Sunday, June 3, 2012

Running Free: Barefoot Running Redux

This morning, after our swim group was requested to vacate the lagoon in Sentosa Island (after three laps of 400-450m), we opted for a short 4K-plus run. Since a few of the runners were keen to explore barefoot running, Vijay, Kumar, Dennis and I chose to run barefoot. Dennis was comfortable in his cool-looking Vibrams Five Fingers (VFF) running shoes, and he demonstrated how he has embraced the natural style of running light. This generous man was part of an entourage that recently ran alongside Kirsten in her 10-hour, road-to-recovery Sundown Marathon.

In my private sharing with a small group during Saturday’s lagoon swim, I showed how running light was possible and made more comfortable. I also demonstrated how high-cadence tempo running (of unshod runners) could match that of shod runners. Here are some key points for your edification:

1)    Pool running (between chest and groin level) can be a safe substitute for barefoot running. No shoes.
2)    With pool running, you can vary your cadence (feet turnover) while running on the spot. I have generated up to 130 footfalls per foot per minute. Also, running at groin-level water simulates running on hills/shoreline (upon your entry/exit from the water). Chest-high water allows you to pump your arms harder while earning higher-cadence steps.
3)    In barefoot running, land as naturally as you feel. Keep low. You will rarely land on your heels, as this can hurt.
4)    When running barefoot, avoid running on your toes. Physical therapists, Nate Carlson shared with me that fractured toes are the common injury he has treated with barefoot runners. Instead, run at the ball of your toes (foot-bed, where you pedal off) or mid-sole.
5)    It is alright to land on your heels, provided that your feet roll forwards onto the forefeet.
6)    Lean forward slightly to gain more advantage with gravity and its accompanying increase in cadence.
7)    Increase cadence slightly, and you increase speed and intensity.
8)    Shoes are necessary as a means of handling both physical impacts on the feet, as well as protecting them from injury (through punctures and open wounds).

When you study the running gait of Ironman world champions, Chrissy Wellington & Rinnie Carfrae; the former takes smaller steps with higher cadence, while the latter takes wider strides and lower cadence. Top female Singaporean runners, Vivien and Anne parallel Wellington and Carfare. What I have observed about world-class marathoners from Kenya and Ethiopia is that they may have begun their running careers with barefoot and light running, however progressed towards a more bouncy and wider strides. That is where the role of running shoes comes into serious play. Running as rapidly (3 minutes/K) pace is just hard on the pure barefoot runner.

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