Barefoot running – anyone do it ?

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  • Barefoot running – anyone do it ?
  • tobyho

    I have been a regular runner for 4 years now. I usually run twice a week for 4 miles or so – not far nor fast.

    But I’d like to run more. But every time I increase distance or speed I get injured. Over the past 4 years I have had achilles aggro, knee pain, calf strains, lower back problems etc. I am a big bloke, but I genuinely love running; I want to do more of it.

    So, I’m thinking of giving barefoot running a go.. I have nothing to lose, I guess. Worse that can happen is that I get injured and wont be able to run for 3 weeks. The best that can happen is all the barefoot rhetoric is true and I turn in a natural athlete.

    So. Anyone else done barefoot running ? Any ideas on how to start ?

    (I am aware that running forums do exist – but I like STW better).


    I like barefoot running, but despite what the internet says, its not very practical in most places. IF you run on a track then you’ll be fine and it’ll soon feel very natural, likewise football pitches are usually fairly safe.

    I tried it on my normal route (mostly off road) and due to shards of wood left over from fireworks, broken glass, rocks, poop and other lovliness I ended up leaping like a gazzelle and not daring to put my foot down hard!.

    Weirdly, it might be easier on a pavement, since you can see whats coming, but it is cold out!


    Taking your shoes off is a good place to start 🙂

    For free hippy based stuff

    For potentially more expensive advice

    For the usCentric equivalent STW for barefoot/minimal stuff


    I have ordered some Vibram ‘shoes’..


    How did you guys start off ? Straight in to 4 mile runs ?

    Can you recommend a running plan for a big bloke like me ?


    Barefoot running helped stop me getting IT band pain and fixed up my form (less heel striking, fewer injuries).

    However, you do have to build up slowly. Very slowly. If you overdo it and your bones / calves aren’t ready, you can end up with stress fractures in your metatarsals. Which means no running and no hard MTBing for 6 weeks or more 🙁

    EDIT: for clarity – I was running on pavement – you may find it easier to ramp up if you can stick to grass / track.

    EDIT 2: I would recommend starting off with a couple of weeks just wearing the vibrams for walking around. Once you’re done with that, start following the couch to 5k from scratch (and don’t rush through it or skip weeks!!). Available at


    Weirdly, it might be easier on a pavement, since you can see whats coming, but it is cold out!

    Yep, though icy water on tarmac can be quite refreshing – though that might just be the feet going numb :). There’s about about a 2 mile section of a local run which is a nice combination of smooth tarmac, woodland trails and a golf course which feels lovely underfoot, but I stick shoes on for the rest as I need protection. Still nice too occasionally take em off and re-connect with the ground though.


    you might like to define “big” a bit more accurately

    it sounds from your OP that you think its your weight causing problems if you try to up pace or distance


    I saw a guy in That London running barefoot with his mate the other week. Wasn’t there some World Champs on soon?


    How did you guys start off ? Straight in to 4 mile runs ?

    NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!
    NO! 🙂

    Try here –

    I’d start without shoes, rather than with vffs, as you can still mash your feet quite hard in vibrams so you need to be a bit more careful, that doesn’t mean you have to though 🙂
    Find a nice bit of smooth tarmac, try a 1/4 mile one day, see how you’re feet are, 1/2 if they feel ok and ramp up very slowly.

    Premier Icon paul4stones

    I ran about 3 miles barefoot on a beach in the summer and my calves ached for days after.

    edit: meaning it’s easy to get carried away (for me at any rate)


    Have a look at Chi running

    Not bare foot but I’m guessing same principal forefoot strike, leaning body forward to let gravity do the work.

    Its somewhat Hokem pokem but there are some good ideas. It’s not a bad little read, I got it to try and make me more efficient. Not sure that it has help in that matter but it’s defo easier on my legs/body.


    Yes. Quite a lot of it. Started it like many, having read Born to Run and was inspired by it. Also, I would get to 7 or 8 miles and get very painful knees.

    My running gait has changed completely as a result of BFing and I can now run comfortably for 20 – 30 miles, on or off road, but much prefer off road stuff. The main difference is that running BF is a very liberating and joyous experience, and without wanting to sound like some long haired hippy, a very holistic experience.

    There are many people jumping on the BFing bandwagon, specifically (if it’s not an oxymoron) the shoe manufacturing companies. New Balance, Innov8, VFF and Nike to name but a few. All of these talk of ‘transitioning’ to BF or minimalist running. They are all trying to sell shoes that supposedly aid the change to forefoot style running via incrementally reducing the drop from heel to forefoot.

    Their solutions are slow, expensive and NOT barefoot.

    The best advice I could give is to start running absolutely barefoot on a hard surface. City roads and pavements are by far the best surface to learn technique. Urban pavement is generally smooth tarmac rather than tar and chip (very uncomfortable) like many rural roads. Dirt tracks and grass are great to run on but do not promote good BF technique. Also, I do not run BF on the grass in urban parks because of the risk of hidden sharp items that you would see on a road or path.

    But a STRONG word of advice. You should be very patient learning to BF. Shod running does not promote strength in the foot. The bones, tendons and ligaments in your foot will be atrophied because they will have had very little exercise to date. The good news is, that the foot evolved to move unshod, and with some care and exercise it will strengthen remarkably quickly.

    A good approach to starting BF running can be likened to beginning to run completely. Start by taking off shoes and socks and jogging a couple of hundred meters or so. No more. Do this for a couple of days then slowly and gently start to build up distance. Don’t think about speed, just form (below). Why? As I mentioned above you are beginning to condition your feet, Achilles tendon and legs (especially your calf muscles). Your Achillies and calf muscles will become very stiff and sore initially. Don’t over do it at this stage. Remember, it’s your body sending you a message. BF running is all about feedback, so just start getting used to what your body is telling. After some time (depends on you), you will feel relaxed and just end up running BF over considerable distance with very little effort and a huge deal of satisfaction.

    There are loads of web resources about technique, so I will just tell you what I find useful as pointers.
    1. Relax when you run.
    2. Run with slightly bent knees. They are part of your shock absorbing system.
    3. Don’t reach out with your front (leading) in each stride. When it lands, it should hot have any forward motion. It is effectively just place on the ground momentarily to support your weight as you move over it. You’ll know if you’ve got it wrong because you will get hot spots or blisters.
    4. I find a ‘good rule of thumb‘ is if you can see your feet when you are running you’re stride is too long. Each step should have the same feel as a gentle hop on the spot.
    5. BF running is not running on the balls of your feet, it’s forefoot running. I find that my heels do touch the ground, but towards the end of my stride, just as the take off phase begins. If you have any impact on your heels (which you’ll know because it hurts) you need to shorten your stride.
    6. You will find that naturally, you pick your back foot up higher behind you as you are in ‘flight’.

    The other thing to remember as you get used to BFing, is that the nerves in your feet will begin to be stimulated. There are about as many nerves in the feet as hands and very quickly you will begin to feel textures and detail of the surfaces you run over. In a very short time, you will notice that your stride, gait and cadence will change as you move from on surface to the next. However, it is very easy initially to interpret these sensations as pain. This is because your brain does not understand how to interpret these new inputs. Just bear in mind that the foot and it’s skin evolved to stand on all sorts of surfaces. It’s much tougher than you’d imagine. The other thing that you will find is that the skin on the soles of your feet does not get hard. If anything it gets softer but slightly thicker. It’s weird but that’s how it is.

    People often ask what happens when you step on something sharp or ‘unpleasant’? Quite simply, you become far more aware of the surface(s) you are running over and use your eyes for very accurate foot placement. It’s the same as picking a line down a rough piece of track on a bike. You just don’t really think about it.

    If you choose to learn to BF run in shoes, you will not get the benefit of all the feedback you get from perfect interface with the ground, and not feel the full effect of changing your running style.

    I’m not a BF evangelist and do use natural style shoes in addition to BFing. I tend to run in shoes during the winter, because, a) it’s cold; b) barefeet don’t grip well in wet mud.

    Enjoy, but take it easy to begin with.

    Not this pish again. Tobyho – I’d put money on it that you tend to increase your distance while trying to keep the same pace going as you do in your shorter runs. That would lead to injury more often than not. If I was you i’d try the longer runs but drop the pace off so that it takes roughly the same effort as your shorter runs.

    Another thing to keep in mind regarding injuries is that rehab doesnt stop when the pain stops, rehab starts when pains stops. Sort your injuries out properly and they wont come back.

    All this barefoot running is utter twaddle in mu opinion and besides the folk who do it look like ****.


    Do you chaps all run on lovely smooth trails? Or do your feet toughen up enough you can happily run over the odd stone / thorn / piece of glass….

    Would have thought you spend the entire time starting about 2 foot in front of you desperately not trying to cut your feet open?

    Premier Icon ahwiles

    Barefoot running – anyone do it ?

    depends what you mean by ‘barefoot’

    there’s the obvious: A) with bare feet.

    and the generally accepted: B) wearing very simple shoes, and landing on the ball of your feet*.

    A) no, it’s silly, i live in a world covered in pointy painfull things, and dog poo.

    B) yes. it takes a while to get used to – there’s a knack, but my feet are happier now i don’t run with a heel-strike.

    (*not to be confused with sprinting – your heel does touch the ground, but it’s not the first point of contact)


    to be honest it’s less about barefoot and more about how you run. The idea of running barefoot is to get you run in a natural forefoot strike way, rather than how running shoe manufactures think we should run, ie, heal strike. Easiest way is to change from regular cushioned shoes to racing flats and see how your giat changes. Nothing wrong in running in trainers, is more to do with how it makes you run.
    Where’s Surfer when you need him. He’s the man in the know.

    Premier Icon mustard

    and besides the folk who do it look like ****.

    – some random did shout abuse at me one day, ’twas rather amusing 😆

    Going for some minimal shoes though, too many of the footpaths round here are tar and chip and the bruised feeling from running on them was a bit random.


    The idea of running barefoot is to get you run in a natural forefoot strike way, rather than how running shoe manufactures think we should run, ie, heal strike.

    The only correct way of running is the one that doesn’t cause you injury.

    Not surprisingly this isn’t the same for everyone. So luckily there are shoes available for all styles of running.


    Phil W speaks sense. I don’t run “barefoot”, but do run with a fore- to mid-foot strike. This is not something I “trained in”, it’s the way my gait developed as I upped my running frequency. See a professional about your injurious and your gait, don’t try and force yourself into something that might* do more harm than good.

    If you choose to go that way, as others have said, start slow and short and work on either speed or distance at any one time, not both.

    *might, not will.

    Premier Icon takisawa2

    Tobyho – I’d put money on it that you tend to increase your distance while trying to keep the same pace going as you do in your shorter runs. That would lead to injury more often than not. If I was you i’d try the longer runs but drop the pace off so that it takes roughly the same effort as your shorter runs.

    This has been my rationale. I started off carrying nearly 5st more than I should 😳
    …had my gait looked at & invested in good shoes. I’ve let things build up gradually. Diet & 3 months later 1.5st has come off & I’m enjoying running more than ever. I have 3 loops, 2.6m / 3.6m & 5.5m. Three runs/week…Tue-Thu & always the longer one on the Sunday. Tue & Thu I go by how I feel setting out, if feeling good (like thus morning, I’ll do the longer ones. I’m not quick, but over the 5.5m I’m around 9min/mile now. A mate who does 44min for 10k pace keeps goading me, but I’ll push as & when it feels ok. Just really enjoying feeling so much lighter on my feet these days.

    I had a few goes at barefoot but at my weight I’d hurt myself for sure. Probably try different techniques when I’m slimmer though.

    Premier Icon sefton

    log onto the fra fell runners forum – there is a HUGE thread there which has been running years

    Premier Icon ahwiles

    why would you “hurt yourself for sure”?

    the lack of cushioning forces you to land very gently.

    imagine trying to walk very quietly and gently, it’s a bit like that, but a bit quicker.

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned the POSE running method, which is designed as a way to help you re-learn how to run efficiently and effectively. The idea being that injury is often tied to poor form/style.

    If you Google for POSE, see if you can find a course near you. Lots of Crossfitters practice POSE, so look for a CF gym near you. A bloke called Brian MacKenzie who is a leading light in CF has made a bunch of videos about the style – Google for Crossfit Endurance, Crossfit Journal and Brian for full details.

    I think the POSE people recommend Innov8 shoes.



    like 49er I was taken by Christopher McDougall

    have a read/watch/listen to his stuff here;

    Buy the Book

    I then bought these (couldn’t bring myself to either go completely bare nor buy VFF, just don’t seem right :P) :-);

    still building up from short distances as achilles & calves got a rude awakening!

    See when “Barefoot” running shoes are more expensive than normal running shoes, that tells me that they’re nothing more than a money making gimmick.


    SBZ: have you tried barefoot running?


    I think he prefers waders.

    Premier Icon ahwiles

    i bought my new balance 101’s for £40.

    hardly a rip-off…

    (VERY light though)

    SamB – i regularly run indoors in barefeet. Not a cat in hells chance i’d be doing it outside though. I value my feet too much.


    Fair enough then! Got to say, I’ve not yet had a problem running round my local playing field or round the streets in daylight. Wouldn’t want to chance it at night or over anywherewith pointy sticks or rocks though.

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