Based on my recent experience and the recommendations of GP and barefoot running advocate Gwendal Galesne who inspired me to start running, at the grand old age of 50
SNAIL PACE - RUN AS SLOWLY AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN.
"if you run at 15k per hour, the foot will roll onto the first phalanx of the big toe. In other words, your whole body weight will put pressure on 2 square centimetres. In the transition phase, it can only lead to injury. You don’t want to do this. Transition wisely. Running barefoot is going to toughen up your soles, improve your calluses and foot pads but it can also stress the bones of your feet (metatarsals, tarsals and phalanges). You won’t suffer stress fractures if you follow my recommendations and if you avoid overdoing it in your training."
PICK A ROUTE AND RUN MAXIMUM 1 TO 2K BAREFOOT
Dr Galesne says that if you start with more than 2k, you’ll suffer blisters and it won’t make the transition any quicker. If you are a shod runner, do 1 or 2k barefoot, holding your shoes in your hands. After 2k, put your shoes back on and do your normal training. Do this 3 or 4 times a week for a week or two.
I did it a little differently as I'm not a runner! I mostly walked and did five short runs, then three longer ones, which amounted to 1k. My aim was to make it comfortable.😊
TYPE OF TERRAIN
When Dr Galesne went from running in shoes to running barefoot, he started on smooth tarmac so that the soles of his feet could adjust and toughen up more quickly. He admits that it can be a bit painful when you first start.
As I'm in no hurry to run more, I've decided to walk about 3k and run 1k on a variety of terrains. Also, the roads near me are far from smooth anyway (see video).
I'd rather expose my feet to different surfaces: rough tarmac; compressed mud; woodland path with fallen leaves and roots; thick, long grass and lawn-type grass for maximum sensory stimulation and increased blood flow.
LET THE ENTIRE SURFACE OF YOUR FOOT MAKE CONTACT WITH THE GROUND
so that your body weight is distributed across the whole base of support
“every square centimetre of the sole of the feet touches down and plays its weight bearing/supporting role” Dr Galesne.
This will avoid putting too much pressure on one specific area of the foot and will improve your fat pads instead of damaging them.
Think even and minimal loading.
To do this, you have to run "light" (not like an elephant!), which requires some strength in the lateral hip muscles - I would practise the pelvic list throughout the day.
Resist the temptation to increase speed or distance. Your body needs time to adjust to the new loads. Go super slow to give your muscles a chance to bulk up before going faster and further. If you don't, you may suffer stress fractures on the small bones of your feet or muscle strain.
HAVE DAYS OFF RUNNING
Running every other day is a good idea, to give tissues plenty of time to recover and heal between sessions.
It doesn't mean doing nothing. Active rest is in order! Take every opportunity in your day to move small parts of you. Sit less and spend more time upright. Lie down or sit on the floor when tired.
Walking is usually fine and doing gentle corrective exercises throughout the day, both weight-bearing and non weight-bearing, such as toe exercises, calf stretch (targeting both gastrocnemius and soleus), top/bottom of the foot stretch, double calf stretch, legs on the wall/couch, abdominal release, rhomboid push-off, knee cap release, psoas release, iliacus release, etc. - think position, not sensation when doing your restorative stretches. Pulling too hard and too quickly on a muscle won't have any lasting effect. Let your body be your guide.
TIP N° 6
KEEP YOUR UPPER BODY NICE AND RELAXED
including fingers, hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, belly, ribcage (drop it gently down), breath, neck (slide head gently back)
If you find you have tension in these areas, address it either on your own or with the help of someone you trust.
TIP N° 7
* RUN LIGHT
* USE HANDS-ON THERAPY TO MONITOR YOUR SOFT TISSUE
About potential injuries, Dr Galesne says: “the odd tendonitis which can temporarily affect the tibialis anterior, the muscle on the external side of the lower leg which brings the foot up toward the shin. When you run barefoot, your big toe tends to lift all by itself... So these muscles that do the lifting (big toe extensors and tibialis anterior) work a lot harder. But as I said before, because you are intelligent, you will make a progressive transition.”
“Train your joints to articulate in order to play their role of pelvic stabilisers, for the sake of your back. This is also true of your menisci for the over 50s who have overtrained all these years and who have cracked their meniscus as a result. Indeed when a knee is locked and hits the ground at the heel, all the vibrations which are created are felt all the way in the knee and contribute to split and damage your meniscus”
“You must run light. Running light is not an option, it is a necessity if you want to run not just for 15 or 20 years but 30 or 40 well into your 80s.”
Run in small steps, with your front leg just below your pelvis, rather than way in front. When you want to run faster, lengthen your stride behind you, by pushing off with the foot that's behind you. Watch this bushman run effortlessly. This is how I want to run! Don't you?
MAKE SURE YOU ARE ENJOYING IT!
Check with yourself that you can smile and that running is making your body and mind happy. Life’s too short to be anything but! If you're struggling, I invite you to read When progress is slow and you feel stuck, stress may be a factor.
Further reading and listening:
Running Barefoot, Forefoot Striking & Training Tips
Podcast: Does Barefoot Running Cure Injuries?
BBC radio programme: Is barefoot running better?
Runner's World: Can going barefoot build better feet?
Adaptation to barefoot running, Steven Robbins MD