In the spring of 2011 I had my first encounter with barefoot running. I was in class at the University of Vermont when my professor mentioned Vibram Five Fingers or "toeshoes". He explained to me that runing barefoot (called this even though you still have something on your feet) is good for you and doable on any surface! I didn't believe it. Having been a distance runner in track who has heard of the benefits of running on grass or dirt roads over pavement, I couldn't believe these toeshoes allowed someone to run anywhere and still be good for one's joints, etc.
As soon as I got done with class I went to google and found this site: http://birthdayshoes.com/why-toe-shoes, which is actually a blog posting on birthdayshoes.com. I read the entire article and all the comments with incredible speed (I'm not a fast reader) and a passion I haven't seen in ages. I then looked at the VFF (Vibram Five Fingers) website: http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/index.htm and discovered Invisible Shoes from a comment on the original post I found (invisibleshoes.com). I was 100% absorbed into the idea of barefoot running from this point to today.
I have been recently interested in anthropology, with regard to the earliest humans, their practices, and how to be minimalist or natural. In the same class mentioned above my professor mentioned persistence hunting, which an old hunting style where a person runs an animal to exhaustion and then stabs it for its meat. This is believed to be how humans hunted before they developed throwing darts, spears, etc. But I digress (this may be a topic of a later post.
After researching various types of barefoot/minimalist footwear (VFFs, huaraches, Merrel Trailglove, Moccasins, etc.), I decided to buy a pair of custum huaraches from Invisible Shoes. I decided they were the cheapest option and they were a sandal, which would be most enjoyable as I geared up for summer. My Invisible Shoes arrived at the end of June; I quickly tried them on and discovered the incredibly different feel they have. From then until September I only wore huaraches, unless I had to wear conventional shoes (for work). My only trouble with Invisible Shoes was that I never got the tying tightness right. This was due to my own laziness, I only tied them twice the whole summer (adjusted them once). Any other source will tell you, tying Invisible Shoes is an art and one may need to tie huaraches many times, adjusting the tension and tying style each time until it is just right. However, the benefit of this is that huaraches are super custom! My issues was that my heel strap constantly fell down, but I just pulled it back up as a solution....or went 100% barefoot on occasion!
I went back to school at the end of August, only to find that one of my suitemates wears VFFs! Although he is new to them (only got them a few weeks before school), it encouraged me to see a barefoot follower after an entire summer of being the only one at home. I continued to wear my huaraches and continued to read everything I could about barefoot running and footwear. Over the summer I had only worn my huaraches recreationally and for everyday use, now I decided to take up barefoot running.
I started running in my huaraches for about a week or two. I just did my normal workout routine (warm up, do dynamic stretches, run, do static stretches) and replaced my conventional shoes with my huaraches. I kept my mileage really low (5k) because I hadn't run much over the summer. After a week or two I came across some research that threw up a red flag. When transitioning, most people try to do too much too fast and injure themselves (http://birthdayshoes.com/how-to-transition-to-running-in-vibram-five-fingers)! This is very serious because there is almost no protection between your feet and the earth, so you are prone to foot injuries. I must have read this post three or four times, trying to get every ounce of information out of it. Immediately I stopped my running schedule and created a barefoot transitioning workout. In all the literature I read I could only find guidelines saying "start with 1/8 or 1/4 of a mile and slowly work your way up". I had little idea what "slowly work your way up" meant, but the post cited above said you should do this for 1 to 2 months. So I read as much as I could and created a workout schedule in which I increased my mileage by 1/8 of a mile every week, ending with 1 mile at the end of two months. Currently I'm in week 5. Originally I would run the same distance everyday, even though I knew this wasn't great based on my track experience. I needed to alternate longer and shorter days. Eventually I came across a Marathon trainer book that my friend had. Inside was a Marathon Training Program, so I just copied it and made a few changes. I made the longest day of each week the mileage I wanted to be at (1/8, 1/4, 3/8, 1/2, etc.) and then divided by the appropriate number through the rest of the week. Today I just ran 5/8 of a mile. As the post says, you're not trying to build muscle in this stage, just foot strength. This foot conditioning is critical for preventing injury. And one more thing, the transitioning program must be 100% barefoot. That way you can receive as much information from the ground as possible, which will alter your stride and foot placement to be as natural as possible.
That is how I got started and you can too! Since I began my transition workout I have purchased a pair of Smartwool Classic VFFs and a pair of Original Runamocs from Softstar (for winter). I live in Vermont, so I will be experimenting with the Runamocs in -20 degree weather this winter. I have also been rediscovering Invisible Shoes the past few days, so there will be more on them later. Please feel free to ask about anything in the discovery/transitioning process. I have found that there is a lot of information on birthdayshoes.com but it can be hard to gather everything from various sites, and there is still much not written about! Barefooting is still a relatively new sport/style of running, but have no fear, more informating is being made available every day! So whether you are a longtime barefooter or thinking of starting, welcome and take those socks and shoes off!