Check out those leg muscles!

Michael Sandler promoting barefoot running in Sacramento on May 8, 2010.

I’m sitting here with an ice pack on each shin, which makes this post all that much more poignant. On Friday when I was looking up the hours for Fleet Feet, I saw that Michael Sandler was giving a seminar about barefoot running on Saturday to introduce his new book. Sandler was seriously injured in a roller blading accident several years ago and was told he’d never run again. Of course, no runner will ever believe that, so he went for it as soon as he could get those crutches off. He said it was excruciating to do so and eventually turned to barefoot running in the hopes that he could teach himself to run differently. Now he’s running regularly and promoting barefoot running across the country using his story as an inspiration for others.

I’ve been interested in those Vibram Five Fingers ever since I saw that my running partner was running in them. Plus, I’ve heard a lot of the recent buzz surrounding barefoot running so I went to check it out. While I found Sandler to be a bit new agey in his approach to selling the idea of barefoot running, I was definitely buying in. Wouldn’t any runner who’s had to give up running for any amount of time due to injury try pretty much anything to keep themselves running without re-injuring themselves?

Basically, the gist of Sandler’s pitch was that we can all run injury free for a lifetime if we run the way we were meant to run. He referenced the recent Harvard study that found that barefoot runners sustain far less impact than shod runners. He also demonstrated the difference in the stride of a shod runner versus a barefoot runner (heel striking versus midfoot striking).

One of the most beneficial parts of the talk was his demonstrations on how to strengthen your arches (picking up a golf ball with your toes and releasing it several times – like curls for your arches), and how to stretch tight spots using a tennis ball and roller mat to target pressure points. I don’t really know how to explain it well, but I’m sure the book has illustrations with exactly that information in it.

I’d been considering barefoot running for some time, and after hearing Sandler’s presentation, I decided it was time to give it a try. I decided to try it out while I was flying a kite yesterday. I only ran a short distance (probably not even 100 yards), but that’s all Sandler suggested doing in the beginning. He said you have build up slowly and take rest breaks in between. The problem with that is that I’m incredibly impatient when it comes to running. I don’t know if I can limit myself to a couple hundred meters every other day. But given that I got the first tinges of shin splints on my regular run today, it might be time to pace myself. I’d rather take it slow than not be able to run at all. I’m going to try it again tomorrow, but, again, will only be doing a couple hundred yards. If I just add on 100 meters every other day, I should be up to some good mileage within in a month, yes?

One last thought: I think it’s interesting that barefoot running is considered to be so revolutionary and weird. The more I think about it, it just makes sense. I mean, didn’t we evolve to run without shoes on? Yet I still find it a bit ick-tastic to run without shoes on. But then I think back to when I was a kid and all the hundreds of times my parents yelled at me for having gone out to play with no shoes on. It’s just the natural thing to do. And, honestly, the only thing that finally got me into shoes for life was getting a huge gash (14 stitches!) in my foot in sixth grade and having to hear my dad lecture me: “Rebecca, HOW MANY TIMES have I told you not to leave the house without shoes on?!?” What would he say if he saw me running the streets of Sacramento with no shoes on now? 😉

Today’s Run:
Distance: 4 miles
Total Time: 42:30
Avg. Pace:  10:36
Calories: 440