I Am a Barefoot Runner

My Vibram Five Fingers have started to cause consternation in the house, the stench is creating a no go zone in the hallway but at least this movie can raise a little smile.

Footprints in the Sand


My enforced rest seems to have paid dividends and I have finally managed to run without pain or at least without dodgy pain – my quads are currently screaming but it’s that satisfying well earned sort of discomfort.

We were on a pre-Christmas trip to see my parents on the east coast. I’d planned a road run to test out the state of my calf but the sun hadn’t made it this far north and the side streets were still covered with six inches of sheet ice. I thought it may be safer to opt for a beach run instead.

I don’t think I’ve run any distance along the beach before and I have to say it was incredibly liberating. This particular stretch of the beach has very firm sand and was it deliciously deserted after the mornings downpour. Lynn ran the first stretch with me, heading away from the town and towards the distant headline. We hugged the tideline and slowly made our way towards the horizon.

Lynn turned back before me but I wanted to run past the row of WWII pill boxes that had slumped lethargically onto the beach. The sand turned soft around the ruined landmarks and with fear of finding myself wading through quicksand I decided to head back as well.

With a couple of km left to go I slipped my shoes and socks off in order to experience the thrill of the sand between my toes.

I hate the feel of sand between my toes and the sea was so blasted cold it awoke my latent arthritis.

I managed about 200 metres of barefoot running before I decided to put my shoes back on and enjoy the remainder of my run with the delightful experience of micro particles of grit rubbing between foot and shoe.

I’m so happy to be back, I love running.

A Cretan Supply Run

Given that my route was going to take me along the dried river bed that forms part of the Diktamos Gorge, the Vibrams were never going to be an entirely sensible choice. Still, if I’m going to do a crazy run in the 42 degree blazing sun just to fetch breakfast I may as well go the whole hog.

I was quick to regret my shoe choice. I had to run most of the 4km route with a large pebble sized, hollow, impression in my right heel but at least it encouraged me to run up on my toes.

When I arrived at the village I slowed down to a nonchalant saunter hoping I could cool off and not look like a crazy dying thing in front if the locals. The air in the little shop was furnace like. I stepped in and immediately a gallon of sweat made it’s escape from my body. My hands were dripping as I selected the tomatoes.

After the tomatoes my purchases went downhill a bit. I was scavenging for breakfast but couldn’t find eggs, yoghurt or cheese.  In the end I came back with the heaviest products on offer – home made honey, a bag of flour and a bottle of dubious looking brown liquid.

I’m hoping it’s the famed Cretan wine and not some DIY plant fertiliser. I’ll have to wait til lunchtime to find out.

Now to bake some honey bread…..

Vibram Five Finger Speed Review and the Campsite Run

A beautiful pair of Vibram Five Fingers arrived just before the camping expedition.

Unfortunately all the photos were taken post camping trip where of course it rained relentlessly and so the Five Fingers have lost a little of their new shoe gleam.

I wanted to get a slightly larger pair of VFF’s as my earlier pair of Vibram Five Finger Sprint were pulling a little bit on my longer toes. I opted for the Vibram Five Finger Speed because they are cool and yet also the most normal style in the range. I’m not necessarily attracted to normal but I was hoping to get them past the family’s acceptability rules so I can actually wear them in public and outside the confines of nightfall.

It seemed to work as no one complained when I packed them for the camp and I even managed to sneak in a shopping trip to the local Lidl while wearing them.

The Vibram Five Finger Speed were remarkably easy to put on, a push and a wiggle was all that was required to engage the toes in the right place. Perhaps that’s the result of finding a pair that actually fits.

I did a lot of scrabbling around the camp while wearing these and my little toe did occasionally pop out of its little recess while I was squatting down trying to light the Kelly Kettle. They were perfect for running though, extremely comfortable and no pressure points at all.

The soles are a bit more built up than the more minimal models. The VFF Speed has additional toe and heel pads just like the Bikila Five Finger and by the looks of it the new Vibram range seems to have maintained the trend for extra pads.

Not all barefoot or minimalist runners will like this. It increases the weight of the shoe slightly and of course all the additional padding will reduce the feedback between the floor and the foot. In these particular conditions – rubble and thorn strewn trails, I was grateful for the slight reduction in floor feedback.

I’ve read somewhere that the Speed model uses the same sole unit as the Bikila but they don’t have the additional 3mm insole and so have slightly more ground feel.

And so for the run.

Having spent 2 soggy wet days entertaining kids on a camp site, I was well and truly in need of a run. Lynn and I set off after clambering over the rickety style that marked the escape route from camp.

Generally my breathing is up the spout for the first 3 minutes of any run and then gradually eases off until I can manage a converstaion by the 20 minute point.

This run was tougher than usual, I felt as though I had a bit of kick in me and kept pushing along keeping pace with Lynn. I was closer to my 5k race pace which is sufficiently fast (in my books) to ensure that I never catch my breath.

The Vibram shoes were so comfortable. I’d spent the most of the trip wearing my Soft Star RunAmocs which are an incredibly practical shoe for this sort of trip but I felt pain when wandering over the rubble paths. In contrast the Vibram Speeds left me feeling positively sprightly.

It was a joy to feel so light footed and yet protected, these have easily moved into my favourite shoe territory and even the kids thought they were cool.

A Sticky Barefoot End

I’m taking the direct skin on tarmac approach very slowly but after managing a 300m true barefoot dash last week I thought it was time to go out again.

I don’t recommend late night, barefoot runs on rainy nights. For one thing the gravel sticks more persistently but more importantly the damp attracts soft squishy critters with hard shells and the darkness means you can’t see them.

You can feel them squelching between your toes though.

I ridded myself of the slime after 330m and put the mocassins back on for the remaining 2 miles.

Barefoot Tip Toes

I was using Lynn as my sacrificial canary, she was running far ahead but everytime she wailed and started hopping from foot to foot I knew to make ever such a slight detour.

Not that it worked very well, we hopped and squealed almost evenly.

So marked the start of our true barefoot experience.

I’ve been trying out the minimal footwear such as Vibram Five Fingers and Soft Star RunAmoc for a few weeks but yesterday I was inspired to try running completely unshod. I had been listening to the rather excellent Living Barefoot Podcast which featured an interview with Michael Sandler. Michael is a hugely enthusiastic barefoot runner with a fantastic story to tell. I’ve heard other barefoot officianados’ say that you should really start barefoot before transitioning to a minimal shoe but that just sounded counter intuitive to me. Michael spoke at length in the interview and was incredibly infectious, so much so that today I managed to persuade Lynn to venture out of the door with me clutching our shoes in our hands.

We ran tentatively but were definitely up on our toes. With gritty tarmac roads for our debut attempt we wanted to ensure that our feet had only the tiniest contact with the ground. I was the slowest to become accustomed to the feeling but I developed a rhythm of two steps followed by a medial swipe down my inside leg – to dislodge embedded gravel.

We made it 300m before deciding enough was enough and we finished the rest of the mile – me in my RunAmocs and Lynn in my Nike Frees.

RunAmoc Shoes and The Uneven Floor

The RunAmoc shoes from Soft Star arrived just as we were setting off for our weekend adventure in the Peak District. I whipped off my Nike Frees and socks, slung them into the back of the car and slipped on the moccasins instead.

Apart from a brief interlude where I had to review some hiking shoes, the RunAmocs became a bit of a permanent feature – much to Lynn’s disappointment – I’m not sure she approves of my new obsession and it’s associated crusty geography teacher fashion accessories.

My initial thought on the sizing was that perhaps they were too big. There was a very big gap, lets say an inch, between my big toe and the end of the shoe but I’d measured my foot according to the guidelines on the website so decided to try them out. Despite having loads of room in the toe area they didn’t slosh around my foot and felt generally very comfortable.

It’s normally my toes that suffer the most in standard shoes so it was quite a blessing to leave them feeling so free. The roomy toe box creates an obvious point of difference between the feeling of running in the RunAmoc vs the Vibram Five Fingers. Although there is a huge degree of movement available with the Five Fingers, I still feel constrained by the toe compartments while the RunAmocs left me feeling as though I had only a very light drape across the top of my foot.

I ordered the RunAmoc with the slightly thicker sole. At 5mm it is not huge but it is designed to give maximal protection for trail running while still enabling you to feel in-touch with the ground surface.

On Sunday we were running along the Manifold River in Ilam and the tracks varied between limestone paths and root laden trail runs. I was grateful for the protection and managed to run amongst the pebbles without too many exclamations of pain. These soles are thicker than on my Vibram Sprint Five Fingers and were noticeably more comfortable on the rougher surface but I didn’t lose any of the barefoot feel.

As I was running up the limestone steps built into the side of the valley I was aware of my feet bending and hugging the surface. It was a huge contrast to the previous days hike in the solid Merrel Walking Shoes.

Barefoot or minimal running can become almost a spiritual experience where you begin to feel part of the landscape and the track you are running along. It’s a much more involved and gentle way to interact with the trail.

All this barefoot running is reminding me of a trip to Vienna.

At Kunsthauswein I tuned in to the amazing architecture of Hundertwasser and tried to scribble down his writings on the uneven floor.

It seems that Hundertwasser may have been an early adopter of the barfoot movement, this photo shows him wearing a pair of his handmade shoes (summer & winter) – very minimal.

The Uneven Floor

The flat floor is an invention of the architects. It fits engines – not human beings.

People not only have eyes to enjoy the beauty they see and ears to hear melodies and noses to smell nice scents. People also have a sense of touch in their hands and feet.

If modern man is forced to walk on flat asphalt and concrete floors as they were planned thoughtlessly in designers’ offices, estranged from man’s age-old relationship and contact to earth, a crucial part of man withers and dies. This has catastrophic consequences for the soul, the equilibrium, the well being and the health of man. Man forgets how to experience things and becomes emotionally ill.

An uneven and animated floor is the recovery of man’s mental equilibrium, of the dignity of man which has been violated in our levelling, unnatural and hostile urban grid system.

The uneven floor becomes a symphony, a melody for the feet and brings back natural vibrations to man. Architecture should elevate and not subdue man. It is good to walk on uneven floors and regain our human balance.

Hundertwasser, April, 1991

Barefoot Ralph

Here’s an excellent video from Terra Plana showing the speed with which you can transition from heel strike to forefoot running just by going barefoot. In the video, Barefoot Ralph is taken through his paces by Lee Saxby who runs masterclasses in the Pose technique.

I heard about the video after listening to the interview with Christopher McDougall on the Living Barefoot podcast.

Learning the Skill of Barefoot Running from Terra Plana on Vimeo.

Views on Nike Free 3.0 as a Transition Shoe

Somewhere along the line I seem to have developed a shoe fetish. I started off in life with a classic shoe phobia and made it into adulthood with a pair of red wellies and a work shoe.

An interest in sport increased my repertoire but even then I managed to live in a pair of Specialized Sonoma cycling shoes throughout my student days.

I blame running.

It must have ticked disturbing boxes in my psyche. I have now commandeered the shoe rack that spans the length of our hall and still have an overspill. I still only have one pair of work shoes but there is a tremendous glut of running shoes and my stockpile is set to increase.

Hiking shoes arrived last week, Nike Free 3.0 trainers yesterday, I’m awaiting stock of a pair of Vibram Five Finger Bikilas and my Soft Star Run Amoc moccasins are slowly winging their way across the Atlantic as we speak. We have a romantic weekend booked away and my only packing demand after spare pants was a selection of running shoes. I may have to hunt out an appropriate 12 step program when we get back.

In the mean time, here are my thoughts on the Nike Free 3.0

I’ve pinned a lot of hopes on minimal running shoes and expect them to revolutionise my mornings and long runs by removing the crippling pains of plantar fasciitis. With this in mind I’ve been diligently introducing Vibram Five Finger runs in to my schedule but reverting to my standard shoe for long runs.

My standard shoe is a heavy duty, cushioned, supported, mega structure so I started looking around for a suitable transition shoe. RunBlogger provided me with some much appreciated advice and Donald from Running and Rambling has written an excellent overview of the options.

Hence the arrival of the Nike Free 3.0

It’s not a truly barefoot experience or even an almost-barefoot-best-described-as-minimal experience but its half way there and a half-way house was just what I needed.

The shoe is incredibly flexible, in fact you want to pick it up and mould it like playdoh. It has a peculiarly innovative sole, made up of little cubes of rubber that enable it to flex freely, this way and that.

We were at Waterloo Station last night picking up one of the kids of Railway Children fame. We were waiting patiently on the platform when I leapt up onto my toes and declared: “Tadaaaa….bet you can’t do that!”

Well it seems they all could but I maintain that it means something that I was the only one who felt suitably empowered by my footwear to display such idiocy in public.

These are flexible shoes.

The uppers are fairly minimal, a little padding around the ankle but in the main these are made of a lightweight waffle fabric. I’m used to shoes with rigid plates in the heel and all this floppiness comes as a bit of a shock. It makes for an incredibly comfortable shoe though. Regardless of your views of Nike and the position of the Free 3.0 on the barefoot-standard shoe scale, you can’t deny that the word on the block is “comfort”.

We went for quick midnight run when we got back from the station and it was such a joy. It was only a short one so I need to test this further with a weekend long run but the first impressions were great. No pain from my feet at all. When I wear standard shoes I get the impression that my second toe nail is being ripped from its bed but there was no discomfort at all with the Nike Free 3.0

The run was silent and fast – at least by my standards. The sole felt as though it had a strange stickiness to it but it didn’t seem to hold me back as we knocked a minute off our usual mile pace.

I think I might have found my half marathon shoe.

Transitioning to Minimalist Running

I’ve happily adopted the concept of minimalist running, sending a few of my traditional Asics shoes to the charity shop in order to make room for the Vibram Five Fingers and a pair of eagerly awaited RunAmoc minimal running shoes.

I’m having to force myself not to throw caution to the wind and make every run an experiment in barefoot or minimalist running. Sensibly I’m following guidance and running 2-3 shortish runs a week in the VFFs and have been taking my long run in my standard shoes which are currently Asics Kayano 15s.

I’ve started to wonder what my end goal is though. I’ve got the Great North Run in two months time – am I hoping to run the half marathon in a pair of minimal shoes?

I think that would probably be a little unwise for me. For one thing it’s only 2 months away and my feet have been accustomed to wearing supportive shoes for decades. I’m also seriously overweight, I’d happily shed 7 stone and probably still qualify as obese which suggests that it might be a bit cruel to my feet to pound out 13 miles without any cushioning at all. Which is not to say that there isn’t a place for minimalist running shoes in my training schedule. I am very happy with the changes my new shoes have made to my running. I am more aware and run with lighter steps and I’m hopefully strengthening the infrastructure of my foot and preparing for a future with less pain.

So that leads me to wonder about the sense in switching between shoes at opposite ends of the structured continuum. Asics Kayanos are big shoes, I used to describe them as feet sized orthopaedic mattresses, I don’t think you can find very much more cushioning in a mainstream running shoe. Perhaps what I need instead is a mildly cushioned shoe for use in transitioning towards more minimalist running.

That of course leads me to wonder what that shoe would look like. I’m toying with the Nike free 3.0 which RunBlogger has admirably reviewed and described as a transitional shoe. My other option is to try the Newton Running Guidance shoe. A shoe designed with pose or chi running methods in mind and structurally designed to encourage forefoot striking.

I’m in two minds but think that perhaps the Newtons may be a step too far, introducing yet another style may not be ideal at this stage in my half marathon training, and besides the Nike Free is much cheaper.

Reviews will follow.