Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wisdom Wednesday: Barefoot Running

Barefoot running or “natural running” is growing in popularity in the modern world. However, it is the way we all ran until the Romans starting building roads and it is still the way many people run in third world countries.

When you run wearing a modern shoe, the heel tends to strike the ground first. Although this is thought to be a more efficient way to run, it transmits tremendous shock to the body. Therefore, modern running shoes have cushions soles that are thickened in heel to absorb this shock. The soles are also quite stiff, resisting movement.

When you run barefoot the natural tendency is to land on your mid-foot or even on the outside of the mid-foot. This minimizes the forces transmitted to the body. People that run in this fashion can adapt to even hard surfaces like roads and sidewalks and are able to run without discomfort.

As I have aged, I have gradually shifted my running from the road to grassy fields and the beach. It helps that I live about a half a mile due west of the Atlantic Ocean. I have not, nor do I intend to learn to run barefoot on the pavement, but I really prefer to run barefoot on the beach.

I schedule my beach runs to coincide with low tide. The beach is much closer to level and more hard packed along the water’s edge at low tide. When I was training for my one and only marathon, I found that the angle of the beach inflamed by ITB (iliotibial band) if I exceeded 5 miles. The angle at high tide will stress the ITB in just a couple of miles.

Beach running naturally reduces your heel strike, at least that’s what I have found and that is supported by research from Harvard University. However, I often see footprints showing a very heavy heel strike from other runners along the beach, especially if they are wearing shoes.

Landing on the mid-foot will tend to make your calves sore, at least initially. I highly recommend you spend some extra time stretching before and after any beach run.

Regardless of any technical advantages of running the beach, the greatest asset is the beach itself. My favorite scenario occurred this morning. I began my run about 6:15 AM, in the dark. It’s a challenge to pay the parking meter in the dark, but there’s always enough light just before dawn to see the water’s edge. As I ran north to Boca Inlet the light grew, the birds came out and my vision improved. During the return run, the sun rose behind some clouds picking out just before I finished. There were several people posed to take photographs of the sun rise, but the best view was through the pilings underneath the Deerfield Pier.

Even on a rainy day, you’re still at the beach feeling the wind, waves, and being cooled by the rain. This time of year I count the new turtle nests as they leave a trail to and from the ocean during the night. However, this morning was the first time there were no new nests in the past two months. Soon, I’ll be looking for the hatchlings as they make their way to water following the rising sun.

Which brings me to a new twist. I recently purchased body glove shoes. They are a minimalist shoe that tries to mimic running barefoot, while providing some foot protection. They look like a glove for your foot. Mine have a web upper and a ventilated sole that lets the water in and out. The sole is also very flexible, more like a sock than a shoe. It’s a bit of a trade-off, losing a little of the freedom of barefoot running but protecting me from glass, sharp shells and who-knows-what in the seaweed.

The Bottom Line:
If you are a runner and especially an aging runner, take a look at barefoot running. If you have a beach nearby, add some beach runs to your routine. I think you will love it as much as I do.

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