After 4 months of barefoot running

It started with busting my ligament (partial tear) around my ankle after repetitive sprains, injuries and as my wife would say, not acting my age.

I was getting cabin fever with not being able to do sports until I read the “Born to Run” book by @McDougallChris. If there was one book that made a difference in me, I would say that this was the one. I was fascinated with the Tarahumara and by persistent hunting. How can someone reel in a Kudu after 8 hours of running? Something clicked. It was worth trying. And all it took was moving your legs. How hard could it be?

My ankles tend to roll easy so I was looking for shoes with minimal sole. VFF obviously was one of them and so was the New Balance Minimus. My first run on a treadmill was 3.5 minutes and I had to walk it off with another 2 minutes before I could run again. Lungs were burning. This was with the VFF while I was vacationing. When I came back I was so eager to run outside, my first run (looking back) was 5 miles long, on pavement. Bad idea. My calves were so sore for the next two weeks I was limping. I forgot that it takes months to transition to barefoot (again), ‘cos your Achiles shorten and all the wonderful muscles on your feet atrophy because they are trapped in shoes.

I bought my Huaraches and started running on grass at the local school field. First 10 minutes, then 20, then 30. And I was doing heel drops, 100 ups, anything at all so I could get that exhilarating feeling of running through the redwoods with nothing but Huaraches. But it was pretty clear that I have to earn the right to run that far.

Along the way, I had shin splints, minor tendonitis, blisters, top of the foot pain and aches all over. After lots of experimentation and youtubing, there are lots of simple things you can do to strengthen your legs and feet while you transition to barefoot running. I do this all day now, when I brush teeth, when I cook, in meetings, in my office. Trying to stay on my feet as much as possible.

 But it’s worth it

My best so far was an accidental 12-miler on nothing but my Huaraches and parts of it were just barefeet. I paid the price for the next week, but boy-oh-boy, the word that I’m looking for is proprioception. When you run on pavement around the neighborhood, the sense of feeling everything, from the thermals on the tiles to the sprinklers to the little pebbles…Unbelievable.

I got so cocky after that run that I registered to run the San Francisco half-marathon. Three days later I got minor tendonitis on the top of my foot. Luckily it wasn’t metatarshal stress fracture. A week of icing and rest later, I’m back on the pavement and ran my 5.6 miler today with nothing but my bare feet. So I think I’m going to make that half marathon just fine.

 Taking it slow

My spirit is definitely willing, but… As Caballo Blanco used to say: easy, light, smooth and then fast. It’s tempting to overdo things, but your tendons do strengthen much slower than your muscles. I’m right now mostly at the easy part, occasionally feeling the lightness.


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