        A few other things:
        I have even less tolerance for "supportive" insoles. They just feel wrong. I pulled them out of most of my shoes and boots, and only replaced a couple with some flat ones. I wear more "flat" shoes, such as Feiyue's just for walking around.

        Some of my speed increase can perhaps be attributed to changing the way I trained, and the addition of strength training (squats, specifically) to my program.

        While VFF are not allowed in uniform in the Army, I see a lot of guys wearing them to workout on their own time. A lot of guys are wearing the Merrell Barefoots (way too narrow for me), the NB Minimus, Inov-8, and a couple others that I can't remember while they are in uniform.

        Myself and a couple others have started wearing the Mini-Mil boot from Belleville/Tactical Research. They are super light, have a nice wide toe box, and conform to the regulations regarding uniforms and appearance.

        The Army has even started a web page and put out a pamphlet on how to transition to minimalist running.Army Medicine

        I've got two pairs of standard running shoes in like-new condition that I haven't worn since 2010 or so. I don't even like walking in them.


        • #5
          • What motivated you to take up BFM running?
          I was motivated to take up barefoot/minimalist everything after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and having my feet destroyed by a pair of Montrail Hardrocks. The shoes forced my feet to point the toes up in an unnatural position. I ended up with extreme foot pain and shooting electrical pains that ran up my legs. I had to quit the trail. I went online to figure out what happened to my feet and found information from some barefoot enthusiasts that explained foot deformation and other problems caused by shoes. I healed my feet walking barefoot and then started learning to make my own shoes so I would no longer be crippled by over-built shoes.

          • How did you transition to BFM running?
          I made all my own shoes and used them for every activity. I got used to flat shoes by walking, hiking and wearing them every day. When I run, it's just casually for fitness and only off-and-on. I've run in my own homemade sandals it has seemed way more natural than to run in anything else.

          • Has BFM running influenced your performance?
          I run casually. Being in minimal footwear all the time probably makes me a little slower since you can't just crash your heels into the ground to go faster, but I don't really care about that. I just want happy feet.

          • Has BFM running influenced your injury rates?
          Well, it cured the injuries that set me looking for a fix. Other than that, I don't get injuries and never really did.

          • What barriers have you experienced/ overcome (if any)?
          Learning to make shoes was a significant barrier. And once I learned, there were finally a lot of decent options for shoes to purchase. I still think my sandals are superior to any other commercial shoe. And they are not like huaraches. The worst thing about minimalist shoes on the market are they still tend not to be wide enough, there's still a tendency to make the bottom of the sole too molded, and there's this silly belief among runners that you have to feel every sharp thing under your foot for a shoe to be minimal. I really just want perfectly fat really wide shoes that let my feet be feet and keep the sharp stuff from hurting. So whenever cushioned versions of minimalist shoes come out, the runners tend to scoff but I think there's the shoe for me! I wear them hiking and backpacking.
          Female, 5'3", 50, Max squat: 202.5lbs. Max deadlift: 225 x 3.


          • #6
            I got a metatarsal stress fracture within 1 month of barefoot running that put me out of action for 2 months. I'm back to regular running shoes and couldn't be happier. I guess it's not for everyone. The funny thing is I am naturally a forefoot striker.


            • #7
              Thankyou for your replies! They are all very helpful- I'm sure not just for me but also for others reading this forum with an interest in barefoot/ minimalist running.

              Does anybody else have any experiences they would be willing to share?