Five Keys to Successful Barefoot Running

Barefoot running on the beach

With a new year upon us, many of us have made a decision to get more healthy for the new year. And, one of the easiest, most efficient, and best ways to stay healthy is to simply get outside (or to the gym) and run. It doesn’t take that much equipment and the return on the investment for your body and mind is substantial.

A recent movement in the sports world has been a movement to doing the activity more naturally through barefoot running. The idea behind running without shoes is to allow the body to teach itself better form from the ground up. With better form, a light landing, and a proper gait both the impact and the chance of injury is substantially reduced for the athlete. Based on the research, findings, and recent barefoot running book written by Dr. Craig Richards of Australia and myself, here are some key pointers to keep in mind as you attempt to transition to barefoot and minimalist running.

1. Transition Slowly

Give your body plenty of time to adjust to barefoot running. It is best to start out walking without shoes around the house, driveway, and even your yard before hitting the roads bare. Once you can walk a long while without shoes, begin altering the terrain on which you walk. You might even discover how barefoot hiking off road can really awaken the 250,000 nerves of the feet.

2. Think Ergonomics

This is a strange thing to thing to think about but if you want to run for the long haul, meaning until you are well beyond old and gray, think about how you can move more naturally. When running, always keep your body’s posture in line with the rest of the body. Barefoot running will teach you to keep you feet beneath the body with a forefoot strike (landing on the heel is just too painful). When you keep an aligned torso and the feet below your center of gravity, the knees will always stay bent. Throughout the entire running cycle, the knees should always be bent, the feet below the body, and the leg never extended out in front of your hips.

3. Count Your Steps

Running barefoot or even in minimalist footwear will allow you to land more lightly because the weight of the shoes (or your feet) allows the body to monitor how hard your feet hit the ground. When you run, count your steps. This is called cadence. When you run without shoes, aim to have your feet patter along the ground at 180 beats per minute. This might be easier if you count only one foot’s landing at 90 times per minute. Such a cadence ensures that you are taking enough steps to lessen the impact transient absorbed by your lower legs and body.

4. Take Days Off

One of the most important things that you need to do when first starting out with barefoot running is to take days off between barefoot outings. This does not mean that you cannot workout at all, but try to avoid running one day barefoot without taking the next day off. This day break is important for the body as the smaller tissue of the feet and legs heal and adjust to your new venture. It takes lots of time. Do not be impatient and augment your time without shoes gradually, even as slow as one to two minutes per week. Such small investments with rest will ensure a safe transition.

5. Listen to your Body

Essentially, barefoot running is a way that you can really listen to your body. By figuratively putting your ears to your feet, you can feel how your body, form, and emotions change when you toss your trainers aside. Listening to your body should help you gauge your workouts and help you limit pushing yourself too far (as the ego is wont to do). Be mindful of your body and patient with your feet and the rewards of a more natural running style, less injury, and more joy for your runs will transpire.

Overall, barefoot running is more than a fad or trend. People are discovering its benefits every day. Be sure to follow these pointers and if you need help with transitioning. And, if you want to have an idea of the entire movement and how you can adapt it to help you meet your running goals, be sure to check out our guide, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Barefoot Running (Penguin), which is a part of a best-selling series on sports.

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Beginning Running for Dummies

So you want to start running? Good for you! Running is a great way to exercise and stay healthy.

Beginning runners

If you haven’t been exercising regularly, you might want to think about a few things before you lace up your shoes. Of course, I am obliged to tell you to get a physical exam before you embark on a new exercise program.

Beyond that, here are a few tips:

1. Get some new shoes. You might have those 1989 high top tennis shoes in your closet that you think are perfectly adequate, but trust me—they’re not. And do not even think about buying yourself running shoes at Wal-mart. Shoes will be the most important investment you make in your new hobbie, so invest smartly. I recommend going to a running store that specializes in fitting your feet with appropriate shoes (depending on your arches, pronation style, etc.). I ran for about 5 years before I did this. And, when I finally was fit for shoes, I learned that I had been wearing shoes about a size too small. This is why I had bloody blisters on my toes! I had figured all runners had those!

2. Start slow. I mean, very slow. One of the more common mistakes I see new runners make is simply running too fast. I had a friend a few years back who started running and couldn’t figure out how I could easily run 7-8 miles. He said he couldn’t even make it half a mile. I went running with him, and it was easy to diagnose the problem. I could barely keep up with him for that half mile. He was starting out running 7 minute miles! I would say an appropriate pace for most new runners is about 11-12 minute miles. You will make more progress running three 12 minute miles than half a 7 minute mile, so slow down!

3. Walk. Many new runners refuse to walk because it seems like cheating. Walking is actually a great strategy for new runners. Try running for 5 minutes and then walking for 1 minute. Do this 5-6 times. This is a great way to build up your stamina. As you progress, run more and walk less. You’ll improve faster if you walk when you get tired and begin running again in a minute than if you just quit because you can’t continue. Just keep moving!

4. Don’t compare yourself. You will always know people who can run faster and farther than you can. So what? Get over it. You have to realize that you are running at your own pace and for your own reasons. You may or may not participate in races. If you do participate, you may or may not be competitive. But, it doesn’t matter; you’re still a runner. Don’t be afraid to see yourself this way. For years, I’ve said stuff like, “Oh, I’m not a REAL runner, I run 10 minute miles.” I finally gave that up. I am a REAL runner, as much as someone who runs 6 minute miles. We both get out there and run because it’s important to us.

Finally, just get out there and run. If you have problems with injuries or training dilemmas, get on the internet and do some research to see how to work through these issues. But you can worry about all that later. For now, the most important thing is just to run.

5 of the Hottest Running Routes in the Phoenix Area

The rising temperature does not have to thwart your exercise routine. As the temperatures dip in the morning and in the twilight, hit the trails at these destinations for your daily run.

Running along desert road

South Mountain Park

At 13,000 acres, South Mountain boasts one of the largest parks in the US. With ten different trails, this park is a great haven for runners of all levels. Alta Trail is one of the most difficult trails at 4.5 miles of steep terrain, while the Judith Tunell trail at one mile divided between two half-mile loops is one of the easier jogs. Along the paths, a runner can find water fountains and ramadas for a quick break before hitting the trails again. The park opens at 5 am, allowing runners to enjoy the cooler temperatures. The park’s website is here.

Scottsdale Green Belt

If a tamer, more cement-lined running path is preferred, check out the Scottsdale Green Belt at Hayden and Chaparral. Though the paths are clearly marked, the scenery is beautiful. Set to parks, golf courses and the splendor of Camelback Mountain, many Scottsdale and Tempe residents use the Green Belt as their trail of choice. Serious runners can take the Belt for miles, from Old Town Scottsdale to Tempe Town Lake.

Papago Park Trails

Papago is preferred by runners for an outdoor, natural setting while still in the heart of a thriving city. Despite being a popular spot for runners, once on the trail few others are spotted making this a great secluded destination. Papago is located on the border of Scottsdale, Tempe and Phoenix with the entrance north of McDowell St and south of Washington St. The park is easily accessible on the light rail stop, Priest. Some highlights for runners include water fountains, ponds, the Phoenix Zoo and close proximity to the Desert Botanical Gardens. Jackrabbits and coyotes are common to spot along the paths.

North Moutain Park

A great place to start the jog is 7th St and Thunderbird. Runners will be enchanted with the wildflowers and scenic view as they job up Shaw Butte. Though the trek is demanding, the temperatures will be cooler amidst the lush scenery of the park. For more information on the trails, check out this site: http://www.phoenix.gov/PARKS/nmvc.html

Phoenix Encanto District

If an urban trek is desired over a natural setting, few districts are as charming as Phoenix’s Encanto District. True to the Phoenix grid-system, the neighborhood is easy to navigate. This path is ideal for the runner who is also an architecture-buff since the homes are styled from the 1920s-1950s era. Start at 7th Avenue and McDonald, exploring as far as 15th Avenue and Thomas. The city sky line can be viewed during the run, too. With any luck, the peacocks known to roam the neighborhood may greet you with its cat-like cries as you run past the charming houses. To learn more about this District, see http://www.historicphoenix.com/historic-districts/encanto-palmcroft-historic-district/

Enjoy the run, and stay hydrated!