The bare foot is the best running coach money can't buy.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Understanding Painlessness and Barefootery

When I say "I'm a wimp," I'm not employing a sales tactic to get you to start running barefoot. I'm not saying "it's easy! If I can do it, surely you can!" What I'm saying is IF you want to learn to run barefoot, avoid pain at all costs.

Don't think about speed. Don't think about distance. Your entire objective is painlessness. Being a wimp is the only way to learn to run barefoot. The tangential bonus is increased speed in longer distances without injury or overuse.

Think of it this way: if you are running with perfect running form, it should NOT hurt to run barefoot over sharp rocks. It has nothing to do with foot strength or skin toughness. It's form. If your feet muscles hurt, it's because they're too tense. Relax them. If your calf muscles hurt, it's because they're too tense. Relax them too. It is only through relaxing and experience will sharp rocks become a surmountable obstacle.

Why are muscles that need to be relaxed, tense? Two reasons: Fear and misunderstanding. Fear is obvious - tensing up is a natural reaction. What's the misunderstanding?

When we think of exercise, we assume no pain no gain. And to some extent that's true, although I think it's a misuse of the word, "pain." But running really should only heavily tax the hip flexors, lungs, and heart. NOT the quads, calves, or even the feet. Those muscles should be relaxed, adapting to the terrain. If you feel strain, you're working harder than you need to. If you work harder than you need to with muscles that should be relaxed, there is no overtime pay or holiday bonus. Working too hard in the running world, barefoot or otherwise, equals slowness. Or injury.

Push your hip flexors, your lungs, and your heart to the limit if you want to get faster and maybe win a race or two. But to learn how to run barefoot, avoid pain at all cost.