Barefoot Running 101: How to Get Started

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you may have noticed that an increasing number of runners are ditching their shoes and hoofing it barefoot. Barefoot running is nothing new – humans evolved doing it, after all – but as a recent fitness trend it’s been getting quite a bit of attention. Barefoot runners tout a number of advantages, including reduced impact, improved circulation and muscle tone, stronger feet, and better posture and balance.

If you’re a tenderfoot, barefoot running may sound painful, but many enthusiasts are shedding their shoes for 10ks, marathons and even rugged trail runs. With minimal equipment required – just make sure to bring a headlamp with you to spot potentially painful obstacles – it’s an activity anyone can do. For those who are interested giving it a try, here’s a look at how to get started:

Start slowly. Over time, the skin on your feet will thicken and develop extra padding, but running barefoot can be uncomfortable at first. Seasoned runners recommend starting out on a smooth, hard surface and taking it just a few yards at a time. Too much too soon can result in injury.

Watch for obstacles. Many runners say they stop feeling rocks and pebbles within a few weeks, but there’s still the danger of a foreign object puncturing your foot. Constantly scan the road or trail for obstacles, and bring along an LED headlamp if you’re running at dusk or in shadowy areas. LED headlamps provide light in whatever direction you’re looking, and a headlamp can help you spot objects you might not otherwise have seen.

Use correct posture. Running shoes encourage you to strike on your heels, which is hard on your body. Barefoot runners, on the other hand, strike on the balls of their feet, which are better shock absorbers. When running barefoot, keep your legs relaxed, land on the ball of your foot and take smaller strides. You’ll also want to stand straight rather than lean forward.

Stretch thoroughly. Barefoot running really works your calf muscles, so keep your calves and Achilles tendons well stretched.

[ photo by: mikebaird ]

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