As that video explains, traditional running shoes encourage us to run in a pattern that our bodies weren’t designed for. The big heals typically cause us to follow a heal-to-toe pattern where the heal – and subsequently your leg – end up taking the shock of each step. Barefoot runners do not run like this, but instead land more on the ball of the foot, allowing the foot and leg to work together to become a shock absorber. A lot of studies suggest that the latter approach leads to less of the common injuries associated with running, such as shin splints, calf strain, and plantar fasciitis.
Over the summer, I began developing a calf strain injury that I simply couldn’t shake. It started when one day I was feeling great and decided to tack on 2 miles to my regular run. From that day on, my legs absolutely lit up with pain when I would try to run. Eventually I just took a month off of running an began easing myself back in following the Couch To 5K running program, building up to a longer run. While that approach has worked, I still feel a constant tinge in my left leg when I run where I feel like I am almost on the verge of hurting it again.
The more that I read about the Vibram Five Fingers and the more reviews that I read from people that have used them, I wondered if they might actually offer me a solution for not only avoiding injury, but getting stronger, and running more like I was designed to run from the beginning!
For Christmas, after hearing me talk about them again and again, my wife surprised me with a pair of the black KSOs (Keep Stuff Out), which are an improvement on the original design in that they come a bit higher on the foot to keep dirt and stuff out from the foot. And today ( December 26th ) I went for my first run.
I was a little bit apprehensive to be honest. I had heard a number of people say that it works your legs in a different fashion – most notably your calves – so start by doing shorter runs and working your way up to longer runs over time. I have had such great results with the Couch To 5K program, both with my introduction into running, and in my calf strain recovery, that I decided to invoke it yet again and start with Week 1 of the program. This is essentially 9 sets of 60 second run/90 second walk. Given my running speed that equates to a little less than a mile of actually running, and in hindsight, I feel that I could have definitely pushed a lot harder than that.
It was such a cool experience! I absolutely loved everything about it. On one hand, I could feel little things – even the cracks in the sidewalk – but not so much that it created pain or was any kind of interference. It just made me feel more in tune with my scene. I found that I had to take slightly shorter steps in an effort to make my foot land where I needed it to, but it became natural in mere moments. On the 1 mile track that I run there are a couple of steep hills and I found myself digging in on these hills to tackle them rather than feeling dread as I saw them approaching. There is something about the whole experience that felt very liberating, and gave me almost a primal, tribal pleasure as I kept thinking about the fact that this is how man has run for millenia!
Aside from the mental feeling, I got finished and realized that not a single thought went to my legs. Over the past 6 months or so, they haven’t been far from the front of my mind when I ran as I kept wondering when I was going to push them too far and tweak them again. I got home and felt completely exhilarated. My legs feel great, and I am looking forward to my next run!