Everyone's talking it. Everyone's trying it. I hate to be such a lemming, but I jumped on the bandwagon. I did it 2 miles into my run yesterday. It was warm for January but since it was late in the day and overcast, there weren't as many people treading the Santa Fe as I had expected. I had Jonas in the stroller and he was sleeping. I had Zeke on the leash and he was pulling HARD. Apparently I'm not the only one who can't handle a week off of running. So there we all were, trotting merrily down the trail. I was focusing hard on my hamstring, trying to analyze (honestly) how it felt. I was admitting to myself that it did indeed hurt. Well, it didn't necessarily hurt, but I could feel it. No wait, I'm supposed to be honest, ok, it hurt. Two cyclists passed. I felt the urge. Then I passed an elderly couple with dachshunds and thought "I'll do it just after I pass this next lady," a mom walking with a stroller. Then the trail divided and I went to the right, onto the singletrack. I noticed that the dirt was different than the main trail. It was smooth and dusty as opposed to gravely. I glanced back once. I realized I was still in plain view of the mom and her stroller, so I kept going. Then I thought "what the heck," stopped abruptly, ripped off my shoes and socks, stuck them in the trailer and took off down the trail barefoot.
It felt wonderful. I ran through a few icy puddles and even that was okay. It was liberating like skinny dipping. So fun! Then my trail looped back around to the gravely stuff and it got harder. I found myself running only on my toes. I tried to roll gently onto my heel and that was really hard to do. I thought perfect form would come naturally once I took off my foot-coffins, as they have been called on barefootrunning.org, but it wasn't that simple. I still didn't know if I was doing it right. I never know if I'm doing it right. But one thing I did know, was that my hamstring felt fine. 2 points for barefoot running.
In case you haven't heard of this new-old trend of barefoot running, I'll explain it briefly. The theory is that our feet are meant to be naked. Their response to the earth teaches the rest of the body how to move properly. In countries where bare feet are less of a social stigma, there are fewer foot problems. I think this idea is already becoming more mainstream. If you're a semi-recent, newish parent, chances are your babies wore Robeez or a similar soft-soled shoe when learning to walk. This is because they allow the foot muscles to develop and function properly by not putting anything but a thin piece of leather between the foot and the ground to which the feet respond. Barefoot runners claim that the overuse injuries so many runners are plagued with are a result of bad form, which comes from habitually running in shoes that are too built-up and do not allow our soles to feel the ground. I myself am ridden with overuse injuries. I've suffered IT band syndrome, piriformis syndrome, knee problems, stress fractures in my feet and now this hamstring thing. I hate how they're called "overuse" injuries, like you're not supposed to use your legs. Come on, they're my legs, I'll use them as much as I want! Alas, there's always some kind of untimely protest so I'm willing to try anything now.
I had read the warnings about barefoot running. Take it s l o w they say. I tend to get a little overzealous when trying something new and fun so of course I wanted to do the whole run without my shoes. I probably would have if my feet hadn't stopped me. I also read on barefootrunning.org that your feet are like two coaches. They tell you when you're doing it wrong and they make you stop. So I stopped and put my shoes on, ran some more and then tried again, then finished up with shoes. I felt good after the run. My feet were definitely tender and my calfs a little sore. Hamstrings feel fine. Well, if I'm still being honest, they feel not-worse, but that's a good thing, right?
As soon as I got home I started Googling. I read tips and techniques for barefoot running, watched some videos, read testimonies of converted runners and got myself all convinced that this is the right thing to do. I kept seeing Vibram 5 Fingers pop up in discussions and there seemed to be a bit of controversy surrounding them. Many people are using them as a transition to barefoot and swear by them. The barefoot purists say that there is no substitute for barefoot running; you can only learn it by actually doing it. Makes sense. the Vibrams, or any "minimalist" shoe still protect your feet and therefore don't allow your soles to tell you how to run gently. So you've still got bad form, but not the support offered by traditional running shoes that your bad form needs.
I'm not about to give up all my miles until I can do them barefoot. I just can't let go and start all over like that. So if I decide to go barefoot, I will still have to wear shoes for most of my miles. Now, which is the lesser of two evils? My running shoes, or a minimalist shoe like Vibrams or Nike Frees? This is where my dilemma lies. I am an instant gratification girl. This flaw is manifested in my body when I get overuse injuries. I know that I am going to have patience with my body if I choose barefoot running. I haven't even totally decided if I'm going to convert. I say it now, when I'm injured and desperate for an answer but when I'm healthy again I can totally see myself giving up on the barefoot endeavor that I know will take years to become routine. I want to run injury-free, I want to run a LOT, and I want it now!