A friend of mine, Sarah, has just taken up running- couch to 5km. She wanted some tips. I’m not a coach, but I love running ‘barefoot’. David and I have been running in minimalist shoes or nothing at all for eight years. Now is a great a time as ever, while ‘locked-down’ in your house, to plunge into the world of BAREFOOT. So here goes…
We were about to run the length of South America and our ‘virtual’ running coach, Jonno Gibbins, said our technique was rotten! We were heavy footed, heel-striking, with a slow cadence. The likeliness of injury was high. He suggested we try running barefoot or at least try out the technique. We had nothing to lose.
‘Like no other form of passage, running would allow us to penetrate the moods of the land and its creatures. With only a couple of millimetres of ‘barefoot’ shoe-soles separating us from the earth’s heartbeat, often only our unshod skin we would move silently, stealthily, creeping up on wildlife, a whisper away from discovery, a step from the unknown and unexpected.’ (From ‘Running South America’, Katharine Lowrie)
So first thing to do is to pad around at home or in your garden barefoot. Walk, run, hop, stand: barefoot. Be barefoot as much as you can. This will start the process of re-awakening your muscles and strengthening your Achiles tendon.
Practice extending your Achilles and centring your posture with ‘third-world squats’. Exercise and ‘ground’ your big toe with ‘toega‘. Jump on the spot or hop and skip- think Masai Mara- again all to 180 beats per minute.
If you can get out for a run, set your phone or a metronome to 180 beats per minute so you get your running rhythm right. Think quick, light steps and an upright posture; as if someone’s stabbing you in the back with a carving knife.
I run off-road; I think this is important, if you can, it means your foot is constantly finding a different plain to land on and searching for something to get a toe-hold on.
After each run I do a quick yoga routine. Poses like: downward dog, pigeon, warrior, tree etcetera feel lovely. Check out Aimee Fuller’s 6 min yoga routine here.
I run in vivobarefoot shoes because they’re light and with masses of room in the ‘toe box’ allowing my toes and the hundreds of muscles inside them to work. And I run in no shoes at all. That’s the great thing about running, you don’t have to have any kit.
We ran 6,504 miles through South America from south to north. We ran self-supported, taking it in turn to pull a trailer. We ran 1/3 barefoot, because we quickly worked out that running pulling a trailer isn’t natural at all! We both feel that running barefoot or concentrating on a minimalist technique helped us achieve our goal of running the continent.
We now live on the West Coast of Scotland and today on my run I saw: two adders, a slow worm, a roe deer, heard linnets and skylarks singing and a buzzard soaring. That’s why I run and because running, wildlife and wildernesses make me feel alive.
You’re stuck at home… what better then to read about running.
Here are some books that have inspired me:
‘Running South America with my Husband and other Animals’ Katharine Lowrie– Had to mention my own (again!) because it’s about our barefoot running journey, travelling at a trot through some incredible wildernesses, living with my husband for 15 months (!) and the amazing wild animals we met. You can buy a signed copy here or in bookshops / Amazon – which also has reviews (please add one if you haven’t) and the kindle version.
Richard Askwith’s Feet in the Clouds. I was totally absorbed by this wonderful book about the history, passion, love and life of fell running. Richard undertakes to do a Bob Graham Round during it too. Brilliant. And while you’re imbibing Richard’s words, check out Running Free about running barefoot, through mud, nettles, undergrowth, in his diary of running the tracks and paths around his Northampstonshire home. Lovely.
Mike Stroud’s Survival of the Fittest. Fantastic book that weaves runing and extreme endurance adventures with the fundamentals of how our bodies operate during such gruelling conditions- from a medic and record-breaking, adventurer. Couldn’t put it down.
Born to Run, Christopher McDougall. I loved this book. Totally inspiring and set us off on the idea of barefoot running. Makes sense- that we were born to run, to chase down our prey or run away from predators. That our bodies have evolved to do this with sweat glands and our bio-mechanics and Achiles hele all help. Nothing much has changed…
Eat and Run, Scott Jurek is a fascinating read about endurance running and the vegetable based food that powered Scott, an elite, extraordinary runner.
Dean Karnazes, Run definitely makes you itch to get out there and start your own running adventures. Another incredible athlete.