Thursday, 21 June 2012

Barefoot Running Evening - Run and Become

Last week my lovely mother gave me a leaflet for a Barefoot Running Clinic taking place at Run and Become in Edinburgh. After reading Born to Run I was dead keen on finding out more about barefoot running, so this was perfect! Thanks Mum!

I booked my place and excitedly went along to the shop. The session was led by Matt Wallden, who is the UK distributor of Vibram Five fingers, those funny looking thin running shoes that have space for your toes.

The first part of the evening was Matt giving a lecture/presentation on the benefits of running barefoot and the perils of running with heavily cushioned running shoes. Now, throughout the evening I couldn't help but think "This guy sells Vibram Fivefingers, and coincidentally they are also the best possible thing for you to run in"! But with the cynicism to one side, the presentation and the points he made were extremely persuasive. The key points I took from this are as follows:
  • Humans are the only Animal on earth that wear shoes (and yes I know horses do but that's because we put them there).
  • Padded, supportive shoes have only been around since the 70's when Nike invented them. What were we doing beforehand? Running in a minimalist style.
  • Your body has anti-pronation muscles, which cannot be engaged as effectively with big supportive running shoes on.
  • Running barefoot will encourage forefoot running as opposed to heel striking. Hell striking ever step is an inefficient way of running and will increase the risk of injury. Try jumping up and down landing on your toes and forefoot, then try jumping up and down landing on your heels, you will see what I mean.
  • Oxygen consumption is at least 4% less in five fingers than when wearing running shoes! So in terms of running economy there is a clear winner! 
There really was so much, and so many statistic s and figures that I would not do it justice, but the main point was, running with shoes is bad, running barefoot or minimalist is good.

One of the points he made that stuck in my mind was the construction of an arch, and how engineers have tried to replicate the arch found on the foot. Of course by design, arches can support huge amounts of weight (think of a bridge). There are several ways of supporting an arch, but one thing that would never happen would be to support an arch from below, as this jeopardises the strength of the construction. However this is exactly what we are doing with arch-supportive shoes.

Another interesting point he made was that barefoot/minimal running has now taken 25% of the market share. It clearly is not a flash in the pan fad!

The second part of the evening was practical sessions out on the Street. Matt watched our running style and tried to give us tips on how to make the transition to barefoot. I was part of the group of inefficient runners, because I run with a lot of power in each stride. He said this is what makes us fast at short distance running but for longer distances we are not running to our potential. He encouraged a quicker turnover of feet, and suggested at running at 180 BPM. This felt very odd, but the theory is, that using less power per stride, and relying on the elasticity of my feet and legs to propel me forward will mean I can go further and faster.

The evening actually blew my mind! I am a complete convert and will buy a pair of barefoot shoes as soon as I can. The one thing is the shoes are quite expensive, however the provide excellent value as they can keep you going for about 3000 miles, compared to 500-800 miles which is recommended for a normal pair of trainers.

Yes I will look weird, and yes it will take a long time to fully convert, but I am up for the challenge and hopefully it will help my running style. Keep checking back for progress.
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