Why run at all with barefoot shoes? February 22 2016, 0 Comments

We did a lot of barefoot running at school. It was in the tropics, and a place of manicured lawns and playing fields, so it was easy to do. We felt light and agile doing athletics or playing that game of touch rugby without footwear. Tarmac and concrete were another story as they held the tropical heat and we were glad of the separation that a pair of soles would offer. There were some among us, often brought up on farms, who spent most of their time at home without shoes, and who were unfazed by jagged gravel or hot concrete. After years, their feet had tough, leathery soles with much thicker skin.

Moving to northern Europe changed all this. The environment was more urban and for a good deal of the year it was cold and unfriendly for going barefoot. Trainers were the norm. Many years later I was easing myself back into running after a long, forced break and finding it hard going. I saw a talk by Christopher McDougal, author of the best selling Born to Run, which convinced me to try barefoot again. I was living in the idyllic Copenhagen summer and so the idea seemed pretty attractive. It was slow going as my feet were very soft from years of wearing shoes, and I had to increase distance gradually to build up the additional strength needed in my feet and calves. I came back with cuts and bruises from sharp objects and was always worried about bits of broken glass. Eventually, summer drew to a close and the temperatures dropped below 10°C, so I wimped out and looked for some running shoes that would give me the barefoot feel, but offer protection from the hazards and elements. I found ZEMgear, which offered all of this, with style on top.

It is possible to toughen up your soles so that you can run really barefoot by gradually increasing running distance and the roughness of surfaces covered. It takes time and patience, and a certain amount of disinfectant and plaster for the mishaps along the way. If you spend all day in an office and with your feet in shoes, it will take even longer.  

...Or you could steal a march and get some barefoot running shoes. ZEMgear trail shoes (Terra, Apex and Hero) are all very pliable so that your foot really can flex fully, but the sole protects from heat, cold and sharp objects, wrapping upwards around the edges to offer additional sideways protection. Experience that light, agile feeling, and give them a try.

Why are the soles of our feet so sensitive? July 11 2014, 0 Comments

It seems counter-intuitive that the surfaces on which we rest the most weight are some of the most sensitive in the body - think of the last time someone tickled your feet, or you tried to walk across gravel in your bare feet...

To some extent, this is the result of wearing shoes.  People who habitually go barefoot all the time develop some fatty padding under the skin, and the skin of the soles becomes thicker, forming a protective cushion.  Even factoring this in, the concentration of nerve endings in the soles of the feet is extremely high, and the nerve fibres leading from the to the brain are very fast - so why?

As pointed out by Dr Mick Wilkinson of Northumbria University, if you normally run in shoes, and then take them off and run on a hard surface, you will find that your gait changes naturally.  The feeling of a heel-plant, which is perfectly OK with a couple of centimetres of padding on your sole, no longer feels right,  so you  change your gait to soften the impact.  You will probably move more to a forefoot landing, or at least a much flatter one - much the same as the way that children run.  It has been hypothesised that this is why the feet are so sensitive - that this acute feedback causes us to adjust our gait to fit whatever the conditions may be, and to lessen the impact on our soles and through our joints.  It is further argued that this results in a more economical style of running.

And in order for this to work well, we need sensitive soles and fast message transfer through the nerves to adjust our running as quickly as possible.