Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Reclaiming the word "running"

I admit I should be doing BRS work at the moment, but it's been another crap filled day, 2 glasses of wine too many and my "professional hat" has been placed on the hat-stand. Being professional can wait - hence why I going to rant here instead.  Before you say it - you're welcome ;)

The last couple of weeks I have been going through a change in my thinking about barefoot and minimalist running.  It's all New York's fault.  When you drag so many intelligent people from the same community - yet, who all have different view-points - then you proceed to lock them in a "hipster dungeon" for 3 hours to talk, well, viewpoints are going to change.

I wish I knew who said the magic sentence that changed my idea's, but it wasn't a dungeon for nothing. The light was bad and Merrell haven't released the transcripts of our interrogation yet.  (Kidding, before the UN start indicting Merrell on crimes of torture! Phew..)

The epiphany was this.  Why do we count Barefoot running outside the realms of running?  Why is "Barefoot running" a separate entity?

I had never really seen our community like this before. Okay, I knew we were outside the norms of what most of the running community would call sane, but hey, I can say that about myself about 100% of the time anyway.  It was the first time I realized that we were doing this to ourselves.  We were cutting ourselves off.

This thought has germinated more as we talk about "Barefoot running" coaches and "barefoot running" shoes (yes, I realize the people that "know" still call them minimalist shoes before I get flamed - chill, grab a bottle of beer).

Why do we have to attach the word "barefoot" onto the front of anything we do?  I know it's a little contradictory considering my blogsite is "barefootkatiek", but understand that this is an evolutionary thought. (I am also not going to change my blog name - it took me ages to get my 60 or so followers, I am not going to lose them now).  

Two years ago, I was very much about "Barefoot" this and "Barefoot" that; just like I thought running barefoot was the ONLY way to go.  I have grown and understood the situation in this small but rapidly growing community.  I have seen how we have developed. I have come to understand that we need some type of shoes in certain conditions (shoes as tools), and that we are alienating ourselves from the running community.

I have become less zealous in my advocacy of pure barefoot running.  Yes, I still think it is the best way to learn really good running form.  However, I have come to accept that we are not going to convince everyone we meet that this is the case.  I will still try, but I will accept that this isn't for everyone.  I have come to realize we need to concentrate on what is important.

What is important is that people who run (regardless of what is on their feet), need to know how to run well.  This is where the whole "segregation" issue is starting to make me think.

I think by placing the word "Barefoot" in front of everything, is preventing the greater goal of allowing more people to experience  "good" running.  It is preventing more people from running better.

The thing is "barefoot running form" isn't barefoot running form at all, t's GOOD running form.  It's a running form that should be adopted by everyone who wants to run well.  It's harder to do when you have 2 inches of rubber on your feet, but regardless, it's something you should strive to attain.

It's the same with "Barefoot running shoes".  They aren't ever going to be as good at teaching you form as being completely barefoot, however, they ARE better than foam, support and control.  

I think we are missing the point on what we are trying to teach here.

The situation is that a lot of people (I would even go as far as to say, the majority of people) aren't comfortable with the idea of going barefoot.  Twenty or thirty years of images and philosophy is a hard thing to change and we aren't going to change it for a lot of people.  Let's accept that. However, we should concentrate on allowing them to practise running safely in the philosophy they do have.

I think if we detach the word "barefoot" from it's companions "Running", "coaching" and "shoes", we may find that we will have a lot more people considering zero-drop, minimal support shoes.  If there is education on form that is not restricted to a small community, people will listen. When we call ourselves "Runners" instead of "barefoot runners" and we call "barefoot shoes" just "shoes", we will discover that more people are willing to experiment.

As I help educate my friends, (either via running club or in that moment of sanity as the kids are in school), on good running form I am becoming very conscious on ensuring I don't use the word "barefoot" in the conversation.  If I tell them I am going to help them with "Running form" they are more inclined to listen.  The running form I am teaching them IS "barefoot running form", but because I have side-stepped the issue of what they have on their feet, they are more acceptant of what I have to say.

I think this would be the same with "Barefoot" or minimal shoes.  I think if we took the whole concept of "Barefoot" out of the equation - just called them "shoes", yet at the same time we educated on why minimal shoes are designed as they are, we would find that  more people would buy them - not as a transient "fad" but as something serious they want to work with.

The key is logic.  If you just say the word "Barefoot" that immediately puts people off.  If you explain the anatomy behind running with good form, why good form helps everyone run better and why minimalist shoes help this process, then you will get more converts. 

I think as a group we need to forget about separating ourselves from the running community.  I think we need to discard our need for being "outside of the box".  I think if we seriously want to get more people "on-board", running in minimal shoes, or barefoot - running with good form - we need to go back to the fold.  We need to work from within.

Essentially we need to reclaim the word "running".


  1. Interesting points! one thing I would throw down as a counterpoint is that we don't always separate ourselves; other runners separate us from themselves nearly as often (if not more!).

    for example, I tend to show up at races and I don't do a thing to point out my bare feet to anyone. I just show up and run. However, invariably someone notices eventually and I get singled out, asked questions (not that I mind), pointed at, commented on, etc. It doesn't matter if I show up with the attitude that I'm just another runner; everyone else puts me "outside the box" whether I like it or not.

    not that I'm complaining.... ;)

  2. Interesting, for sure. I'm a fairly new runner (coming up on two years of actually enjoying it) and while I'm completely sold on my vibrams and would love to try a pair of the merrels, I have no desire to ever run barefoot--either I'm running an urban area, complete with broken glass and random rocks underfoot or I'm on the gnarly western trails, with gravel, rocks, and snakes.

    I'm not saying it can't be done in my environment, just that I'm not the one to do it. That said, I absolutely try to run with the best form I can and I have noticed a considerable distance in how my body handles the workout. It's good. I love it.

    All that to say, I'm on board. It would be silly for me to say I'm a barefoot runner, because I'm clearly not. I can certainly embrace running in good form.

  3. Kate,

    Possibly it was I, when I mentioned how Chris McDougall used to pick on us for putting "Barefoot" in front of our names, and I pointed out that was something that happens when you start running with other people. Nick-names in any social group help make it easier to remember each other. Not unlike Native Americans earned their names "Dances with Wolves", "Spits on Ground", etc., by what they do.

    On another note, The Running Barefoot website has always been about Running (the main verb), while "Barefoot" was a secondary modifier.

    Of course one problem with not emphasizing the importance of learning while barefoot, is the quantity of people I, and many others hear from, who try minimalist shoes, but because they don't get immediate and emphatic input from their bare soles with each and every foot step, they can still continue to run badly, or even if they change the way they are running, often they simply move the stress from one area to another, instead of eliminating impact and excess stress altogether, as they would if they took the time to practice actual barefoot running on a variety of stimulating terrains so that they know immediately that they need to correct the way they are running.

    Once one learns to run correctly while barefoot, like Kenyan and Ethiopian runners, then they can run well in most any footwear ... just like an expert dart thrower can throw darts accurately, even while blind-folded.

    Of course, even the blind-folded dart thrower benefits from removing the blind-fold occasionally to stay on target.

    Of course, on less predictable terrain, just like a randomly moving target, having more senses available to respond to changes in terrain is always beneficial.

  4. To clarify, this post was more in the response of people "selling" products that have the name "Barefoot" in front of them; i.e. "Barefoot Shoes", or "Barefoot specific Coaching". As mentioned, I do fully realise that the running community already segregates us a little - we do elicit comments and we do stand out. I think I was just trying to say we shouldn't necessarily contribute to that by marketing products that are strictly "Barefoot".

    I agree with you Ken that learning to run barefoot first should be the way to go. It is still the best way to learn good form. However, I also know that many people are resistant to the concept for whatever reason. I was trying to get across that when this situation arises we shouldn't let the runners out there that don't want to take their shoes off, out of the education that is happening. I know why minimalist shoe companies are trying to educate those that buy their shoes (mainly a legal standpoint), but the education SHOULD go further than that.

    I think that when we educate EVERY RUNNER about good form, about the anatomy of the foot, about how we are designed to run, then what we may find is that more people will see the reasoning and will be less afraid to take of their shoes. They will understand why it takes as long as it does and why you have to start slowly. I think we may find more successful transitions to barefoot and minimalist running, which less face it is what we really want.

    I suppose I am saying that I am accepting the situation that not everyone likes the idea of being barefoot, or running barefoot. I am not giving up on them as such, it's just I think that if we appear less "zealous" (??) in our promotion of "Barefoot Running" and we work from within the confines of the current running community -using science, logic and reasoning- then we actually may see a more concrete and sustained migration to barefoot and minimalist running.

    We all know what happens when someone shouts out "This is they way you have to do something, because I say it's right"? Everyone pushes against that. If you educate in a "softer" manner, you are more likely to win people over.