Barefoot running is not a fad. Okay, it’s not JUST a fad. It has fixed some serious flaws in my approach to running trails and quickly adjusted my stride for more effective training.
As reoccurring injuries continued to interrupt my time in the hills, I recognized the need to get to the bottom of what was really going in. Serious past injuries, as mentioned in an older post, still haunt me today and have made me more vulnerable to repeat injuries that hinder my progress in becoming a stronger, more resilient runner.
Several years ago, my physical therapist at the VA hospital advised me to buy some Vibram Five Fingers to wear while doing low impact activities. This supplement to my normal therapy would theoretically build up all the small muscles and tendons in my feet that are so often neglected while in shoes. If those little muscles and tendons are able pull their own weight, it will reduce some of the burden being put on the larger ones. The doctor didn’t promise me it would help, but insisted it was worth a try.
I took his advice to heart, open to trying anything, but soon discovered that none of the Vibram footwear fit me well enough to make the investment. Even with minimal sizing increments, they just wouldn’t work for me. This was disappointing, because I had heard and read some really great reviews. I abandoned it as a supplement to my therapy until this year—four years later—when my bosses gave me a book for my birthday that most runners, as well as many non-runners, are familiar with. Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, drove the barefoot concept back into my mind, but this time, it struck hard and I couldn’t let it go. The book has been around for years and has been endlessly quoted by McDougall’s fans. I didn’t want to feel like part of a trend, but I also wouldn’t let trendiness deter me from doing something for the right reasons. Born to Run was exactly what I needed while I was currently on the sidelines with an injury.
Christopher McDougall inspired me to step back and really take a look at my approach to running; not only analyzing what it is to me now and how it plays a role in my life, but also how I can make certain that it continues to play a role in my future. The Cle Elum Ridge 25k that I had really been anticipating since my last race, but unable to train much for, would have to wait. I had some serious work to do, and it started with not working quite so hard.
I discovered that there were other—and in some ways better—options for going “barefoot” than Vibram Five Fingers. The brand I came across first, and returned to after a few days of research, was Bedrock Sandals. Bedrock Sandals provides their customers with extremely lightweight, durable minimalist sandals built on Vibram soles that are backed by a great warranty. Upon placing my order, I wasn’t fully confident they would be what I wanted them to be, but if nothing else, they would become my casual sandals for a summer that was already proving to be a hot one.
After a couple weeks of adjusting to my Bedrock Sandals by wearing them around the house and to work every other day, I went for my first run. It took a half-mile of pavement to get to the trail, of which I walked half because it felt harsh and unfamiliar. Upon entering the forest, it was love at first step. I could feel the earth beneath my feet in a brand new way; a more primal way, feeling every curve and slope of dirt, and every rock beneath my feet. It felt like my feet were hitting the dirt as they were intended to, not as I had learned to over the years. I have never been a heavy-footed runner, but this new experience made my shoe-running seem so forceful and reckless.
Wearing the sandals shortened my stride, made me extremely aware of where my feet needed to land, and prevented me from driving my heels into the ground—it hurt too bad to do it any other way. I increased my mileage slowly and hit rougher trails. In all the miles I have run and hiked in them over the last few months, I haven’t so much as tweaked an ankle. This includes a variety of terrain, from service roads to scree to waist-deep river crossings. And best of all, it even fixed my stride and awareness while I am wearing shoes.
My Salomon Speedcross 3’s remain my primary running footwear, but I wear my Bedrock Sandals as a supplement to my training, both for focusing and finessing my stride, and for injury management. I have run several highly technical trails at a fast pace in the last month and my footing was flawless throughout; something I had not experienced with such consistency before. I feel gratitude toward Bedrock Sandals, as they now play a crucial role in my training and in nurturing my service-related injuries.