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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why am I faster?

I thought I would cover my bragging with a thin veneer of barefoot education. To the point: I'm older than I was as a shod runner, I'm less fit than I was as a shod runner (I used to do a lot of exercises, now I just run), I do less speedwork than when I was a shod runner, BUT I'm much faster than I was as a shod runner. I went from a 23:21 5k PR (age 26), a pace where I hovered for four years, then after a four year hiatus from running I come back barefoot to a 20:22 5k PR (age 34). Why?

Easy. I mean literally - easy. It's so much less work to run barefoot. If I want to go faster, I lift my feet higher, bump up my cadence, and go. That's it. The only thing slowing me down is a still imperfect form, my lung capacity, heart strength, and good old fashioned lack of willpower (I'm a wimp, remember).

In shoes, well, first of all I'm in shoes. My feet are weighted. I have to lift the weight, kick it forward, and leap onto that foot. All of my weight crashes down, then I have to push off to propel myself forward. This is the way most people run in shoes. That's too hard for me.

I've started dabbling with speedwork for about a month now. For me that means a fartleky tempo/tempoish fartlek run through my hilly neighborhood. I have a local 3.5 mile route on which I try to beat my previous best time. So far I haven't slowed down.

I'm sure some of it's due to improving conditioning, but I think my slow runs are helping too, because on my slow runs I focus entirely on form. Posture erect, landing silently, fast cadence, 11 minute miles. I try to keep that easy feeling on my fast runs.

This might be it; I might be at my peak right now. You never know with these things. But I think I can go faster. And the faster I get, the sooner I can eat. I KNOW I'm not at my eating peak. With proper conditioning, I could eat much, much more.


  1. Those are some impressive time improvements. Very intriguing.

  2. I think you missed where the advantage is. Yes, you are no longer weighted by shoes, but that is talking about an oxygen cost of... a few percent? That does not even say your performance will change by that amount. I don't think that has much to do with the better times.

    The greatest change is that you have now learned proper form (by necessity). Throw on a pair of racing flats which let you run with proper form while giving you the shoe experience and you would probably perform equally well!

    You've also probably had a mental boost from running shoe-less, and that is a major factor in better performance.

    - another barefoot Josh

  3. Fellow Josh -

    I hear you re oxygen cost, but you also have to figure in my wimp factor. I'm not just a wimp "in the moment," but also a prognosticating wimp. "Man, if this is tough now, it will be murder later; I better slow WAY down," is how my thought process goes. Then I start thinking about Doritos or pizza or something.

    But seriously, I agree. It's the form. I haven't run in racing flats, well, ever, but on the rare occasion I run with VFFs my form gets sloppy and I hit the ground a bit. Still pretty fast though.

    Thanks for the comments.

  4. Hmmm less pain, running faster and eating more? If those are the benefits of barefoot running, I will definitely join the ranks soon. :)

  5. I totally agree! In my 10K yesterday, I kept hearing people gasp and say things like, "OMG, she is barefoot! That's gotta hurt!" The truth being, the only thing that DIDN'T hurt by the end was my feet, LOL. I took 15 minutes off my 10K PR! I'm going to be depressed when it gets too cold and I have to put something on :-(

  6. I'm faster than I was back when I ran in shoes more than 15 years ago. I find that one of the big reasons is that I can now run consistently, without having to take big chunks of time off for injuries.

    I still haven't run a sub 20 minute 5K yet, but I'm hopeful that I can within the next couple years. That never would have been possible in shoes.