Although I found I can run 6k barefoot without any problems, I’ve been a little bothered by the soreness the next couple of days. It’s not really a problem, but I’m concerned that my feet actually need barefoot stimulation more than twice a week to really get them toughening up.
So having strained my right calf a little on the last two 6k runs, I’ve hit upon a new strategy. My new goal is to getting my soles toughened up in minimum time. I’m going to do this by running shorter distances, but more often. I’m going to run most days, but for a much shorter distance. This way I hope to be able to cover more miles per week than I was doing, but in much smaller stints.
I’ve been on this system for the past 3 weeks and in terms of effort it’s very easy. To run around the block where my house is, is a distance of 500m. So it’s very easy to multiply up the number of laps until I’m back up to the 6k I want to be at, then I can go and do a circuit of the Common again. So the first week I did a single lap of the block each day (3.5k/week) The following week I did two (7k/week), and this week I’m up to three (10.5k/week).
This seems much less effort and is very easy to motivate myself to go out there and do it. Plus in terms of the amount of miles my soles are covering I’m doing more miles per week than ever before. As this distance increases, I will start to take a few rest days. But for now I can easily handle this, and my feet must surely be getting the continuous stimulation that will allow them to become stronger.
We shall see what happens. In two weeks time I’m off to Thailand for three weeks. I’m looking forward to running on the beach for those three weeks. I’ll keep you informed of how I get on.
So my calves remained a little sore for quite a few days after my 6k run last week, having had a 2 week gap beforehand. Therefore I was determined to get at least one very small run around the block in over the weekend, to try and ensure that my body wasn’t shocked going a whole week between runs. So having run on the Wednesday, my calves were sort-of better by Saturday morning, which is when I decided the time was right for a run around the block. Around the block is 500 metres, so even with a little calf discomfort, what’s the worst that could happen I thought. However I got half way around and thought it best to stop, walking/limping home. It was an error for sure.
However come Monday I managed to complete this short 500m with no discomfort to my calves or anywhere else. This then led on to my 6k run two days later, which aside from the normal sore soles the next day and a minute amount soreness in my calves, was absolutely fine. I think if I get in a few of these tiny runs between the big runs I’ll feel no calve discomfort at all in future.
Once thing I did notice last night after my run and also today, was that my sole recovery time is really improving. Previously I’d wear the liners in my Vivobarefoot shoes for walking around the following day, as my soles felt really sore and I almost needed this extra padding whilst they recovered. Today I’m not wearing the liners, just the virgin Vivos and it feels fine. A slight amount of soreness, but much less than ever before. So I think my soles are stepping up to the challenge with remarkable speed.
I didn’t run last week, so when I went out for a run last night, it had been nearly two weeks since my last run. This is not ideal, but was unavoidable due to an unrelated health concern last week that put me off running. However last night I went out for the usual 6k route around Clapham Common and all was well.
The thing I’ve been worrying about since I took my shoes off for running is that I don’t want my soles to have too much time off as I want them to be expecting un-shod running and continue to thicken up the skin. Too much time not running I figure could encourage this growth to recede. So it was with a little trepidation last night that I took to the streets.
In fact, if anything my soles were better last night than ever. I had a couple of dry blisters (layer of old skin rubbing off) by the end of the run, nothing to worry about and to be expected as my new toughened skin grows. Aside from that it was the best run yet in terms of how sore my soles where after the run - they weren’t that sore at all. The main sore-ish area seems to be below my second metatarsal head. I think this is where the main weight of my stride is encountered, so it’s no wonder that this area is a little sore after 6k.
One thing that did notice the two week gap were my calves. They were a little sore this morning. I think a few short runs between the long runs could be good for this, or maybe I just needed to have used the sponge roller before and after. Either way I can still walk on my calves and tomorrow they will be fine. So it’s nothing like the calf pain experienced at the start of this process. That time, even a week later I still couldn’t walk properly. I can’t believe that was 18 months ago. How time flies.
It’s been two weeks now since I stepped up to running a full lap of Clapham Common, 6k including getting to and from it from my house. It’s a circuit that consists mainly of smooth flag stones, some block paving, a bit of smooth new tarmac and a few sections of badly weathered tarmac. Overall it’s quite a smooth run, one section half way through the run the path is so badly weathered I divert to run on the grass at the side. No point in deliberately hurting my feet. But I guess I’ll be able to run on it someday, just like the gravel most barefoot beginners worry about. One thing I have noted is that even though my feet prefer the flag stones, towards the end of the run, landing my pads between two flags can be quite painful. I guess if the flags stones where perfectly aligned this wouldn’t be an issue, but they aren’t.
Anyway since my initial 6k run two weeks ago when I did it twice in three days, I did another 6k a week later and another a week after that (tonight). I had intended to do a 2k run in-between these, but life got in the way. I wanted to do the small run as I want my soles to get used to the extra wear and I worried that a week between runs wouldn’t achieve this. However I’m happy to report that even over these three weeks, I’ve seen a noticeable improvement to how it feels on the run, and also the recovery afterwards. Of course my feet are still a little sore afterwards, but as mentioned in a previous post, there is no damage and this is merely normal at this stage.
Something else I noticed on my run tonight was my technique. Following Ken Saxton’s advice to bend my knees more I’ve really noticed how this improves everything. Bending my knees so that my torso feels like it’s cruising at a slightly lower height that would otherwise be the case. Taking short steps so that my head feels as if it’s hardly bobbing up and down with my stride, but more like maintaining a constant, or near constant level. This really feels like there is then less pressure on my feet as I’m not landing on each stride, but just smoothly switching my weight from one foot to the other. As it’s still a bit uncomfortable running the mean streets of Clapham in my bare feet, the more I can do with my technique to reduce the impact and pressure on my soles the better. And this will in turn reduce the overall stress on my entire body, especially my legs, ankles and feet. This is all a good thing, as running with no shoes on is automatically teaching me to run with better form.
It is also advised to power your legs from your glutes, rather than lifting the legs. I didn’t really understand what this meant until I started bending my knees more. Now I can feel that my legs are being powered by my glutes, rather then feeling as if I’m lifting my legs with my feet. I’m unsure if this difference is just an abstraction on what’s really going on, but either way it doesn’t matter. Right is right, it makes no difference if the reason you think it’s right is wrong.
I’m still continuing my after care routine of feet on ice packs for 10 minutes immediately after the run, soak in a hot bath for an hour, feet up for the rest of the evening after rubbing in sudocrem.
So having got back in the habit of running a few K around the block I went a bit mad today and decided to do a full lap of the common. I figured I’d be okay as long as I regularly looked at my soles so see if I was developing any blisters. This is a big step up from 1.8k and not to be generally recommended. However the reason I felt okay to do it is that running actually barefoot is self limiting. Once your soles have had enough, they tell you and you don’t want to run any further. Also the usual problem with overdoing it is that your feet and lower legs haven’t got used to the new way of running and you can easily damage these parts before they let you know something is wrong. This second issue isn’t that much of an issue for me these days as I’ve been doing this for 18 months now, so my feet have gotten used to it. Plus I’ve already worked my way up to and beyond this distance in barefoot shoes.
Off I went sticking to the pavements and keeping off the grass. It was a beautiful day and there were lots of other runners (all shod) out too. I still get a bit of a kick at other runners reaction to my running with naked feet. They pound the pavement towards me, plugged in to their music, trying to drown out their agony, sporting grimaces on their faces. Whilst I float along towards them, unplugged and enjoying being outside, my feet silently kissing the pavement, with a big grin on my face. I’ve noticed how much noise the average jogger makes thumping along. Which is amazing given the amount of rubber between them and the ground, you’d think they’d be silent too. But the it’s the opposite. They make a tremendous noise as they slam their way down the road. It just can’t be good for them - and it’s not. Whenever I see joggers stopped and stretching I wonder, why I don’t feel the need to stretch too? Maybe it’s because if you run effectively on a downward slope all the time (raised heels vs zero drop),and with your feet arches in a straight jacket, your leg muscles are having to work in an abnormal manner ending up tense and knotted, which then require stretching out. I’ve found since ditching the running shoes (even originally when I started in barefoot running shoes) that I have no need to stretch now, before or after a fun.
Anyway, back to my run. The first half was just the same as my smaller unshod runs. The second half my soles started to feel more tender and where a little uncomfortable. I stopped every 500 metres or so, to inspect my feet. If I felt or saw a blister coming on I’d stop. But no such damage was apparent, so I continued. When I arrive home, some 6k later I put my feet on a cold compress to stave off any blisters that maybe wanted to form. Then soaked my feet in a hot batch and slapped on the Sudocrem. My feet were a little sore, but there was no damage. I liken the soreness to the same soreness that you would have on your hands if you’re a white collar worker and experience a little manual labour. Your hands can be a little sore for a day or so after, but this wouldn’t worry you. In fact it’s completely normal. You’d even realise that if you did that manual labour regularly enough, your hands would get used to it and after a while your hands wouldn’t be sore from that activity. This is what I predict will happen with my feet.
The run was so amazing that I repeated it two days later with the same result. The only difference with the hand analogy is that you can choose to keep your hands out of harms way to a certain extent when they are sore. With your soles this is a little difficult as you had to put weight on them to get about. Still, they are tender, but I’m not in pain. There is a big difference. It’s bank holiday weekend this weekend and I’m off home for a few days. I’ll let me feet recover and be back next week for more of the same. I think I’ll try and do a couple of small runs next week with one 6k run at the end of it. Maybe at this stage it’s wise to restrict this longer run to just once a week and see how that goes.
I decided to throw away all my conventional shoes at the weekend. To be honest I don’t remember the last time I wore any of them. Actually that’s not true, I wore my Converse the other week for a couple of hours and was amazed how much I hated wearing them. The weight, the narrow toe box, I just didn’t like it. My feet also ached afterwards which is a sensation I’ve largely forgotten. To be fair to Converse they aren’t half as bad as most shoes, at least they are zero drop. However they still aren’t any good for my feet so they had to go.
I bought 4 new pairs of barefoot shoes too. 2 pairs of casual, a pair of walking boots and some running shoes that I’ll be using for cycling.
It’s a brave new world and there is no going back now - the bin men have already been.
I increased my distance by a couple more blocks today to 1.8k. I didn’t measure this before I ran it I just carried on around a few more blocks. I think this is the way to increase my distance rather than planning it with round number distances. If I’d planned a route I think I would have gone up to 2k which may have been too much for my feet but I may have ignore the signs and just carried on to this new goal distance I’d set myself. This isn’t a good way to do it I think especially at this early stage.
Anyway, no problems and my technique really feels like it’s coming on leaps and bounds. Yes I tread on the occasional stone or twig, but the discomfort is only momentarily and the rest of your foot flattening to the floor soon spreads your weight so that it isn’t an issue. I think I can feel my pads becoming more spongy already to envelope and cushion small irritants like this.
One slightly annoying thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes you tread on a small stone that is uncomfortable but it’s only for one step. Then it isn’t for only one step as you realise it’s become stuck to your feet. This has to be knocked off if it doesn’t dislodge itself within a few steps, which sometimes requires stopping. But hey if that’s all I’ve got to worry about I think I can live with it. Maybe this will become less of an issue as my feet get more hardly and my thickens up a little. I hope so, but it’s not a deal breaker.
I was out running my 1.5k route the other day when I ran past this guy who called after me. He said, “What are you doing brov? Why haven’t you got any shoes on?” I stopped briefly and told him that I didn’t need shoes and running barefoot was much gentler on the joints. ”But what about all the chemicals brov?”. I told him I didn’t want to cool down and had to go. ”Google Barefoot Running”, I told him as I ran off. ”And don’t worry about the chemicals, it’s a myth”, I shouted as I ran off gently down the pavement smiling. I’ve no idea what he was talking about with the chemicals, but it seemed the right thing to say.
So I’ve had a couple of weeks off, I didn’t want to injure myself by overdoing it before Glastonbury. But I started again last week, sticking to the 1.5 route and taking it very steady. I’m not sure how long I’ll stick at this distance, but the great thing about doing this actually barefoot is that the amount you do is totally self limiting. I really shouldn’t be able to over do it as my feet will tell me when they’ve had enough. So far there is a little soreness on the soles of my feet when I’m done. This is to be expected as my skin isn’t used to this yet. However yet again, there is absolutely no discomfort from my knees, calves or ankles. This I think points to my technique being correct, but I’ll continue to monitor it. I’m going to try and do this distance barefoot every other day, with my after care routine being 5 mins on an icepack to cool my feet down, followed by a soak in a hot bath, followed by the application of Sudocrem.
One thing I have really noticed is how flat my feet are landing. The heal lands after my mid-foot but only a fraction of a second later. This probably looks to the observer as if I’m landing actually flat footed. Something that I think has encouraged this is my effort to bend my knees a little more than I would normally. The extra bend is very slight and probably wouldn’t be noticed by anyone watching. But it seems to make all the difference. This is one of many top tips in Ken Bob Saxton’s book, Barefoot Running Step by Step. I’d thoroughly recommend you reading this book, whatever level you’re at.
Another tip I’ve picked up is dorsi-flexing the toes (pointing them up) just before each foot lands. This is supposed to stop blisters on the toes and in my case has proved to be true. If the toes and the ball of the foot land at the same time, as the transversal arch flattens, this spreads the ball and toes to distribute the weight. In doing so the toes need to move away from the foot slightly. If they are already in contact with the ground then this will rub on the ground as they move out. This repeated friction is what can cause blisters on the toes, even if the rest of your technique is correct. So pick up your toes and those blisters.
And finally I’ve started to notice other people noticing that I’m running the pavements barefoot. I’m getting some funny looks. From the plain “this guy must be crazy” look I get from the older of our society, to the worried look of other runners. I love both of these reactions. After all what could be more natural than running in the manner that evolution designed me to run. The older generation will maybe never understand, but the younger runners perhaps wonder if what they are doing in their cushioned shoes is wrong. Shod runners look like they are enduring an ordeal when running, so are shocked at seeing me with my bare feet seeming to actually be enjoying myself and running with such light floaty steps.
So three days later and I’ve suffered no ill effects from my 1.5 k barefoot run on Monday. There was a little muscular stiffness in my ankles and thighs, but that’s to be expected after several months off. Best of all, there was absolutely no calf stiffness. This tells me that the perceived weight baring on my heels I felt I’d achieved during my run was real and not just my imagination. Had I been baring weight on my forefoot only and not allowing that weight to be borne by the whole foot including my heels there would definitely been some calf stiffness and soreness by now.
I’ll attempt a similar run this evening, maybe a bit shorter though as I don’t want to overdo it. Although I think my bare feet will perhaps not let me.