Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Over-the-top" KittyK solution to the "women in barefoot AND minimalist" running problem

Yesterday, I wrote a post about why women aren't attracted to barefoot and minimalist running. It was a very broad sweeping, over generalized piece where I think my "PMS fuelled" objective was to try and insult as many people as possible,  I have to admit I was surprised I didn't have more outraged comments or women camped on my doorstep claiming I was a "Disgrace on our sex" as I woke up.  Clearly I wasn't trying hard enough ;)

The main problem with the post was that I didn't really set out any solutions to the problem. I hate it when people complain about something then fail to plan out a solution.  I was guilty of this yesterday.  The difficulty I had was that I am not really sure the scale of the problem or how much effort or money people are willing to invest to solve it.  These perimeters are purely individual and subjective.  We could end up going completely overboard with a solution and frankly complicate an issue that isn't there, or we don't do enough and never rectify the problem.

The other issue I have is that I am not really into promoting barefoot or minimalist running with either sex.  I AM into promoting running with Good Form.  I think this is important and something that SHOULD be tackled.  The situation is that BOTH sexes suffer from this issue, so I am not really a fan of promoting one group over another. Likewise I think we should teach good form to everyone who run's, not just those who wear minimalist shoes.

Regardless, I have identified issues that are existing within the Barefoot and Minimalist running community and I should provide a plan. So I have come to the conclusion that I am going to create a plan that is completely overboard.  It is going on the premise that women in the barefoot and minimalist community is too small, it should be expanded as a priority and that money from minimalist shoes companies is NO object.  I fully accept that this is NOT going to happen.  My goal here is to throw so many wild idea's into the pot that they will create discussion. I want you to disagree with me! The idea's are so impractical in the form I am describing, but with a little.. okay, a lot, of moderation, they are actually do-able.  These idea's and the discussion they produce will after a time MAY produce something that may help women feel more comfortable running either barefoot or minimalist shoes.

I am also going to state that I am looking at this as a "minimal" shoes approach.  Although I would love more women to run barefoot, I think solely concentrating on this would be a dead-parrot before I even start.  Minimalist shoes is something we could work on, Barefoot running at the moment, nope.

My "over-the-top" Kittyk solution to the "women in barefoot AND minimalist" running problem

This isn't going to be a plan supported by one minimalist shoe company.  I want ALL shoe companies to come together and accept that there needs to be more women running with good form in minimalist shoes.  To get this plan running you WILL need backing from people with money (and that ain't me).  By doing a collaborative approach we are limiting the perception that one company is doing this to sell shoes.  Okay, this IS why they would be doing that, but by providing information and resources from multiple companies, not only will this give the program a more "unified" objective, but also allow the the participants a feeling of choice.  They feel the information they are obtaining is not overly biased. It is also cutting the cost burden to multiple companies. 

Firstly, this is going be an "ALL female" program.  The program will be run by women for women.  There is scope to allow the program to be mixed-sex, but I think if you want a big take up by women, then you will need to at least have the majority of groups that are segregated.  If it's any consolation, I don't like the idea of segregating the groups. It goes against my "education is for all" principle.  However, despite my overwhelming adversity to the idea, it probably is the only way this would work initially.

I was trying to see how we could combine an educational program WITH the social aspect that women prefer when they partake in an activity.  I was thinking about how and when women congregate together.  In my limited experience, this happens in two ways.  In the morning after dropping the kids off at school and on organized "Girls-night-out" evenings.  To combine the aspect of socialization AND learning running form, we should organize the "running program" in conjunction with a coffee morning.  Or have a "Run and Rum" evening.  Go for a run, then head to the bar.

I have highlighted two different times for the program to run.  The morning "after drop-off" program will work well with Mum's who have kids in Elementary school.  Usually these women are either working part-time or are looking after younger children.  Organise childcare, so the younger siblings can be watched whilst the program is being run.  Organise an indoor track or gym so that you don't need strollers.  Maybe see if the school gym could be rented for an hour a week - schools could use the money AND you are creating a community within the school.

For those that have kids who are older, or perhaps they are working full-time; organize the program for after work.  Make it a social event, by going to a bar or coffee-shop afterwards.  Most women understand how much a stress-reliever exercise is, so it may be easier to say "I have a fitness class", than "I am going for coffee with my friends".

Advertise the program via the school or through the community recreation centres.

The program itself should be free or a very nominal charge.  Some exercise programs are prohibitive because people can't afford them.  Running can be a relatively cheap form of exercise.  Learning how to run should be too.  The people running the program should either be volunteers OR receive payment from the "shoe company collaboration"

The instructors should be women who have experience in  running themselves but who have gone through an "Instructor" course held by the "shoe companies".  There is no accreditation at the end.  The instructor course is there to familiarize the Instructors on proper form, establish form-evaluation skills, clarify the program itself and any other paperwork that is involved in any program.  There is NO charge for this course.  The instructors should be women who have strong links to the community they are in.  The point of the program is that the instructors are pulled from the area in which they will teach.  The instructors should be able to socially relate to the participants of the group.

The ultimate goal is that the Instructors will teach others to be instructors. Initially there may only be 1 or 2 groups in an area.  However as the program becomes mature, the few instructors will train up new coaches within the area.  The number of groups will expand.  Eventually the initial instructors will be take on additional advisory roles.

As mentioned the instructors should either be volunteers OR be paid by a collective fund.

The program itself should be about teaching proper running form.  Minimalist shoes help this and education as to why should be given. Methodical and scientific evidence  should be used in conjunction with individualized and small group hands on teaching.  The program should be easy to tailor to a group or individual.  It should be easy to understand and follow.  It should be about education.  It shouldn't be so structured that people are put off, but provide a good amount of validated information that those participating in the course can take what they need.  The aim is to provide a good basis on proper running form and enough information that people can investigate more if they want to.  The program is fun and the main goal is to provide a skill that women can build on and take to their families.  The session should be no more than 30 mins long and should be over a number of weeks so that fitness and body strength can be obtained over time.  Maybe in a C5K program format.  Include a short written guide.  Verbal information is transient.  Provide a guide that people can refer to when they are at home.

There could be program incentives that are sponsored by the "Shoe company" collaboration.  Maybe money off vouchers for running shoes.  Allow the shoes to be affordable and accessible.  Maybe run a shoe fair at the beginning of the program where women can try the shoes on and obtain information.

Maybe hold a "Race" at the end of the program.  Bring the area's running programs together and hold a race for charity.  Make it a community event - everyone can take part - but perhaps the women who undergo the course can have free entry.  Provide an event where there is a goal the women can look to attain and provide accomplishment.  If the women who undertake the course feel pride in running a race, they may want to continue running after the program has finished.

Run a similar program for kids in school.  Run mixed group sessions at existing running clubs.  Provide programs for people rehabilitating from illness. In time the community can benefit from these programs.

What do you think?

Yes, this is a wildly idealistic program.  It's expensive and complicated and over-kill probably.  It's not everyone's idea on what needs to be done to bring women into minimalist running.  That's the point.  By picking apart this plan, we might actually come up with something that can be accomplished.

[Additional note:  Remember I don't like people who just say "This idea sucks" without suggesting an alternative.  If you don't like this plan then say so, but also make sure you tell me what you WOULD do.  If you could change this plan tell me how.  If you write a reply to this post in your blog, then post the link to your reply in the comments section.  Repost, share, disagree, print and use as toilet paper... Just DON'T comment without providing your own ideas].


  1. Hey Katie,

    The scope of your ambition makes me tired already! How about if you and I schedule some women's-only minimalist runs in the Vancouver area? No pressure and nobody cares whether you are barefoot or minimally shod. On a practical note, I can only do this on weekends until the days get longer because I work regular hours.

    Speaking as a woman who is a wanna-be barefoot runner, I am not going out there alone. The reasons why this might be are not (to me) relevant. Ok, they might have something to do with climbing the Grouse Grind barefoot and being stopped by every 10th person who wanted to gently inquire whether I was aware that my shoes were missing. But if I know where I can meet up with at least one other person who will run barefoot with me, and not expect me to exceed my cardiovascular ability, then I'm there!

    I think that if we do this on a regular basis, and if we let people know this is a regular event that we follow through with, that eventually more women will join up with us. It might be just you and I all winter. I'll take pictures and you can blog about it.



  2. I think we need to do a little more networking too. As I commented on your other post, I know several more minimalist and barefooters who are not in any of the blogging circles. We need to create a FB or google or linked'n with the friends we have that are barefooters/minis. We need to get everyone in touch with all the other barefooters we know.

    Then we start the ad campaign. There is strength in numbers. 100 successful women can't be wrong...