Stefan here, I’m one half of Berkeley Square Barbarian. I enjoy running. Always did. Always will. I want to be buried with my running shoes on.
With no athletic ambition to beat a personal best (I ran the London Marathon in over five hours and often take nearly two hours for a half), mainly because it’s so much joy, clears the mind, allows you to be outdoors and explore your surroundings. The more mileage I put on, the more also with a view of staying fit and healthy.
From the age of twenty onwards, and with interruptions of up to a year here and there, I usually did at least three or four 10k runs per week in my spare time and literally couldn’t imagine life without it.
However, a few years ago I started to struggle with severe back pain, so bad that I sometimes found it hard to sit or walk or sleep. For a year my wife and I didn’t realise that the pain was caused by the running. Something that was supposed to be healthy had caused enormous harm and discomfort.
And then, it was a few days before my birthday, this happened. Following a casual conversation involving me telling my lovely wife, who is running this blog with me now, how friends at uni used to mock me for my bad body posture and ‘lolloping like a kangaroo, she quietly came up with the most brilliantest gift: a five-hour one-on-one training course in Battersea Park with a professional barefoot running trainer.
I’ve not had back pain since. Well, it took a few months for the pain to go away, but then it was gone for good and I’m now even occasionally commended by fitness trainers, friends, and complete strangers in the street for my body posture, not just when running, but in everyday life, which mostly feels good, but sometimes also quite awkward. Rarely, but it happens, I’m also being told that my posture looks ‘strange’. Never mind.
Barefoot running, also called pilates, pose, or natural running, each with a significantly different connotation and different associated techniques, is all about not using cushioned shoes and reducing the break force impact on your feet, spine, joints, and about a more natural way of running, more closely aligned to the needs of the human body, and usually with a view to long-distance running.
It usually does not involve running without shoes, this would be dangerous in city and many outdoors environments, but running with un-cushioned shoes. Often these purpose-made shoes have a sole so thin that you feel every pebble. You can get reasonable ones for no more than £40 a pair.
In my view, the thinner the sole, the better, because you want to be able to ‘feel’ the ground. Barefoot running requires you to adjust your running style to the ground you’re running on (and to the speed and other aspects). The better you feel the ground, the easier for you to adjust your running-style. It often happens that you’ll want to adjust your running style for each step, for example if you’re outdoors and one step is onto the root of a tree, the next onto muddy ground, and the following few steps onto leafy dry ground with pebbles, and so on. Usually I do not adjust my running style that much over much longer periods, for example when running on sealed inner-city ground throughout the run, in which case it’s mainly adjusting for speed and when going up stairs or jumping off the sidewalk onto the street.
You don’t have any cushions on your shoes, so you’ll know immediately if you chose the wrong technique, because it’ll hurt. On the bright side: you’ll learn quickly. From what I hear from other barefoot running enthusiasts, it will take you years to perfect your personal choice of technique and you’ll still learn every day, but after running every other day for a few weeks you’ll quickly grow more confident and be more comfortable.
It is important not to overdo it, to start with small steps, and to combine it with lots of exercise. Your body is not used to these completely different pressures and requirements. Your feet will be too weak to barefoot run (without risk of injury) for more than ten minutes in a row at the beginning.
I’d definitely say DO NOT START WITHOUT A PROFESSIONAL TRAINER and an individual training program you can set for yourself following the input you’ve received from the trainer. Group training once per week, aided by free youtube videos and a bit of reading up on the internet will set you back no more than £40 per month, it’ll be worth it. The risks of developing a harmful or hazardous barefoot running style are too big to try this on your own.
Even if you read this post up to here, some of you will probably be disappointed that I’m not providing any detail on the technique itself. This is for two reasons:
- I’m an amateur, you don’t want to learn from someone like me, I wouldn’t.
- There are so many different schools of thought, techniques, running gears, personal abilities, dispositions and preferences, you’ll have to find out what’s right for you.
Even after several years of barefoot running, I still find it hard on the feet and I vary my running styles and usually do a lot of barefoot running in barefoot running shoes, a bit of barefoot running in cushioned shoes (purists and many others will tell you this is nonsense, but it works for me), and a bit of old-style running in cushioned shoes. I never run without shoes.
It’s important to have the right shoes. I find that Vivobarefoot Evo Pure works for me (they don’t pay me for saying that, just to mention it), but there are many other manufacturers of high-quality shoes. I’d normally recommend the trainer I used, but he’s left the country for warmer climes and I’m currently not aware who’s providing good training in London, but there will be many.
Barefoot running is sexy.
I’d be very interested in your experience and I’m looking forward to your comments.