Getting started with barefoot running

Imagine that you haven’t lifted weights in a while… or ever.

And imagine that you got the idea that you wanted to bench press 500 pounds.

Would you go to the gym, put 500 pounds on the bar, and just go for it?

Of course not. There’s no way you could budge 500 on day one.

Would you go to the gym and put, say, 100 pounds on the bar and lift it, over and over, until you felt tired… and then do a few more reps until you were wasted?

I hope not.

Would you take a small weight, like 20 pounds, and lift it for an hour or two?

Boy, I wouldn’t.

But for some reason people think they can get into barefoot running with one of those plans.

They think they can just whip off their shoes and replace one of their regular runs with a barefoot run. Or, worse, they think that even if they haven’t run for a decade, it’ll be fine to go for a 5 mile barefoot run. Or they get out for a barefoot run, feel some strain or pain in their feet or calves and think, “Oh, I’ll just work through this, it’ll be fine.”

And they pay the price.

They wake up with freakishly sore calves or Achilles tendons. They get blisters. They get plantar faciitis. They get stress fractures.

Look, over-training is over-training. Doing too much is doing too much.

Especially with barefoot running, TAKE YOUR TIME. There’s no rush to get to the point where you’re running an ultramarathon every day for 1000 days in your bare feet. And there’s no way to rush building up the strength in your muscles and ligaments and tendons, or to develop correct and efficient form.

It happens as it happens. No sooner, no later.

How long that’ll be is a mystery. Maybe it only takes you a week or a month. Maybe it takes you a year.

Who cares?

First of all, it’s not all-or-nothing. It’s not like you won’t be able to be barefoot and then, BAM, 6 months from now you can! It’s a process. Maybe today you can only run 100 yards and then need to ice your feet for 3 days. That’s fine. In a month, guaranteed, you’ll be doing more. And a month after that, you’ll be doing even more.

Secondly, nobody is telling you to throw away your shoes the moment you realize you want to become a barefoot runner. Keep your shoes. Enjoy your shoes. And look forward to when you don’t want or need them.

But, please, give yourself time — the amount of time that YOU need — to make the transition.

Honestly, there’s enough to learn and experience and benefit from if all you ever do is an occasional 1 minute jog without shoes.

I hate to toss out “prescriptions for living,” but in this case I can’t think of any better way to say it than, “Enjoy the journey… because there isn’t really a goal.”

  • gary

    hello barefooters,i’m hoping someone might be able to help me with a tying issue.as its coming to the end of summer here in the uk and it keeps on raining can anyone give me a clue as to how to tie my huaraches to prevent slipping.i use the slip on method at the moment but if its wet out especially if i’m trail running any moisture between my foot and the sandal means it slips all over the place,any tips gratefully received.

  • gary

    It is a journey. Transitioned to Chi running style last year, am still learning how to run on midfoot-forefoot. VFF’s helped a lot, just got huaraches and did a test flight today–superb. If you keep adding no more than 10% per week like everybody tells you, you double your distance in 8 weeks. If you overdo it like I did early on, you trash yourself and set things back months. Go slow to go fast.

  • Chris K.

    Hey Stephen,

    Thanks for this post. I really needed to hear this. I can’t wait till I can get out on 10ks, even ten-mile runs again like I used to when I ran Cross Country. I can’t wait to do them barefoot (I’d like to start doing them by June), but this reminded me that I’ve got to let it happen as it happens. If in June I can only run 4 miles barefoot, then 4 miles it is, and I’ll just have to enjoy that.

    CK