Barefoot running without the bare feet

I don’t think you need to run in bare feet to try some of the benefits of what is now being promoted as barefoot running.

My last barefoot running post “Barefoot running – don’t!” got lots of hits and a few comments, most of which disagreed with me. But one comment got me thinking: “Looks like you gave your anatomy the perfect training by running in plimsolls…”

Since then I have been trying to analyse my running style. The older runner has to be careful about injury or damage due to over use. I know so many people who were once runners but had to give it up “because of the knees” or some such problem. Why am I still okay? I have been asking myself.

My regular run is somewhere between 5 to 6 miles, just short of 10k. I aim to do that 3 to 4 times a week. My frame is not taking the hammering that is endured by runners who run every day, but then I have been running for over 40 years. How is it that my frame still seems to bear the wear and tear? Is it to do with my running style? Was my running style shaped by my early years of running in plimsolls after all?

One advocate of barefoot running was saying that it forces the runner to land on the ball of the foot instead of the heel. Landing on the forefoot lessens the shock that would otherwise be absorbed by the skeleton, and particularly the joints. This claim is relevant to those who, when running, land mainly on their heels and roll on to the ball of the foot before take-off again.

I have observed that when I land, my lower leg is about virtical. Upon impact with the ground my foot is almost flat with my lower leg about 90 degrees to the foot. It is 90 degrees for just a moment as the momentum of my body moves forward. I feel the load going onto the whole of the foot and the energy being absorbed by the thigh muscles as the leg flexes.

Here are some things you can try:

As you run, think of the upside down letter V your legs make and work out where you body is above that – how far forward or how far back. First try and run with your body as far behind your legs as possible – uncomfortable, tiring and you will be landing on your heels.

Next, as you run, try shifting the load of your body further forward to what you think as a mid-point position. Try and use your lower legs and knees to pull you farward. Again it us uncomfortable and tiring but it gives you something to compare with. Perhaps that is how you always run.

Finally, bring the weight of your body forward as you run. Try and get the V of your legs further back under your body and bear very little load on your calves and your knees. Run like that for a while. Try to get your thighs and buttocks to do the work of absorbing the shock and pushing you off again. Try and land with your lower leg about 90 degrees to the ground. Try and land so the load as almost over the whole of your foot, and certainly not on the heel. This is the sort of running style running barefoot would force you in to. You can do it in your comfortable shoes.

Let me know how you get on with the experiment. I will be interested in your comments.

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