Saturday’s Date Run was an exploration along some fields away from the more popular routes. Demi and I slipped through a tunnel that reminds me of the dam scene from The Fugitive (ok, not as dramatic maybe!), clambered over a fallen tree, crossed a brook and, following the Soar, we found ourselves in a series of wide and empty fields.
The grass was soft and free of debris, the sun was shining, so I indulged a curiosity and slipped my muddy shoes off to run a few hundred yards barefoot.
My feet were already wet from the run, so I didn’t mind the wet grass under my soles. The sensation was much more comfortable than I thought it would be, but then the conditions were almost ideal: The ground was soft, the grass short and supple, and I have been running with lightly cushioned zero-drop shoes for some years now. The overall sensation was springy and soft, comparable to running in a well cushioned pair of shoes on a smooth road, but feeling somehow “fresher”. That could have something to do with running barefoot through wet grass… doh!
The main difference was that I had to be very careful of where I stepped: Even on a clean field, I was weary of thorns and nettles (of which there will be more as spring and summer come), broken glass (ditto, unfortunately), sharp stones, etc. This isn’t unwelcome at all, and I think (done repeatedly) will improve proprioception and running technique (shod) on more technical terrain.
I am aware of how much has been written on the pros and cons of barefoot running, and the strong opinions that each side holds, and a full analysis exceeds the scope of this post. I know I will certainly be doing it again though, probably in pair of very light trail shoes (I swear by the NB Minimus 10) with a set of elastic laces, so they slip on and off easily: That way I can set off shod and slip my shoes off whenever I come across suitable ground, and then back on again when the terrain doesn’t inspire me.
I would love to hear from anyone who has ran barefoot: please share your experience, advice and observations, either in the comments or via email.
If on the other hand I’ve tempted you to try barefoot running for the first time, reach out and share your thoughts before and / or after you try it! In terms of advice to get you going, I’d offer:
- Pick your spot: Probably the most obvious, but also most crucial thing to consider. Especially to begin with, avoid places where there are likely to be sharp stones, litter, sharp objects etc. Also remember that long grass and fallen leaves might look enticing but may conceal hazards. Finally , I would advise against busy spots as you will need to…
- Keep your eyes on the ground: By all means, enjoy the moment, connect with nature, feel grounded: These are all important benefits of barefoot running. But watch where you step, won’t you?
- Enjoy in short portions: Like with any change to your running or exercise regime in general, ease into it. Depending on the shoes you currently favour, you will be losing heel-drop, possibly cushioning and certainly sole protection. While these are likely to lead to valuable adaptations in the long term, doing too much too soon may lead to soreness or injury. The point is to enjoy it!
- Take precautions: This is a huge chapter, regardless of shoes. When you go out running, how much thought do you give to things that could go wrong and how to deal with them? From the simplest and least sinister, like a twisted ankle, a fall from the pavement, chaffing… We all have our own appetite for risk and a different idea of what “reasonable precautions” are, so all I’ll say is be sensible. Speaking for myself, on my next barefoot running adventure I will pack a small bottle of antiseptic and a couple of plasters. Just till I get the hang of this…
- No, you won’t look ridiculous: Or at least no more than by going out in shorts in the middle of winter, in leggings if you are a man, or running 20 miles in the height of summer because you’ve entered an autumn marathon, while your non-running mates are sitting in the beer garden you’ve just run past! We are runners: we simultaneously embody the ridiculous and the sublime, embrace it!
- And yes, your feet will get dirty; get over it! Chances are they will get dirtier running with shoes on, as this photo of me a few days earlier proves:
Happy running peeps, whatever you wear on your feet!