Monday, March 31, 2008

Barefoot Running Post on ChiRunning

I don't usually post on discussing boards these days but a very active thread on barefoot running on the ChiRunning site caught my attention and I responded. However, there seems to be a problem with their software and I can't submit my post--no use letting the effort go to waste:
Update--I was able to post this after several emails with the site manager.

Barefoot Running... Injuries?

I just got my ChiRunning/ChiWalking email newsletter and found this "Hot Bulletin Board Topic" listed. Although I don't consider myself a barefoot runner (yet) maybe some of my experiences can shed some light on this topic.

I was never much of an athlete but just before I turned 40 I got the urge to run a marathon--call it mid-life crises. I trained with a run-walk Jeff Galloway certified group and made it through all the pain and suffering of trying out several expensive running shoes guided by the "experts" at a local high-end running store until finding something that worked for me. Somehow I made it through a run-walk-run-walk-walk-walk-walk-OK, run that last 0.2 mile.

I didn't consider doing another marathon for 13 years then that familiar urge came back a couple of years ago. This time I started my training knowing what to expect--lots of pain until I got the right shoe combination again. Only this time I couldn't get rid of the knee pain. It eventually landed me inside an MRI machine with an orthopedic surgeon telling me to cut way back on my running or I'll be looking at knee replacement surgery within a year. My father and sister both had terrible knee problems so I blamed genetics for cutting short my dreams of ever running another marathon. However, I found out that the race that I was planning to do (Los Angeles Marathon) had racewalking and wheelchair divisions--I chose racewalking. For those of you that aren't familiar with racewalking, it is a very technical sport so I took classes. Whoa, what an awakening, I had terrible walking form. It took me months of training but eventually I got it right. Oh, I did have some knee problems that were "fixed" with some custom orthodics but as my form improved I was able to ween myself off of them.

So--what does all this have to do with barefoot running? Hang in there.

Once it sunk in that I needed to learn how to walk--I started researching how to run and discovered, among other things--ChiRunning. About that time I was needing less and less help from my shoes for racewalking until I was using the most minimal racing flats. If these were the best walking shoes, could they also be the best running shoes? The answer, at least for me, was a resounding yes. The less cushioning, motion control, support and especially springy heel on the shoe, the better.

Of course the next step would be to take off the shoes. After a lifetime of never going beyond two steps out of the shower barefooted, I gave it a shot. It was like learning how to run all over again, only this time my feet demanded proper running form from me.

Like I said, I'm not a barefooted runner, but I'm finding that mixing in some barefoot runs every now and then helps reinforce good form. It also helps strengthen the ankles and foot muscles.

There are lots of reasons to try barefoot running and one not to--the fear of cutting open your soles. A little prudence helps a lot when running barefoot. The worse I suffered were some blisters the first time I ran on asphalt. Then again I had much worse blisters when breaking in new shoes. Oh yeah--and my knees don't need replacements.