A few mornings ago I woke up extra early, filled up my water bottle, and headed down to the nearest beach. My mission: to run for 30 minutes barefoot. I was a little excited getting out of my car. The beach in question is a barachois (basically, a huge sandbar). I figured that I could loop it a few times and see how I felt.
From what I’ve read, the benefit of barefoot running is that it allows you to hit the ground with the middle and front of your foot, thereby minimizing impact. The idea is to have a kind of “bouncy” run. I’ve never accomplished this in running shoes – I’m definitely a heel-toe kind of runner. My goal was to practice this new way of running.
After hiding my sneakers and beach bag behind some driftwood, I set off. There had been some rain the day before, so the sand was fairly compact. This made things a lot easier, as I wasn’t sinking in too far and I could easily grip the sand. Seagulls were screaming at me overhead, and there were waves lapping at my feet. It was very peaceful and easy. That was, until I turned a corner. Suddenly, I was sinking down a few inches into very soft, wet sand. Puddles were forming in my footprints. That part of the beach must be intertidal or something, because it was basically sand floating on water. Anyways, I just went with it. It was challenging, but once I got used to it it wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was a nice challenge for my calves. After a bit it was just back to regular old sand, and I was able to return to my pace and finish my run.
Some of the things I noticed as I ran barefoot:
- The heel-toe style run was too complicated on this surface. It was much more natural to hit at mid-foot, and with some practice I was hitting at the front of my feet.
- I was looking at the ground a lot, making sure I wasn’t stepping on something sharp.
- I felt a lot more aware of my surroundings. The temperature of the ground and the type of surface I was running on was much more noticeable.
- I could change my running style much more easily. With shoes on, I find it hard to change how my foot hits the ground. Barefoot, I could try all kinds of combinations.
After my run I stretched then sat in the water for a bit. It might have been because I’d been running on the beach, but I felt as if I’d just done some yoga. I didn’t feel any pain in my hips, and my knees were fine. I’m not going to run everyday without sneakers, but I’m still going to try it one to two times a week until the summer is up.
Strangely, the thing that would hold me back from becoming a full-time barefoot runner would be the reactions of other runners. I would definitely wear one of those Vibram Five Fingers shoes, but how would people react? I saw someone wearing them at a race recently and I definitely stared. They’re pretty strange-looking. If you go on some running blogs there are some ferocious debates regarding barefoot running. People get very worked up about it. I know I shouldn’t care, but I do.