Confessions of a Barefoot Running Newbie

Boulder Magazine Web-Only Feature
Winter/Spring 2010-2011

Confessions of a Barefoot Running Newbie

By Rebecca Schneider

I think of myself as a nonrunner, though that is not to say I’ve never given running the good old college try. On dozens of occasions I have laced up my sneakers, pulled my hair into a ponytail, donned my latest workout gear and headed out into the open air. The notion always seemed so freeing: no noisy, crowded gym, no special equipment, just me and the great outdoors.

In search of the rush of endorphins known as the “runner’s high,” I plodded on, mile after mile, sometimes keeping up the regimen for months. But the euphoric feeling never came. Instead, I was met with stomachaches, more blisters than I could possibly count and plenty of foot, leg and back pain. Running was a chore. And every time I finished my workout, I inevitably felt worse than when I started.

As someone who had to lube my feet with deodorant and use shoe inserts and toe-separators, I was intrigued when I heard about barefoot running. Could this be my ticket to running bliss? Not being one to throw in the towel too easily, I headed to a store to check out Vibram’s FiveFingers shoes—completely barefoot running was just a bit too extreme for me. The salesperson explained the whole idea, and I quickly found myself trying on a pair of the glove-like shoes (“trying” being the operative word, as these are not the easiest footwear to slip into). Once all my toes were accounted for in their appropriate compartments and I measured my feet with the utmost precision, I ordered the Bikila model in my size and anxiously awaited their arrival.

Alien feet? Photo by Rebecca Schneider

Opening the box like a child on Christmas morning, I put on my new shoes and hit the ground running. (Although I must admit, I shuffled sheepishly past my neighbors in my alien-like footwear.) What I discovered was a way of running that was much less painful, both physically and mentally. While paying attention to each and every step may sound monotonous, I actually found it to be a great way to keep from getting bored. Instead of counting down the number of minutes I had left, or running from one visual marker to the next, I was forced to channel my focus inward and truly pay attention to what was going on—both beneath my feet and in my body. My main discovery? I kind of run like a duck! Hmm ... perhaps this is the root of some of my running issues. Yet by paying attention to what was uncomfortable and making slight shifts, I soon found myself having logged about five miles without too much suffering.

For those who are nervous to go sneakerless, let me put your mind at ease. Will you feel every little stone, nook and cranny beneath your feet? Yes. However, that is the point! You quickly learn to tune in rather than tune out, and begin using a much gentler, more responsive landing. You might notice some discomfort at first. But instead of adding more padding and masking the problem, you may develop a running style that suits your body to at T.

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