An Amateur’s Introduction to Semi-Barefoot Running

After hearing my Professor rave about the barefoot experience, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and bought my first pair of Vibram five fingers whilst on my recent internship inLondon. Recognizing that true advocates of barefoot running would cringe at my oxymoronic attempt to equate wearing a shoe to barefoot running, I think I’ll term what I do with my Vibrams as semi-barefoot running. Having previously used a Nike Lunar, Nike Free, New Balance Minimus, and now my Vibrams, the difference in cushioning each shoe provides is radically different, even though Vibram provides the soles for both my Minimus and Five fingers.

 There are different Vibram Five Finger models, and the one I purchased is called a Bikila, named after the great Ethopian Olympic marathon champion Abebe Bikila. After being selected to represent his country as a last minute replacement for his fellow countryman, Bikila subsequently won the 1960 Summer Olympic Marathon in record time – running barefoot. When quizzed on why he chose to do so, Bikila purportedly replied, “I wanted the world to know that my country, Ethopia, has always won with determination and heroism.”

The hype behind running barefoot is steeped both in history and in science, beginning with the athleticism of the Tarahumara people who run barefoot in Mexico, to modern day scientists concluding that the energy cost of running is reduced by about 4% while running barefoot. Listed below are a few reasons outlining the benefits of running barefoot, or semi-barefoot in my case.

  •  A more natural gait is developed, leading to an improved posture and balance.
  • Running bare/semi-bare foot activates many of the smaller muscles we ignore while wearing heavily cushioned shoes, enabling a strengthening process for the tendons and ligaments in our feet.
  • Research has also shown a decrease in foot and ankle injuries in barefoot/minimalist runners. This is due to a different running style (a style I discuss in my next point) one develops while running in this manner compared to running in a shoe with a well-cushioned sole.
  • Instead of landing on their heels, barefoot/minimalist runners learn to land on their forefoot, or rather, the ball of their feet. This reduces the impact they have when they make ground contact, simultaneously proving a more energy efficient style of running.

Typing this after clocking in a total of about 50km in my Vibrams thus far, the first thing that I underestimated was how much my calf muscles would ache after each run. The first run I had in these, a leisurely 4km one, turned out to be a painful lesson for the calves. This quickly subsided in about 1-2 days, after which I completed another 5km. By the third run, I no longer felt pain after running, and have noticed a more toned calf due to the need to land on my forefoot instead of heel.

Next week, I’ve decided to take my Vibrams on a 10km New Balance Sundown run over my Nike Free, the longest I’ve run in my Vibrams to date. After the inevitable ache comes satisfaction in the knowledge of having activated the little foot muscles I have been letting slack all this time.

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  One thought on “An Amateur’s Introduction to Semi-Barefoot Running

  1. May 17, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    I’ve been thinking a lot about getting a pair of the New Balance Minimus–especially after competing in a trail/obstacle race and seeing that everyone had them! This article makes me even more sure that I need to start looking in that direction. Thanks!

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  2. May 18, 2012 at 2:05 am

    If you are into trail running, do get the Minimus over the Bikila – the soles have more grip. The Bikila is mainly a road shoe. The five fingers concept is what really sets both apart; I enjoy the wriggle-my-toes flexibility! Alternatively, you can try the KSO or Trek Sport, which is the VFF’s trail running version. Be very. very prepared to feel the little stones under your feet as you make your way through the forest though! Enjoy (:

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  3. May 18, 2012 at 2:28 am

    Fantastic first post Andrew! Thanks for joining the team and helping spread the health.

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  4. May 18, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks Andrew! I’ve tried on a few of the Minimus and really like the feel–I think I will start there and I’ll let you know how things turn out!

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