As I mentioned in my post a couple of days ago, I got myself fired up by finishing a lethargic run by kicking off my shoes and running barefoot along the beach in Alicante last Friday. As a coach and keen runner, I often get asked about the benefits of training barefoot, as it is seen as very appealing to some. It is seen as being in tune with our ancestors and good for a number of reasons. Some hope to see performance improvements, as it is thought that running on your mid or forefoot propels you forward quicker. For some it is to take the pressure off knee joints/suffering chronic injuries due to the pounding on pavements and concrete (through modern stiffer support shoes). Such proponents believe we're doing ourselves more harm wearing a modern shoe than the likes of our ancestors did running with no support.
Personally, I was keen to see whether I can do anything to improve my arches and ultimately just wear flatter shoes at the track and in races, so wanted to test out what it felt like running on compact sand along a good, clean beach. Playa Muchavista affords such an opportunity a few miles out from Alicante town centre near my parents house. To me, the biggest benefit was actually psychological. To know that I was going to do a new, slow run that would be just different, with no ambition to make a commitment to joining (or not joining!) the barefoot brigade got me excited to run along the shoreline. And sometimes, you just need to change your running routine.
Having attended a training day back in May with Terri Knight at Primal Fitness in Manchester to work at some of my technique, and talked to Simon Whyatt about the benefits of barefoot running, I am more keen to make myself efficient, using whichever appropriate techniques can help my performance. Whilst I liked the feeling of running barefoot along the beach and can see myself running around a park barefoot, personally I like wearing standard runners (Nike Triax work best for me) on long runs and on the pavement. That said, having recently trained on the new track at Mile End with my VPH colleagues, I am going to buy some race shoes that I can wear for intervals and races. To get the most out of these I think it's important to prepare my feet accordingly, so when possible I will run barefoot at the beach and on appropriate terrain. As the review of barefoot running on wikipedia states:
"Scientific research into the practice of running barefoot has not reached a clear consensus regarding its risks or its benefits."
As an evidence based practitioner (and former employee of the London Marathon Store where I tested feet of all shapes and sizes), I would say I'm definitely not a full advocate of the barefoot phenomenon. There are definitely people I know who I would fear seeing wearing flats or barefoot running shoes, as there are those who have beautiful arches and really suit minimal support. With flatter feet due to my genetics and 36 years on this planet, I'll take a mixed approach and barring any ailments work at improving my technique overall.
But curious to know about your views on whether to strip off your sneakers and whether you think it improves your running. Any scientific based evidence anyone can provide gratefully received in the comments on this page please. I'm still open to the arguments put forth on both sides!