“You have a pronounced heel strike, which creates a lot of movement for the body to control. Your foot has a long roll on the ground, which wastes energy. And it lands way in front of your centre of mass, which means there are lots of braking forces going on. You don’t extend from the hip, but only use your quads, and none of the big muscles at the back. You don’t use the trail leg to get any speed and have no forward momentum. You have a slow, heavy cadence.”
This was how running coach and physiotherapist, Louise Nicholettos, summed up my running style. You don’t have to know about running to get the gist that I am slow and heavy footed. I’ve always loved the idea of running, I’m just no good at it. However there are some advantages to all the disadvantages: I don’t have a comfort zone to retreat to, which makes me a suitable candidate to convert to barefoot running.
Barefoot running is a trend still in its infancy, but gathering momentum. Advocates say it feels euphoric, you can go faster and for longer and it’s more natural. If you watch children, they run with their mid-foot hitting the ground first, but shoes and trainers have converted us all into heel strikers. Which inevitably leads to injuries, eventually.
However, it’s not as easy as just kicking off your shoes. Unless you have training and build up slowly, you’re likely to get injured if you run barefoot. Lots of barefoot runners wear “minimalist” shoes, which offer the foot a modicum of protection against rough ground, while not interfering with the stride.
Barefoot running also has its opponents who say caucasians are not physiologically built to run barefoot and it leads to more injuries. The experts, even at the highest levels, are divided, so I guess it comes down to personal preference and responsibility. I find the idea rather appealing.
Taking off my trainers was surprisingly liberating in itself. Immediately I felt lighter. Going barefoot naturally shortens the stride, which alleviated lots of my faults. To speed me up, Louise made me jump up and down on the spot in rhythm with the ideal cadence – roughly twice as fast as I was previously “running”. Back on the treadmill, I had to focus on staying relaxed, running in time with the beat, staying vertical and letting my heels kiss the ground to give my calves a momentary break.
I did catch a glimpse of the euphoria. After half an hour she said I picked up the techniques quickly and she could make a runner out of me. This is incredibly heartening: running is a skill which can be learned. It’s interesting to think that if I invested in the training (around £300-£400), plus a pair of minimalist shoes (about £80) and put in the practise I could unleash my inner gazelle.
Louise Nicholettos: [email protected] is based in Cornwall and runs workshops for both barefoot and normal running.
Based in London, Rollo Mahon, is a fount of knowledge about barefoot running: [email protected]
Rollo is running an intensive running workshop at Cornwall’s Watergate Bay Hotel in October. Why not combine learning to run barefoot with a fabulous hotel break next to the beach? http://www.watergatebay.co.uk/blog/2013/03/21/barefoot-running-clinic/
For more contacts, expert opinion and the arguments for and against barefoot running, have a look at the feature I wrote for the July issue of Health Club Management magazine, page 38. http://bit.ly/17fA5GO