Foot Notes

June 17th, 2010 | Posted by Alison Spath in Fitness

At the end of last year I saw this hippie barefoot runner dude in the November issue of Runner’s World in their “What it Takes…” column.

Runner's World Ken Bob Saxton

What it Takes to Run Barefoot

Zak and I had a conversation then about the fact that you don’t see a whole lot of barefoot running articles or barefoot runners in running magazines. Of course not! They make the majority of their profits from companies buying ad space to sell running shoes! These advertisers probably wouldn’t be too keen on a loads of pages glamorizing this crazy concept of running without shoes on – the way nature intended! (This is where it becomes obvious that I’m currently reading Born to Run.) And of course the guy featured in this snippet was a hippie with a long grey beard and dirty feet – not a young, hot running babe or hunk with a tight buns and bulging biceps donning a smokin’ running outfit and a pair brand new sneaks to match. We wouldn’t want anyone to think that anyone hip or cool runs barefoot, now would we?

You can hold your applause, cynicism is a gift.

ANYWAY. I was tipped off by a friend last week that this same hippie looking barefoot dude I stumbled across last year in Runner’s World is actually on tour this summer doing free barefoot running workshops – AND it just so happened that he was going to be in a city only an hour from here this week AND it was free! Well what are the freaking chances? It probably goes without saying that yours truly jumped at the chance to hear what a vegan runner who’s finished over 70 marathon’s wearing only the shoes he was born in had to say.

And did I mention it was free?

So last night I left my sneakers at home and ran off to attend Ken Bob Saxton’s barefoot running workshop.

Ken Bob and his dog Herman

Even his dog runs barefoot YO! Isn’t that whack? (This is where I confirm for you that no one hip or cool runs barefoot.)

I, along with 20 or so other barefoot intrigues, got to listen to Ken Bob talk about the fact that running barefoot is all about learning to run gently. It’s about learning to run and move in a way that our bodies are intended to run. He cleared up one misconception I had, which is that it is ok to put your heel down when you run (good, because I’ve come to realize that I do in fact set my heel down) so long as you don’t land on your heel. You want to land on the balls of your feet and then setting your heel down is ok and natural, provided you don’t pound it into the ground at the completion of every step.

He also stressed the importance of bending your knees, taking note of your posture and to be mindful that you’re keeping your torso vertical and not hunching over. It’s also important to note that you should not be pushing off with each step, but instead lifting the whole foot. When you run barefoot, you give your feet the opportunity to provide you with this incredible feedback that can tell you if your running form is right or wrong. Even minimalist shoes like Vibrams can keep you from receiving this crucial feedback.

We listened to him speak for about an hour, and then it was time to practice what he preached.

Ready to Run

He explained the importance of running barefoot on hard surfaces, and that running only on the grass or sand is a lot like running with sneakers on – because it still gives you a lot of cushioning that can keep you from feeling the effects of improper form or foot strike. He suggested treating grass and sand like barefoot dessert, and using hard surfaces as your barefoot nutrition. It’s the road, sidewalk, trails and pavement that are going to give you the best feedback. Grass and sand are a nice treat, but too many treats and you’ll never grace the pages of a running magazine – whether you’re cool and hip or nerdy and barefoot!

Watching Ken Bob run and observing his form was probably the most beneficial part of the workshop for me. He doesn’t bounce or bobble up and down when he runs – he keeps his knees bent and moves very smoothly and fluidly. We ran in a group to various spots around a paved parking lot and got to try out these new tips and techniques for ourselves. I was shocked at how easy it felt when I started lifting my feet and moving them forward with quick, short steps instead of pushing off and taking longer strides, focusing on keeping my feet lower to the ground instead of bringing them up higher like I do when I have shoes on. Basically modifying all the movements that would otherwise lead to landing hard instead of softly and gently.

This might be a good place for a quick homeblogschool physics lesson (feel free to disregard the fact that I never took physics) about the laws of gravity and acceleration. (More proof that no one cool runs barefoot.)

You see, it is known in the land of the physical sciences that any object falling through the air due to the force of gravity increases in downward acceleration by approximately 9.81 meters ever second. Something like that.

In short: the higher you lift your feet, the harder they are going to fall. Don’t lift your feet any higher than you need to and you will more easily be able to achieve this new concept of “running gently”.

Two hours from start to finish, I left my new barefoot friends feeling totally pumped and ready to run home and give everything I learned a shoeless whirl.

Barefeet

And whirl I did first thing this morning!

Up until now, 95% of any barefoot running I’ve done has been on the grass, mainly out of fear and also out of necessity due to skin pain! But this morning, armed with my new techniques I quite literally hit the road with no fear and no shoes. I planned to go out for about a mile and then come back and fetch my sneaks if needed. But lo and behold – the end off Mile 1 was upon me and I was feeling pretty incredible foot loose and sneaker free! I easily ran 4 miles around my neighborhood streets and sidewalks, barely running in the grass at all. Insanity! Lifting my feet with short, quick steps was key! Not only did it make running on the pavement easier, but it also felt like I was running more efficiently too. I absolutely felt like I was exerting less energy overall, especially compared to what would otherwise be a typical shod, foot poundy Thursday morning run.

Love it. Totally love it.

It wasn’t until the end of the workshop yesterday that I thought to take a little video – so if you’re curious, take a peek at the short clip of Ken Bob discussing the fact that once you learn proper form from barefoot running, it really doesn’t matter what you wear on your feet!

Interested in seeing Ken Bob saunter around shoelessly yourself? Maybe he’s coming to a town near you! And hey – it’s free! (OK, so I did donate the small contents of my pay pal account to my new friend Ken Bob, it was the least I could do. I mean, I would do the same for the library after all…)


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11 Responses

  • Elizabeth says:

    This is very interesting. I’ve never run barefoot except around my apartment. Hmm… looks like I’m just going to miss him. Bummer :(

    • Alison says:

      Too funny Elizabeth – I’ve actually be doing just that! Going completely barefoot at home, outside in the yard, etc to get my feet accustomed to being shoeless. I use to wear sneakers inside around the house and now I go shoeless as much as I can!

  • Shari B. says:

    Hey Alison! So I’m curious if anyone there wore their Vibram’s (because I know that ‘purist barefooters’ don’t consider that barefoot at all…) – I think I’d be scared to wear mine in front of Ken Bob in case he would laugh at me or tell me I’m a sissy.

    HOW COOL that he does FREE workshops! I would love to go to one! Thanks so much for sharing this info. I’ve been to his website in the past, but will need to check it out again.

    • Alison says:

      Hey Shari – there were people there who said they ran in Vibrams, and one girl had her Vibrams with her too but didn’t run in them. Ken Bob says he has nothing against Vibrams, but that they are meant for people who already know how to run barefoot… because you don’t get the same kind of feedback you get when your soles are bare. Once you know how to run barefoot, then go with Vibrams or sneakers or whatever you like, but just keep running like you do when you’re barefoot and you’re good to go!

  • z says:

    I was hoping to see him run in the video. Anyway is this a good demonstration of the concept of barefoot running?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHTcQFqb9dU&feature=related

    and I found Ken Bob’s life story too :)

  • The whole idea of running barefoot intrigues me. I would love to read up more on it and see what it’s all about (and if it’s okay for injury-prone runners like myself?) I’ll have to check out to see if he’s coming near where I live or not. 😀

    • Alison says:

      Sarah! I think barefoot running is essential for injury prone runners! It would surely help you improve an issues you may be having with your form that are surely leading to injury! You should read Born to Run, it’s amazing!

  • Holly says:

    allison. i just caught up on your blog. i can’t tell you how great it is to have to back in my life – that post about strawberry picking made my morning. and i checked out ken bob to see if he was coming near me, but he chose bumbfuck wisconsin instead. damn you ken!

  • Cindy says:

    LOVE THIS.

    gosh you are rockin’ the barefoot running girl! I am still trotten along on the treadmill. I think I am going to try it soon! I am afraid of rocks and pebbles.!!! seriously.

    great great information! Thanks for sharing!
    just wondering, are you running slower now, or just changing your form a bit?

    xoxo

    • Alison says:

      Cindy, my pace WAS slower on the barefoot run… probably why it felt easier! At this point I sort of feel like I’m learning to run all over again and figure a slower pace is probably a good thing.

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