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    Thursday, April 29, 2010

    So, you wanna start running barefoot?

    Firstly, before you begin, you want to evaluate what it is that is leading you to even accept the logic behind the concept of barefoot running. We all know that barefoot running has gotten a lot of attention lately. Much of it is valid and deserves your attention.

    Yet, one must still ask: is this a viable option for me?

    Before you answer that question, let me explain why I think barefoot or minimal footwear running may not be good for you. It is not good if you are thinking it is some sort of cure-all that only requires taking off your shoes and starting to run injury free without radical changes in the way you may have been thinking of running up to now. If your running strategy has been about very specific time or distance goals, and you have been willing to push through pain to injury, then I would caution you: your bare feet will not allow you to continue this way.

    Alas, the hallmark of my barefoot running philosophy is regaining connectedness, mindfulness, and presence in your running and in your body.

    Barefoot running is not about blocking or pushing through pain, or at least it shouldn't be. Rather it is about tuning-in to your own body's highly sophisticated set of integrated awareness systems, systems that communicate through feelings and senses that are being collected in real-time as you move. From my perspective, learning how to run well means learning how to tap into the feeling of running well, which more often than not requires baring the foot to get the full feel of what happens when you move.

    However, even if you decide that barefoot is the route for you, take one step backward and realize you are most likely in the process of rehabilitating your feet and legs from years of being differently-abled, shoed, and cast. Atrophy, loss of range of motion, weakness, neglect, the foot has not been treated well lately. All the padding and support and protection has not led to stronger feet...sadly.

    So, the first key is to start slowly, incrementally and avoid over-exuberance, avoid being driven by your ego. Think orchard growing, not fast food. Think lifetime of development and growth. Think joy.

    So, what are my secrets, what is it I share with clients who take my Introduction to Barefoot Running Clinic?

    My goal is to get people to learn how to feel what good running feels like. I want them to develop a feeling for it. One of the primary feelings becomes an awareness of the texture and hardness of terrain and of impact. This awareness is the beginning.

    To master this awareness, I have clients learn to move on hard surfaces first. Not focusing on distance or speed, I have my clients first walk and then trot on hard, fairly smooth surfaces. I work with them to focus on and begin to master three goals: quiet, quick, in-balance.

    The Three Goals

    1. Master gentle, quiet, forefoot-centric landings, silent and smooth.

    Learn to move with no hard edges, no pounding, by learning how to have the impact of landing flow through the entire foot, starting in the forefoot and quickly spreading through the legs smoothly. Notice how silent your movement becomes. Imagine the movement of a big cat. Watch your dogs trot. Let them be models for tuned-in, flowing movement that wastes little energy on pound or sound.

    2. Quicken your cadence: Running in bare feet encourages this naturally.

    Some shoe runners are plodders. You can hear them coming. Lots of wasted energy on poorly timed impact. Quicker cadence ends up making sense when you realize that your ability to absorb and recoil energy through elasticity in your body dissipates quickly and is lost if not used. Learning how to get back in touch with the sweet spot of optimal recoil efficiency is easier to find when you can feel your feet, feeling that encourages a landing phase with foot more in line with your center of gravity (thinking about how you land if you jump down onto a hard surface in barefeet, not on your heels!). Over-striding is discouraged, nearly impossible barefooted.

    3. Stable upright posture: balanced head, core engaged, unbent torso, the feeling of balance, relaxed, yet strong.

    I think that good running can be judged aesthetically. It should look good, not painful. When you see someone moving or running well, it looks smooth and fluid and graceful and efficient. The opposite looks painful, when someone is hunched and stiff, robotic and plodding. Indeed efficient running is tall and stable, the upper body acting as the fulcrum from which the legs and arms can move freely with a serious lack of bouncing or swaying of the head.

    Ultimately my coaching goal is to help people perfect what I call a persistent hunt trot...a gait not purely about speed, but about smooth, flowing, efficient, sustainable movement, movement that leaves you ready to hunt or play another day.

    Barefooting itself is all about mindfulness and presence. Running like an upright Primate, not like a Robot. Aware of your body and your environment AT ALL TIMES.

    Listen to your body...learn to hear what it is telling you. Adjust accordingly. Advance accordingly.

    Best Regards, Barefoot Ted

    PS.  Be sure to join the Minimalist Runner Google Group, link below:

    http://groups.google.com/group/huaraches



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    Wednesday, April 21, 2010

    The Way of Barefoot Running

    Here is the working text for my Op-Ed piece in Monday's Christian Science Monitor, titled by the paper as "Boston Marathon and beyond: Running is ready for a barefoot revolution" (read online here)

    The Way of Barefoot Running: One Step at a Time

    Our ancestors moved over the earth...and found their way into nearly every nook and cranny of the planet...with their bare or minimally clad feet.  The foot has been the primary vehicle of our success as a species, allowing us to fulfill our desire to explore, discover, achieve and eat. Yet, most people these days have come to see their feet as broken appendages, unfit for the real world, sickly and weak, prone to injury, in need of support and padding, doomed to suffer.  Why? 

    Good question.  What did happen?  What made our feet sick?  Did we devolve?  Perhaps it has something to do with the shoes we wear?

    Well, arguably, we are the first generation of runners who have worked with the hypothesis that more cushioning and support equals safer running and reduced impact.  We have concluded that modern surfaces, hard and unforgiving, require ever-thickening sole padding to help counter the shocks of landing, but is that true?

    It is counter-intuitive, but the truth is, and studies back this up, that the more you block out the feeling of impact in your feet, the more impact you are likely to put into your body, at the wrong time in your stride, by moving and landing differently than you would if you actually felt what you were doing. 

    All those nerves on the bottom of your feet have a purpose after all.  Dulling them from sensing seems to be a bad idea...and the dulling seems to set in motion a series of unfortunate events that ultimately leads to movement patterns unknown to our preeminently capable ancestors...patterns that seem to lead to inefficient movement and injury.

    By taking off your shoes, you give your body a chance to reuse some amazingly useful, built-in systems that help you move in a way that need not be jarring nor pounding regardless of the hardness of the terrain, a way of movement that more effectively captures and re-releases stored energy through elasticity in our bodies: the splaying of our forefoot, the arch in our foot, tendons in the lower legs, calves and quads, and form, all positioned ideally to absorb and recoil the energy of movement, smoothly and efficiently, operating in real-time, on the move, a kind of primordial physical intelligence, a birthright of Homo sapiens.  This built in recoil system puts to shame the claims of the marshmallow soft, spring loaded shoes that capture the imagination of so many.

    So, what went wrong?

    My hunch is that we got unplugged...detached...from our own bodies, from our own feet.  That disconnect has led to gait patterns and running styles that are unique to a generation of runners...we the first cohort in the history of the world to run distance with cushioned, high-heeled shoes.  I think it is a case of the cure becoming worse than the ailment, the ailment being hard surfaces and tired bodies, trying to continue moving when the safe form of moving has exhausted itself and the feet and legs would normally protest about continuing...unless you could give it a little relief, i.e., block pain brought on by less-than-best landing patterns, but once become a habit ends up being a fundamental change in running form...and in my opinion, a dying branch of cultural evolutionary experimentation.

    Does it have to be this way? 

    Nope.  Learning how to master the fundamental human capacity of running, sans shoes, is a lot easier than you think...and does not require a purchase.  Simply take off your shoes...and start listening to your feet, listening to your body, moving without internal hard edges, with flow.  Focus on incrementally redeveloping your feet and lower legs...one step at a time, giving them a chance to feel the world and grow from interacting with it, learning from it.  And become a student of your own body and of movement, share your experiences, learn and be inspired by others.  Crack the nut of joyful movement in your own body, your own unique vehicle.  The resources are available unlike at any other time for our generation.  Google it.

    The paradigm shift away from the over-engineered shoe is connected with other shifts in thinking about our bodies and being human.  In your barefeet you are more connected to your body, better balanced, more aware, mindful, present.  Those characteristics are good qualities to mimic in your mental life.  There is a relationship between the two.

    Becoming healthy in mind and body is an incredibly effective way to experience happiness it seems, and all my research into this topic leads me to feel confident that if you follow these insights to their logical conclusion, you too will become a happy, healthy and free thinking individual, comfortable and satisfied with the awesome inheritance your feet and body represent.

    BFT

    PS.  More on my barefoot running philosophy with tips here:

    http://barefootted.com/coach/philosophy.html

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    Friday, March 19, 2010

    Google Talk on "Born to Run" and Barefoot Running


    Had the pleasure of giving a Google Talk recently and would like to share the video with you.  When I look back on videos of me talking, the sentence below always comes to mind...Christopher's description of me in Born to Run:

    "Barefoot Ted talked the way Charlie Parker played the sax: he’d pick up on any cue and cut loose with a truly astonishing torrent of improvisation, seeming to breathe in through his nose while maintaining an endless flow of sound out of his mouth."

    In the end, I truly love telling the story of my barefoot journey, primarily because I think that it is a journey worth taking for any sophisticated, 21st century, highly evolved primate with human ancestors.  Done well, running makes us happy and fit...and if done thoughtfully and presently, running reconnects us both to one of our greatest fundamental physical capacities and to the earth.  We are ultimately rewarded with joy.

    I say don't obsess about distance and speed...rather seek out that sweet spot of joy in running and let that be your guide.  In the end, joy is a great teacher...of both your mind and body.

    BFT

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    Wednesday, February 03, 2010

    RUNNING AS AN EXERCISE - 1895 report

    I have been looking for the oldest article on running for health.  Here is the oldest I could find that was about running and wasn't focused entirely on sports competitions... Bold GOLD highlights must reads below - BFT

    RUNNING AS AN EXERCISE

    By Dr. J. William Lloyd

    Published in 1895 in the Journal of Hygiene and Herald of Health, Volume 45
    _____

    We have in running, as I shall proceed to show, one of the most perfect exercises which a man may take without apparatus or assistance from others.

    The first great merit of running is that it applies exercise mainly to those parts and organs used least — toes, feet, legs, lungs and heart. It exercises least the arms and back most used in ordinary work. Therefore it serves the first great purpose of any remedy, it balances the circulation and equalizes the functional energy.

    To keep the head cool and feet warm is the great desideratum [something desired as essential] because the head is so near to the heart, the large blood vessels reach it so directly, the tendency of our civilization is so to overwork the brain, that the least deficiency in the circulation of the extremities is sure to be avenged by a congested head, leading by repetition to headache and insomnia. Running secures a cool head and warm feet. Can you imagine a frequent runner troubled with insomnia?

    BETTER THAN WALKING

    Walking is dull work. There is scant pleasure in the exercise for its own sake. You must always be going somewhere, and if you cannot continually go to some new spot you are bored. The pleasantest walking is a quiet, contemplative stroll, but that is of little value for exercise, and rapid walking is almost always forced. But there is a spirit and verve about even the shortest little dog-trot which the most vigorous walking altogether lacks. Start running and the breath quickens, the pulse leaps, the brain brightens, as the freshly oxygenated, purified blood begins to bound through it, the eye sparkles and the charm of your boyhood has returned once more.

    How much of the exhilaration of our childhood was owing to the fact that we then were ever running? And if adults ran more would they mourn so much for the lost illusions of early years?

    The blows which the sole of the foot receives in running are of real value in improving the circulation in the feet. Those who have studied the merits of muscle beating do not need to be told this. These sharp vigorous strokes running up through the great sciatic nerve to the spinal cord and brain are stimulative and tonic in a high degree; and the quickening goes all through the body. Every nerve fibril feels it, the liver is shaken and jarred into action, the stomach grinds merrily away at its welcome grist, the bowels start their weird serpentine peristaltic action, the capillaries flush with blood, the pores open, and all is vigor and motion. Not a terminal fibre, not a corpuscle of blood but shares in the jubilee and revival. Running is “the universal alternative.”

    OBJECTIONS

    “Do not run; it is too violent an exercise for your health!” How often is that advice given; wisely enough, perhaps, to those with organic heart disease, but foolishly enough to the majority who need precisely this exercise to strengthen their hearts against sloth and luxurious living. For the heart is muscle, and suitable exercise is the one thing which every muscle must have, or it atrophies.

    Very rapid and vigorous walking is good for the heart, but it takes vastly more will power to walk hard than to run easily and the running will do the heart more good. Of course, men with weak and fatty hearts should take this exercise with caution; a few yards only should be the extent of the run at first, and when this grows easy and pleasant, a few more and so on; working very gradually until a quarter of a mile becomes a bagatelle [something of little value or importance; a trifle].

    When a quarter of a mile causes no distress that heart may cease to be solicitous about its safety. If adults ran as freely and frequently as children—I do not hesitate to say it—heart disease would be rare. But when I praise running for the heart, competitive racing is always excluded. That has ruined many a heart. Health and pleasure is the only prize for which to run.

    I lately conversed with an athlete, an ex-champion in the Caledonian games, and he told me of the physical condition of some famous runners he had once examined. “The muscles on their abdomens were so hard that when I tapped them with my finger it was like tapping a board,” he said.

    Observe the flabby sac which retains the bowels of the average sedentary man and think what this difference must mean in absence of abdominal obesity, constipation, prolapsed bowels, piles and hernia, to say nothing of a host of other pelvic weaknesses. Fine vigorous abdominal muscles mean healthy viscera and pelvic contents in a normal position. What would this be worth to our women? A woman who had avoided corsets and heavy skirts, and had taken a quarter of a mile vigorous run daily since childhood, would be wagered upon by an enlightened physician as perfectly free from “female weakness” or malpositions.

    AS A REMEDY OF CONSUMPTION [tuberculosis]

    Consumption is a dread scourge. Over and over it has been shown that nothing is so healing to sick lungs as pure air taken freely; and in no other way can it be taken so freely, and so purely, as when running in the open air. As a breathing exercise alone running is priceless, as a preventive of consumption nothing can excel it, and he is a dull hygienist, indeed, who cannot see how very valuable an agent it might become wisely employed in checking lung disease. Were I to start a “consumption cure,” running would be my sheet anchor. Indeed, running would be my chief resource in treating those chronic diseases in which the patient has the use of the lower extremities.

    We hear so much of the medical use of oxygen, nowadays, but there is no better oxygen than that which Mother Nature has provided in the open fields, and if we fill ourselves with this, feasting on it as we run, every drop of our blood will thank us for the treat. Running furnishes oxygen more rapidly an abundantly than any other spontaneous exercise.

    PERSPIRATION. MELANCHOLY.

    When you run you perspire. Thousands upon thousands of little pores begin to drain off impurities, and thus relieve the other excretory organs of overwork. No Turkish bath can excel a run, no sudorific [causing or inducing sweat] will produce a more thorough sweat. In the corporation of man running means clean streets, good drainage, perfect water-works, and public sanitation.

    Running is pleasant and inspiring. It enlivens the mind and dispels melancholy. It exercises every muscle in the body, and chiefly those not commonly much used. It cools the head and draws blood to the lower extremities. It cures rheumatism, corns, cold feet, headaches, insomnia; prevents stiffness, varicose veins, apoplexy, consumption, hernia. It stimulates and tones up the nervous system. It shakes and arouses to action all torpid viscera. It insures appetite, digestion, assimilation, excretion. It will certainly cure obesity, for nobody ever yet saw a hard runner who was fat. It requires no apparatus. Taken all in all is the most perfect single exercise known for health, pleasure, and all-round development.

    DRESS, ETC.

    If you feel the need of running have the courage to do it, and you can soon persuade others to join you if you must have company. Children at least will be always glad to accompany you. The dress should be appropriate. The cap should be very light and close, so as not to blow off easily. Much of the time when you run fast you will carry it in your hand, anyway.

    Let all the clothing be woolen, so that the perspiration quickly passes off, and chills are avoided. Have no flapping skirts, coat-tails, or other loose ends. Wear knee-breeches, woolen stockings, and low running-shoes, or, better still, wear no stocking and no shoes whenever the weather will permit.

    There is wonderful comfort in a bare foot, as everyone knows. Contact with the earth is healthful. And in summer, after a rain, or in the dewy morning, how refreshing a running foot-bath through wet grass! Even in winter a short run, barefooted, through the loose snow may be made perfectly safe for those who have taken the right training, producing a warmth and glow in the feet which will last for hours.

    PRIZES.

    Never race for prizes, or run against time, or compete for anything. Avoid over-strain. Don’t make work of your sport. Leap and bound down hill, and you will find it jar you much less than straight running.

    Run up hill zigzag. Stop whenever you feel any discomfort, get your wind, and then run again.

    By constant practice a man could run as long as he could walk. In some places in the Orient outrunners and footmen accompany carriages and keep up with the horses. In the bardic chronicles of Ireland we read of the horse-boys running all day by the side of the tourist, ready to be at the bridle whenever the master halted. And wonderful tales travelers tell us to-day of runners in Mexico, Japan, Africa.

    But such running, if wonderful, is not perhaps desirable, and is hardly to be attained without too much expense to other faculties. The runs I recommend are through the dewy meadows of morning, over the hills of afternoon, or through the aisles of forest temples—runs with an easy breath, a light foot, and a gay heart.

    You may not, like Selkirk [inspiration for Robinson Crusoe], become able to run down wild goats, but you can at least run down your avoirdupois [weight], run up your spirits, and run out, if not outrun, your doctor.

     
    Alexander Selkirk inspired the character Robinson Crusoe

    _____________

    This article was in the The Journal Of Hygiene And Herald Of Health V45 published in 1895.  The entire journal can be downloaded as a PDF via Google Books. (352 pages)

    Before the article index is the following quote, attributed to Grant Allen which I want to uphold in my own practice:
    “Health culture is an aim for all; an aim which will make each stronger, and saner, and wiser, and healthier, and better. It will make each in the end more helpful to all. To be sound in wind and limb; to be healthy in body and mind; to be educated, to be emancipated, to be free, to be beautiful—these things are ends toward which we should all strive, and by attaining which all are happier in themselves, and more useful to others.”

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