Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Well; that's that.

...Aaaand another experiment comes to an end.
Boom goes the death star!
If you read this blog closely (and I'm sure you do), you've probably already noticed a little change in the blahblahblahsub-title header content. I am no longer laying claim to the "barefoot runner" title. Yes, I am fully aware that absolutely no one in the universe cares, but I have a blog so I get to bore you with my thoughts so thanks.

I've been frustrated with barefoot for a little while now, feeling like I was always getting hurt and had traded one category of injury (knees, back, aches) for another (abrasions, impact ouchies and the like). I wasn't improving as a runner in any way, which was the whole point of trying barefoot running anyway. I mean, sure, I hadn't had shin splints or knee tweaks in almost six months...

Sure wish I had a helper robot to warn me...

So yeah, I actually thought the whole "I haven't had achy knees or shin splints in ages, just some little rock-induced foot bruises" consciously to myself. The VERY. NEXT. DAY I ran. Barefoot. And got shin splints, achy knees, AND the rock-induced bruise pain on my foot wouldn't go away. Awesome. In my non-running time I got to thinking and came up with a hypothesis.
Donuts will cure pain!
It isn't actually a new hypothesis; it's something I've been thinking on for quite a while now. What if barefoot running has had absolutely zero, zilch, nada to do with my ability to run frequently without traditional running related pain? What if the approach I took to running while barefoot was the key to injury free running? OK, let's back up a step or three and explain further: When I took up barefoot running I started out super slow not so much pace-wise, but in intensity. I started with 1/4 mile a day, every other day, because all the stuff I read on barefoot running said it was the best way to condition my body to the new/different stresses of barefoot running. What if I took the same approach to running like the rest of the general population? What if I started slow, over short distances and conditioned myself to running gradually? Would I have the same success I found at the outset of my barefoot escapades? 

It's a big question, get it?

Well, we're about to find out. I am currently waiting out some pretty major shin splints, and once they've faded, I'm lacing up my running shoes (real ones like this:  ) and going for a short, quarter mile run. Then I'm going to wait two days and do the same thing. After a week of doing this I'll add another eighth-mile every second day until I hit a mile or my legs fall off, whichever comes first. Then I'll follow my barefoot running progression with a mix of two and three mile runs and see how it goes. 

Maybe it won't be any better than it ever was; maybe it will. But I won't know until I match my methodologies evenly against one another and see how it all shakes out. I mean all I really want to do is run, preferably far and fast (well, fast for me anyway...).


  1. I have to say, that I think you might be onto something with your hypothesis. I've had knee problems for years and for a long time it's prevented me from running. Recently, however, I've begun running again, but only after four solid months being back in the gym, working out on an elliptical machine and strengthening the muscles around my knee. In the last week I've managed to put 8 miles under my feet with no pain. I don't think I'll ever be running marathons (as I was really hard on my knees when I played team sports when I was younger), but I can feel where my threshold is now, and my body lets me know what I can and can't do if I'm able to listen.

  2. Yeah, man; the biggest lesson of the barefoot experiment was learning to listen to my body. It is truly the first time I started at nothing and built up the right way. In the past, the protection afforded by shoes let me start way too fast, too much mileage, etc., leading to injury. I'm going to reset as soon as this injury clears up and try again and see how it goes.

    Good luck with your running renaissance! I still have room on the Cascade Relay team...

  3. Tim, I can speak from experience because I have been exactly where you are describing you currently are. Your philosophy on this whole thing is out of whack. Barefoot running is a means to an end. Running in shoes is not what causes injuries; running incorrectly no matter what's on your feet is what leads to achy knees, shin splints, etc. It just so happens that many (most) running shoes are constructed in such a way that it is literally impossible to run in them properly and efficiently. The point of running barefoot is to address poor form. If you give up on barefoot running, then you are still going to have to find a way to deal with your poor form because the injuries will come. Believe me.

    Progress regarding barefoot running can be frustrating, and things like scanning the ground for rocks and debris, dealing with blisters, and generally conditioning your feet to endure distances can take a long time (took me two years of primarily-barefoot running to do my first 10-miler). But, the result is well worth it in my opinion. The only running-related issue I've had in over three years (started with minimalist shoes in 2008) is ITB tightness - easily solvable with a foam roller. I ran a 10k with barely a blister. Of course, there was quite a bit of experimentation and frustration, but I learned so much and my form is 1000x more efficient than it was.

    My point, I guess, is that giving up on BFR is not the end of the world... or the Empire, as the case may be (building upon your allusion). But don't think that just because you do, you can work your way slowly into cushy-heeled trainers and be fine. At some point, you are going to have to address your form, and traditional trainers are going to quickly become a hindrance when you try.

  4. Argh! my long, eloquent response disappeared, Chad!

    I appreciate your comment and I don't know that traditional trainers will be a good move for me at all. However, the best run I've had in the past month was in my neutral cushion trail shoes from before the barefoot running began. That instigated the train of thought for this post.

    Truth is, i don't know what to do; I've injured my foot and have no idea what's wrong. x-rays show nothing and my doc won't get past the fact that it was a barefoot running injury (ball of foot, possible second metatarsal). Nothing makes it feel better and it is killing me. I'm calling Monday for a second opinion.

    Barefoot running feels "right" to me; i'm just frustrated. The running experiment with the shoes is really an attempt to prove it to myself. I don't think running in cushioned trainers will help me; but, if I give it an honest try following a similar methodology to my bfr transition I have a case to my doctor and everyone else around me that it is the best way for me.

    I know it all comes down to form and I will continue to focus on it; I just don't know where i'll end up...