Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Barefoot Trail Running Form

I'm a member of the Sierra Club, and enjoy their monthly magazine very much - it always has interesting articles about environmental news, trends, and alerts. This month, there are two articles about running: one is an interview with Scott Jurek and the other is an article about barefoot trail running - obviously inspired by Born to Run - provocatively advertised on the cover as "Thoreau was Wrong".

A few thoughts about the "Silent Running" article, since we've talked a lot about form recently. I don't disagree with anything the author Dianiel Duane writes, but I do disagree with what the article implies, which is that someone can start running barefoot tomorrow with no ill effects. That's the impression I got from phrasings such as this:
there's a wonderful self-limiting quality when you're barefoot. Almost instantly, you find ways to run softly and smoothly. I liked that feeling so much that I bought a pair of shoes called Vibram FiveFingers, which have articulated toes. They're like an artificial callus for people who like the idea of running barefoot but didn't grow up doing so and therefore don't have tough soles.
He does talk about going to see a gait specialist and "doing some drills" but it almost seems perfunctury - as we've talked about, training your muscles to run this way is hard work!

I'm also intregued by this statement:
...[I] soon discovered that a natural gait on a dirt trail reduces impact even further. That's because every stride is different; your feet dance from rock to stick to soil. On flat pavement, you bang away at precisely the same physical imperfections over and over, until you get hurt. On a wandering footpath, impact varies from step to step and thus gets distributed throughout your body.
I haven't done much trail running, but when I have I found all of the different striding to be distracting. I couldn't get into a groove and lost the meditative quality I so enjoy on my longer runs. I should try it again, I suppose, but I'm curious to know what you think?


  1. I agree -- that paragraph you quoted seems awfully misleading.

    But I think that when most people talk about barefoot running, what they are really talking about is barefoot jogging, both in terms of form and speed. (True, there is the occasional barefoot runner who wins marathons, but most barefoot runners are going for a controlled jog.)

    If articles like this replaced the word "run" with "jog" they'd make much more sense.

  2. As far as running on dirt trails. I can't say that I feel like my feet are dancing. I really have to pay attention to make sure that I don't trip, slide, or have other problems. But as I pay attention to where my feet land, I find that I am also more attentive to my form, and to the world around me. I don't zone out and think about things other than running. (I suppose that is actually quite similar to what you are describing, though perhaps a different perspective on it?)