Many people make the transition to barefoot running without a hitch. Some people have been unable to run at all until they took off their shoes and felt the world as they ran. And there are others who find that the changes they make when they run without shoes even help them overcome injuries and pains they’ve had for years.
But, there are also some people who find that switching to running barefoot leads to minor “glitches.” The most common glitches being Achilles or calf soreness, blisters, or some minor pains in the top of the foot.
I’m going to address these issues in a series of posts.
To start, though, I need to tell you one fact and one story.
Here’s the fact: Barefoot running does NOT inherently CAUSE any of these issues. In fact, most of the experienced barefoot runners I know have gone for years (sometimes decades) without any sort of problem.
The story I’m going to tell highlights why knowing that Fact is important. Here we go:
I ride a weird bike. It’s a recumbent bike, the kind you sit down on with your feet out in front of you. Mine, though, is even weirder than your average recumbent, because it has “front-wheel drive.”
That is, the pedals are directly connected to the front wheel, the wheel you turn to steer.
What this means is that when you push on the right pedal with your right foot, it makes the front wheel turn to the left. If you don’t pull back on the handlebars with your right hand to keep the wheel straight, you’ll push with your foot and immediately tip over and fall to the ground!
When I first got this bike, I couldn’t ride it. Every time I tried to take the first pedal stroke, I fell over!
Now, I had been riding recumbents for 20 years (but not front-wheel drive ones), so this was particularly annoying.
After a few days of this, I was ready to throw my new bike in the trash… except one thing kept me from doing so.
That “one thing” was a video that I had seen on Youtube of a guy who could, from a standing start, ride this same bike with no hands! Where I was falling over with every push of my feet, he was able to ride without a problem.
When I was at my most frustrated, I kept thinking of that video, and said to myself, “If he can ride without a problem, there has GOT to be a way for me to do it too. I just need to figure out what he’s doing differently than me.”
That turned into a question, “What do I need to change to be able to ride this bike as easily as the guy in the video?”
I never watched the video again, I just kept holding the image of it in my mind as I experimented on my new bike.
And I can’t even tell you what changed other than that, within 3 more days I could ride the bike with no problem, two weeks later I was able to ride with no hands, and a month after that I could start from a dead stop with no hands.
The moral of the story: People who are doing what you want to do — whether it’s ride a weird recumbent or run barefoot — are not special. If they can do it successfully, enjoyably, safely… so can you. And the most important “skill” you need is to simply entertain this thought, “I know others can do it so it’s possible… what do I need to do differently to be able to do it, too?”
Let’s get back to barefoot running and walking…
Running or walking barefoot should NOT hurt.
It should NOT give you blisters.
It does NOT need to make your calves and Achilles sore.
It does NOT inherently lead to stress fractures.
If you’re getting problems like that, the odds are almost 100% that there’s something you’re doing that’s different than the people who run and walk barefoot without a problem.
Any aches and pains you experience are merely the indicators that you need to make a shift, to find that usually small thing to do differently. And when you find that thing, not only will the problem go away, but your running should become easier, lighter, and more fun!
In other words, your problems are like your coach, giving you clues about what to do differently.
We’ll look at specific barefoot running issues in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!