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Running easy vs running fast September 07 2015, 0 Comments

I came across a YouTube post of Christopher McDougal, he of Born to Run fame, who was discussing attitudes to running. He describes running an ultramarathon with an acquaintance of his, Barefoot Ted, who chats with him for the last 13 miles of a 100 mile (160km) race and arrives refreshed and happy at the end. Barefoot Ted typically runs about 25 miles a week, and yet he is still able to easily do a fast time over a much longer distance. McDougal attributes this ability to the fact that Ted does not run in order to beat a time, or to achieve a level of fitness - he only runs for fun, and this is what endows him with his seemingly superhuman stamina and bonhomie.

The idea is very seductive, and echoes another character in the book, Caballo Blanco, who said that it was wrong to start with grand goals and pushing into injuries, and that rather we should start with running at a pace that we find easy and look after our style, and the stamina and speed will come of their own volition. If we accept that we are in fact born to run, and that running is one of our most natural states, doing what comes naturally could be expected to bring physical and mental relaxation. Certainly, I find that if things are getting stressful at work, a run seems to add perspective and to bring me back to a more sane and stable state. 

McDougal's book arose from trying to answer the question as to why, whenever he tried to run, his foot hurt, and he found his answer in running barefoot. Me too. I run happily now having come back with barefoot running from a fallen arch and progressive pain in my ankles, knees and back. Running in the chilly Danish autumn, I switched from fully barefoot to barefoot shoes and have never looked back. And it really is fun.


Foot fitness August 11 2015, 0 Comments

Over the last few years, I have watched my feet get tougher.

Not in the sense of being able to run on stones or coals, more in the sense that a body-builder would use. When I first started barefoot running, I had a fallen arch on the left foot, and both feet had a slightly long and flaccid a look. As I continued to run, they appeared to shorten, the ball of the foot widened, the musculature across the top of the foot became more pronouced and, miracle of miracles, the arch on the left foot re-formed.

I am aware that a case study with a single subject does not make a general rule, so I went to the internet to see what I could find on the topic. As well as more case studies detailing improvements in foot and ankle alignment from barefoot running over two years, there is a study from the Shanghai University of Sport, written by some eminent USA professors. The study followed two groups of runners wearing standard and minimalist shoes for 12 weeks.

So we can expect some increase in foot strength whether running in 'normal' running shoes or minimalist ones, but this is more widely spread across the muscles in the latter, and the arch becomes stiffer and stronger. The upshot is, if you start running with minimalist shoes, you can expect your feet to grow and look tougher.Minimalist shoe runners moved on average towards a more front- or mid-foot striking pattern while running. Both groups showed an increase in muscle volume for the flexor digitorum brevis muscle under the arch, but the minimalist shoe group also showed a significant increase in cross sectional area and muscle volume in the abductor digiti minimi, which runs along the outside of the foot to the little toe. Longitudinal arch stiffness underwent no change in the control group, but in the minimalist shoe group it increased by 60%.