Why barefoot running...? December 03 2013, 0 Comments

Barefoot running is still a far-from-mainstream activity, so why and how are people drawn to it?  We've talked with a number of people in the last year or so, and many of them have a very similar story to my own, so here it is.

I have run distances since I was eleven years old.  I went to a school where we had to do four sports a week, and cross-country running was a convenient and flexible way of hitting the quota.  We used to go barefoot a lot of the time on the playing fields, and we wore plimsoles (also known as 'tackies' in Africa) for rough terrain.  Plimsoles had a thin canvas upper, a thin sole, and a heel probably no more than half a centimetre higher than the rest of the sole.  I ran on the forefoot to soften the impact of landing.


Scroll forward about twenty five years now - I was buying running shoes at a very good shop.  In answer to a question, I told the assistant that my current shoes were worn mostly on the ball of the foot.  He told me I was running wrongly, and that I should land on my heel, and then roll forward over the foot, using the spring of the padding in the heel to push me into the next stride.  It sounded plausible, so I changed.

Now roll forward another nine months, and, on holiday in the forests of Canada, one of my spinal discs collapsed.  The disc is actually a little bag, and when it ruptures, the softer tissue can come out and push on the nerve in the spine.  I was partially paralysed from the waist down on the left side, and had a lot of pains and cramps, requiring constant stretching.  I walked with a limp for a year, and was on swimming-only and physiotherapy for two.

After the two years and an 'OK' from my doctor, I eased myself back into running - he suggested I used an insole in my left shoe, as the foot-arch had collapsed, and I started with 5 minutes, and built up slowly from there to about 45.  I was getting aches and pains in my ankles, knees and back, and had more or less resigned myself to getting another two-to-five years of running, and then having to go back to swimming.

Then I saw a presentation by Christopher McDougal on TED (here), and a video-article about the barefoot professor at Harvard (here), and on the strength of them, started running barefoot again.  I had to drop back to five minutes again, as my calves could not go for longer than that, but it felt right, and so, over 6 months I built up again, and can now run a half-marathon without pain. The arch on my left foot has re-formed, and my feet are symmetrical again, so no more insoles. The barefoot epiphany happened in Denmark, where it gets pretty cold, so I looked for winter shoes with the barefoot feel, and that was where I started with ZEMgear.


We have come across several people with very similar stories to mine, reborn to running and loving it. I am now a barefoot running zealot and looking forward to the day when barefoot sport shoes become the mainstream.