I've been running off and on since college. It's been mostly "off" since having kids, but I've been trying to get exercise worked into my daily routine a couple times per week. I did some lap swimming over the summer (never got to my goal of a mile, not even close), but the pool is closed now and the weather is cooling off, so I've been trying to focus on running more.

The problem is, running has always been kind of a chore. It's the most convenient form of exercise I've got, and I do enjoy it once I've been going for a few minutes and can get in the Zone, but getting started requires a lot of inertia, and after about 20 or 25 minutes, my knees start to hurt. I'm quite fortunate that I've never sustained any real injury from running, unlike poor Stuart, who has been plagued with knee injuries for the last several years. He's tried all kinds of physical therapy and even had surgery a long while back, but every time he tries to get into a running routine, something starts hurting and he has to quit for a while. It's been awfully frustrating.

Then we heard about barefoot running. Steph's review of the book Born to Run caught my interest, and while I still haven't read it (I've been waiting for it at the library for three months now), I've seen the author on The Daily Show. Stuart tried running barefoot first, and to be honest, I thought he was kinda nuts. No shoes? No cushioning? No protection for his delicate feet? He started off doing laps in the park on the paved walk and worked his way up to doing a couple of miles in one go, all without knee pain, or at least without significant knee pain. So I tried it, too, the laps in the park, and except for stepping on the occasional bit of gravel (yow), it did feel pretty good. I took some longer runs, once with running shoes for the first half and barefoot for the last half, and I liked the barefoot part better. Last weekend I ran almost 2.5 miles completely barefoot, and I would have kept going and going except it was getting dark and I needed to help get the kids to bed.

The difference is that running barefoot necessarily changes your stride, the way you strike your foot on the ground. The cushioning in traditional running shoes forces you to hit the ground heel-first, which is a lot harder on your joints than when you hit the ground further up the foot. If you're barefoot, you're not going to land on your heel that hard because there's no cushioning, so you adjust automatically to the healthier stride.

This is all fine and good except that running with bare feet has its obvious hazards. Our neighborhood doesn't have many sidewalks, and the streets have a lot of fine gravel to contend with. Once you get to a paved bike path (not too far away, fortunately), it's smooth sailing, but you still have to watch out for things like larger rocks and broken glass. Your feet get filthy, which is actually kind of appealing to my inner hippie, but washing them off leaves a lot of crud in the bathtub. Plus, cooler weather is fast approaching, and I don't want to run barefoot when it's below, say, 55 degrees. There's also the rather nasty business of silver dollar-sized blisters, which can develop if you run too long on asphalt.

We spent today, Labor Day, at Governor Nelson state park, which is on the north side of Lake Mendota. Mainly, we were there for the kids (there is a beach and large playground there, and they had a ball), but I wore running clothes to take advantage of the nice weather and miles of hiking trails. I wore my running shoes for a while in the woodland path, but once I got to the mowed paths through the open prairie, I took them off and ran barefoot on the dry grass and packed earth. It felt so good! My posture was better, I had way more energy (this was the second half of my run, remember), and I just felt more connected to the earth when I was literally touching it with every step. That sounds SO much more corny than it should, right?

After today's run, I knew I couldn't go back to those old running shoes. I was really hoping to make them last the year, since I just got them this spring as an incentive to get into shape, but it just doesn't feel good to run in them. I can still schlep around town in them, I suppose. They're comfortable enough for walking around.

But this afternoon, I caved. I bought me some Vibrams.

(Stuart has some, too, and now we have matching shoes. How cute is THAT?)

These shoes are the new, hip way to run. Wearing them is like running barefoot, only you've got that protective layer between your feet and the pavement. It's a pain getting them on, as you might imagine, but they are as comfy as can be. Bonus: if I want to dress up as a gorilla for Halloween, I've got the bottom part of a costume already.


Jessi said…
I am in awe of this. Of course, my personal religion has strict rules against running while not being chased, so it's a moot point for me, but I think it's totally cool.

On a side note, after reading all of Steph's info, I gave up my expensive cross trainers and started walking in my keds and other walking through the soles of them on a regular basis, it seems to be going well.
Steph said…
That's it. I'm getting some too. I've been running in my flat Pumas for the past two months, but when Eric and I did some running on grass I could tell he was having a much better time because he could mold his stride to the ground, whereas I couldn't feel what was going on and was thus just trying not to turn my ankle.
Hah! That's funny, Jessi! I must belong to a similar religion, because it takes a LOT to make me run - imminent danger, child about to be run over by a car, y'know, stuff like that. Part of this is due to the fact that marching band and regularly falling on my knees on a concrete stage has destroyed my knees (oooh, if someone didn't know me and know that I was a major drama geek in high school, they might get the wrong idea from that one!). But the major reason is just plain laziness. However, Suze, I do find the idea of barefoot running interesting, and would love to know more about your experiences with the "gorilla" shoes. :-)
Animal said…
Those are SWEET! I wanna try!

That said, I've been walking at work during the 2nd half of my lunch hour. Walking, and listening to "This American Life" podcasts. I like the walking: it still gets my heart rate up, and while it doesn't burn calories the way running does, I still feel like I'm getting SOME low-key aerobic exercise. Plus, I won't run in the winter: end of story. Miss Tessmacher does, and I salute her for it. But, for me, not so much. But I'll WALK outside in the winter. So, I may be at an exercise gain in the long run.

Keep us posted on the success (or lack thereof) of your gorilla feets!
You're such a great source of ideas. I have a new thing to try everytime I check out this blog. I'll give barefoot running a shot and see how it goes.
katie said…
now you just need to knit yourself some of those toe socks!
Pam said…
Hey Suze - this is interesting. I actually tried Barefoot running for about a month wearing Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot sneakers. I was convinced by my former partner that this might help avoid knee injury. I had to stop because I started getting really serious pain in the top of my foot. I was actually worried I might have fractured a bone or something. I did some research and found out that this is something you get if you're not getting enough arch support. I finally realized that I was just trading one injury for another, so I went back to "regular" sneakers with arch support and the pain went away right away and I haven't actually had any other pain (and I run every day 3-4 miles). I imagine everyone is different, but this was my experience. I think maybe it also helps that I am weight training and working on developing muscles in my legs and around my knees.
Suze said…
Pam, running barefoot is something you have to be careful about because if you're not used to it (because of wearing shoes with all kinds of support and cushioning), you need to build up strength. People who try to run too much right away can get stress fractures and other injuries. I don't go very long or terribly often, so I haven't had a problem, but Stuart has already experienced some foot pain and had to take a week off from running.
canadahauntsme said…
I've wanted Vibrams for almost a year now. Kinda jealous you beat me to the punch!
Suze said…
Ha ha, beat you Joe!
I was the first female to purchase them from our local running store, too :)

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