The one thing I’ve always disliked about myself is my feet. My toes are short and stubby and no amount of exfoliating and moisturising will stop my heels looking dry. I yearn to have feet fit for flip-flops and reclining barefoot in a spa. I would never subject a pedicurist to them, that would be cruel! I suspect years of ballet as a child including ‘en pointe’ work started the damage. Now I subject them to miles pounding the streets in running shoes. It’s no coincidence that I have 4 black toenails and ran a marathon 4 weeks ago. Over the years I’ve given them a really hard time.
Feet really are pretty amazing. There are 26 bones in each foot. The toe bones are called phalanges; there are 2 in your big toe and 3 in all the other toes. The 5 metatarsals (made famous by David Beckham’s broken one before the 2002 World Cup) make up your forefoot and there’s a whole collection of different bones in the back of your foot including your heel bone or calcaneus. It’s a right old jigsaw puzzle bound together by ligaments, tendons and muscles.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to try some barefoot running. I’ve always fancied having a go. Like most runners I’ve read ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall and finished it convinced that there really is no need for trainers after all. Perhaps I’d double my pace if I changed the way I run?!
The setting was a beach in Anglesey where I was attending a running training camp with the ever increasing force that is UKRunchat. There was sand but there were also stones. I’m one of those people who pulls faces and squeals when they attempt to walk shoeless to dip their feet in the sea. Running across it without any shoes on a chilly damp day didn’t seem terribly tempting.
The coach had us running normally and observing each other to see how our foot struck the ground. Then we tried running with our forefoot and mid foot striking the ground first. Kicking our heels up and increasing the cadence of our legs had us all nipping across the sand swiftly and childlike. It certainly felt different. I’m not totally convinced but I’m interested in anything that can improve my running. It feels very liberating to run barefoot. Thankfully I didn’t hit a stone, yelp and start hopping until right at the very end.
Obviously as we were on a running camp there was only one thing we could drink to celebrate our new skill!
If you’re serious about wanting to run barefoot or in very minimalist shoes then you need to build up slowly as different muscles are worked. You can get really sore and injured if you just head out for your normal run without your usual trainers. I have a friend who swears by his Vibram Five finger running shoes. He certainly bounded up the hill ahead of me on a recent run. For those of you who haven’t heard of these, they are minimalist shoes which look a bit like gloves for your feet with each toe sitting in an individual section. I’ve also been at road races and lined up next to folk without shoes; the motherly voice in my head screaming about broken glass and goodness knows what else you might tread on. I did live in the North of New Zealand for a while where hardly anyone wears shoes. The kids go to school barefoot and I made myself go to the supermarket and the bank barefoot just for the experience. A few years back in the UK however has put me strictly back into my woolly socks and hard soled boots.
For now I’m sticking to trainers and have just treated myself to a long overdue new pair. Just need to get them warmed up for my London Marathon in a couple of weeks. After that if I’m on a sandy beach I don’t think I’ll be able to resist taking off my shoes and having another little try!