learn to run with reintegrate

Barefoot running (pt 2) – Killing me softly

After two weeks of flu and recovery I returned to back to regular working-out again a week ago – or so I thought…. During the two weeks of flu and recovery I ordered and had delivered a pair of Vibram FiveFinger Classics and I was eager to go running in them. If this sounds crazy read the first part of Barefoot running (pt1) – Run as you were designed to.

The FiveFingers sure look funny and I have received a lot of looks and comments wearing them for walks in the neighbourhood. “Hey, have you taken up ballet dancing?” is one of many more or less funny remarks.

They are fantastically comfortable to walk in, like walking barefoot without worrying what to step on. You feel the surface you walk on, the Vibram sole protects you from any sharp objects and you have fantastic grip, also when wet. After the first few hours of walking in the FiveFingers it was somewhat strange to wear sneakers again – so heavy, clumsy and no feel at all. From a comfort only perspective I could wear FiveFingers only.  Not sure if Vibram has an office design of them on their product development roadmap.

Running in FiveFingers
If you’re familiar with the concept of barefoot running you will know that the barefoot running technique is different from the running technique wearing modern running shoes . In essence: No heel strikes, light landing on the ball of your foot and your calves act as  springs to absorb the impact of the landing and pushing you forward into the next step. Check the videos and articles in the first part of Barefoot running in this blog for more info.

I set out along the river Vltava running south on the east bank on the asphalt walking and biking path. Maybe not the optimal surface for a test run but anyway. I felt really light running, no problems adjusting the technique to stretch out the foot to land properly, found that it came more naturally with longer strides, with shorter strides the heel tended to drop and it was more of a flat foot landing.

After only 2 km or so my calves started to protest! They are definitely not used to taking the impact full 87 kg in each step. On the 3km I started to get blisters in exactly the same spot on both feet – in the middle of the ball of the foot where I land in each step. The run went very quickly from enjoyable and refreshing to painful and awkward. I turned back and walked home.

Back home my calves were so contracted that it was very hard to stretch and with the blisters on the ball of the feet the normal calf stretching exercises with the foot firmly on the ground was quite painful. Did my best and prayed I it would not be too bad in the coming days.

One week of agony
The first couple of days after my first run in the FiveFingers were ok. My calves were hard as stone and every step was a bit stiff but not too bad. On the 4th day I did some light squats but didn’t stretch the calves afterwards. The day after my calves locked up completely – could hardly walk and getting up or down a staircase was a major undertaking. Now, on the 7th day after running I have carefully stretched the calf muscles and I am slowly getting back the flexibility in the calves.

Word of advice
I am still convinced that barefoot running is healthier and that it reduces the risk of injury but the transition period from modern running shoes to barefoot will be longer than I first thought.

– Start slowly. If you are new to barefoot running technique keep your first couple of runs to under the kilometer to slowly accustom your body, calves in particular.
– Tape your feet. I recommend a layer of textile type of tape on the ball of your feet to prevent blisters.
– Stretch. I know, rule number one after running but be extra diligent when you are learning new techniques and stressing your muscles differently than normal.

Let me know how it goes!

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