Saturday, September 12, 2009

Barefoot Running Clinic - What I Learned

OK, I'm pretty sure that my non-running friends, who already think I've slipped over the edge into crazy, will now be convinced I'm nuts. But, I'm really excited by what I learned at this morning's barefoot running clinic. Here are my observations and thoughts about what I heard today. Any errors, misunderstandings or omissions are all mine. :)

For those of you who are wondering WHAT I'm talking about, here's the story.

This morning a group of the intrepid and curious met at ZombieRunner on California Avenue in Palo Alto for a barefoot running clinic. Why? Because this was an opportunity to listen to Christopher McDougall, author of the bestselling book Born to Run, and barefoot running expert Ted McDonald, share their knowledge and experience about this increasingly popular topic that fascinates, scares and entrances those of us who enjoy running.

Here are some highlights of what I learned at this clinic:

There is a right way to run – POSE METHOD, Chi and Evolution all identify key characteristics of correct running technique. Barefoot running naturally pushes us into technique that is
more efficient and works with our biomechanics.

Shoes often made to provide the most protection and support can actually increase the impact on our feet, joints and body because we run “heavier” in them than when running barefoot.

Ted's three key principles for barefoot technique:
  1. Run LIGHTLY and SILENTLY – Listen to your running, you should be light on your feet and you shouldn't hear your feet hitting the pavement. To help yourself be aware of this, you should try running without music. Listen and be aware of your connection to the ground.
  2. Use a quick cadence – Quick foot turnover will help ensure a light touch on the ground. It should feel like you’re floating across the ground, moving forward. Your feet should touch down and lift quickly – not sliding across or grinding against the ground (which is how you can get blisters).
  3. Maintain a tall posture – This helps ensure alignment and efficient movement when running.
A lot of running barefoot is about listening to your body – when you’re too tired to follow the key principles above, you’ll experience injury. Start out with barefoot walking, making sure to land on the front of your feet (no heel strikes). Remember the three principles, and build distance gradually.

Start barefoot walking and running on asphalt and other man-made surfaces. Your feet will manage the impact and you’ll be more likely to establish good technique habits (light, silent and quick cadence).

A couple of good training exercises to help with barefoot running technique:
  • Squats (using proper technique) – strengthens key muscles, builds control
  • Jumps that are accurate and light – jump up and down stairs or on the ground at precise distances, with your feet together, landing lightly and quietly. Again the key is to maintain control, keep a light touch, and in so doing build the muscle strength and control for great technique
Thanks to Don and Gillian, owners of ZombieRunner, who have provided great resources for runners through their store and sponsorship of this clinic.