7 Things You Didn't Know About Barefoot Running

Barefoot running?Barefoot running?A crazy thing is happening at running races these days. People make their way to the start line with one big thing missing: their running shoes. People say running is a great sport to get into because you don't need a lot of equipment, just a pair of sneakers. Well now you may not even need those! Barefoot or minimalist running isn't for everyone, but it can be a great training tool. Here are seven important things to consider before heading out on your next run barefoot (or in minimalist shoes).

1. Not everyone is built for barefoot running.
I happened to hurt my knee in the height of the barefoot running craze. I took advantage of having an expert's captive attention during my recovery. As my physical therapist pointed out, some people are built to run ultramarathons, while others simply are not. It's the same for minimalist running. Some people have feet that are built for it and have the right alignment for supporting barefoot running. Other people will just risk injury.

2. Start slow. Really slow.
I'll say the word slow again just to make sure you read it. Running in Vibrams or other minimalist shoes is completely different than running in regular shoes. Running shoes are structured, built-up, and cushioned. Minimalist shoes are not, hence the appropriate name. This difference changes the entire way you run, from the way your foot strikes the ground, to how your legs absorb the impact of the ground, and how your hips rotate. You may be able to bust out a double digit run with no hesitation, but when you're easing into barefoot or minimalist running, start with a walk. Work up to a mile. Alternate wearing your minimalist shoes and standard running shoes. Slowly build up your mileage in the barefoot shoes.

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3. You don't have to run long distances
If you're not one of the people that are built to run barefoot, that doesn't mean you can't use them at all. Minimalist shoes are a great training tool. Running strides in Vibrams or barefoot is a great way to train your body to run with the proper alignment and to help build different leg, hip, and foot muscles. I will probably never run races or even a lot of miles in mine, but I will continue to use them as a training tool.

4. It might hurt
Even though you're doing the same basic running motion, things change drastically when remove the cushioning from your running shoe. Your lower calves will probably hurt at first. Make sure you know the difference between a muscle ache and pain. If you feel pain, stop running or you may risk an injury.

5. Pick the right shoes
Vibrams are pretty popular, but that doesn't mean it's the shoe you have to chose. Most running shoe companies have come out with at least one minimalist shoe now- they look more like running shoes than the crazy feet-shaped Vibrams, but they don't have all the structure and cushioning that normally accompanies a running shoe. Try Brooks Pure Cadence line, Newtons, Saucony's Kinvara or Hattori, Nike Frees, Merrells, or New Balance's Minimus.

6. Remember that barefoot running isn't a new thing
The barefoot running craze goes in and out of style about every 10 years. This time around more of the shoe companies have jumped on the bandwagon. So make what you want of the current popularity and make sure you make the decision because it's right for you, not because you just want to jump on the bandwagon.

7. You'll never hear the end of it from non-believers
My husband constantly makes fun of my Vibrams. I don't care because they feel good, but any time you show up to a race in them, go to a group run, or wear them to the grocery store, you're going to hear about it. Shrug it off and stick to what works for you.

Have you tried Vibrams or other minimalist shoes? What do you think about the barefoot running craze?

By Heather Neal
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