Friday, November 11, 2011

My thoughts on women and barefoot running.

It has only been just over a month now since I have started my journey into barefoot and minimalist running. So far it has been wonderful and challenging. I have been so blessed to be able to read blogs and follow in the footsteps of some pretty awesome women who have gone before. One of my first introductions to barefoot running was through a podcast called Run Barefoot Girl. I was actually listening to Caity's podcast while training and running my first half marathon. It was inspirational and really just awesome. One on the questions Caity asked her guests often is why they thought there weren't more women barefoot running. At first I had no idea. I thought why on earth wouldn't more women want to do this. It's great and freeing. Now however as I transition I have some reasons that it is harder for me.

1. Giving up the mileage. I am not patient, I went from running 25-30 miles a week to running 5 miles per week. It has been so hard to be running so little. Running is my escape. I love the feeling of running away from my home. I feel like with each step I can leave behind my responsibilities and the stress that comes with raising a large family. While training for the half marathon I didn't really follow a plan. I ran 3 or 4 short runs and a long run each week. My short runs were seldom under 6 miles. 6 miles felt like my perfect distance. Far enough to get away and actually relax. Anything under just didn't give me the same feeling. So now as I am transitioning I am missing that feeling. I am only running around 2-4 miles at a time right now. What that looks like for me is often running 1-2 miles away from home then looping back for 1-2 miles. I don't get the same feeling for leaving behind my responsibilities. They feel too close still. On days that I can drive somewhere and run, then drive home it is better but with a full house I do not get that opportunity very often. So I am not so patiently waiting to get back to 6 miles. 6 miles feels like it is so far away right now. I am developing patience though.

2. My minimalist shoes are ugly. This is totally vain, but so true for me. I love running in my bare feet. I feel like a rockstar. I feel like a strong, powerful, confident woman as I pass people with only the soles of my bare feet carrying me. Unfortunately for me I live in Canada, not even in the warm parts of Canada. I need to wear shoes now. It is too cold to run in bare feet. I tried my VFF but my toes were too cold (I'm a sissy with the cold) and now I have found a great solution in my water shoes. The problem, they are ugly. When I run in my water shoes my form feels good but I feel like a dork. I lose that feeling of being strong and powerful. I feel self conscious, I wonder what people are thinking about me as I run in these weird looking shoes. After my run on Wednesday, I seriously considered putting my 'normal' running shoe on again for the winter. I can't really run in them now because I find it too hard to keep good form but at least I would look like everyone else. See for me if I am going to look different I want it to look like I did it on purpose, not like I forgot my shoes or don't know what good shoes to run in are. In my bare feet or my VFF I know I look different but I somehow feel superior. "I can run in bare feet or with no support, haha take that cute marshmallow shoes!" In my water shoes no one knows why I am doing it. Maybe if I had a shirt that says I am running in these on purpose because it is good for my feet. Maybe that would help. I have a pair of EVOs on their way to me so that may help the situation. Really I don't want to go back to my marshmallow shoes. I just want a pair of shoes that either stand out and say look at how awesome I am or a pair of shoes that blend in and let me look normal.

3. It's hard, slow work. Learning to run barefoot/minimalist is hard work. I have to think about my form. Am I stretching to far forward? How's my posture? Are my feet lifting or pushing? As with point #1, I run to stop thinking. I run to leave the world behind. I used to get lost in my runs, enjoying the sights, sounds and thrill of running. Now as I transition it is more work. I cannot just run without thinking because my old muscle memory of shod running takes over and I start to hurt. When I lose myself in the run I over stride, getting caught up in the excitement of putting my feet in front of me. I now run slower too. So it takes me more time and more energy (brain energy not body energy) to cover the same miles.This is hard for me. With my shoes on I could run and run. I wasn't crazy fast but I was somewhere in the middle of the pack. Now I am starting all over again. I like feeling like I know what I am doing and with barefoot running I am still learning. I am hoping to help this out in a couple of weeks. Kyle and I have signed up for a coaching session with Toe Girl Tina. Later on this month we will meet with her and learn more about how to run barefoot and how to maintain good form even with minimalist shoes on. This will help, not only with form but with forming a much needed support system. To see Tina run and know that the transition can be done and that I will again be able to run away reminds me why I am doing this.

Overall I am not sure why I keep pushing to transition, I didn't have any injuries, yet, I enjoyed running in my shoes and I was happy. There was no real reason to transition and the transition is challenging. So why do I keep going? Part of why I am keeping at it is the basic biological evidence for the natural running form. I've seen it, I've read it and I've observed it in my own children. I'm sold that a natural running form is the best for humans. I am also sold that the best way to get to a natural running form is through my bare feet. The other reason I keep going is the community that I feel like I am part of. When I ran in my shoes I didn't feel connected to other runners. Now I feel a connection to the other barefoot runners I know, in real life and out there in the internet world. I am inspired by the blogs I read and the stories I hear of women running barefoot and loving it.  I feel like we are doing something good for ourselves and for me I feel like I am paving the way for my children. I hope that when they are grown and want to run that their bodies never forget how it was to run barefoot. The transition has been slow and it is work but I believe that, like with many things in life, it will be worth it in the end. I am forever grateful to those around me who have encouraged me and pushed me to take off my shoes. To those of you in the blog world who have already transitioned and have shared your stories, I am grateful to read your stories and hear about how awesome barefoot running is and will be for years to come.


  1. It gets easier, I promise! It doesn't take long at all for new muscle memory to set in and you will be running free with less brain and body energy. Hang in there, it gets better FAST! And the Evos are definitely going to help with the ugly shoe issues. :) See you soon!

  2. Great point about paving the way for your kids! I think about that all the time. I had only run for a few months, and was about to give up when I discovered minimalist/barefoot running. I want that to be the way they run always! But yes, winter time is tough.. I am going to give the water shoe idea a try.. As a guy, I am oblivious to any fashion statement I make (hence the black injinji toe socks in my Invisible Shoes! (I would draw the line at pink.. perhaps). Anyway.. great post.. look forward to hearing about the coaching session!

  3. Hahaha, I just saw this post before I'm about to go to the Running Room for my half clinic and do 5 hills with my will be interesting to hear the comments about my strange looking shoes. They were all used to seeing me in my gorilla feet, 'yeti shoes' so maybe they won't really care that I'm running in *gasp* water shoes?!?! I could really relate to your reasons for loving running, running away from stress, feeling strong and powerful, feeling like an athlete, which for me with severe asthma, is a real accomplishment.

    I guess I don't care as much about how I look, as I do about how I feel, IOW, no pain or injuries, which transitioning to minimal has done for me. My injuries are non existent, and every single run feels good. Even the one last sunday in the pelting snow, with Nike frees on, and wet sticky melting snow soaking my feet. I'll let you know if anyone comments or even notices my new sexy watershoes lol.

  4. I can agree more with your comment. I can't believe that I can run. I too have asthma and well before I lost weight I had severe plantar fasciitis, heal spurs, and really I could barely walk let alone run. Now that I run I feel like I could take on anything and do anything.

    Any comments on the fancy watershoes?? I always feel a little strange in mine but really only when I stop at a light or something otherwise I don't pay much attention. I wonder if people even notice that I am not wearing 'normal' shoes.

  5. I didn't see your reply till now so I'll give you an update as far as comments on my strange selection of footwear, while running in a conventional half marathon running clinic at the Running Room. I must say that it probably depends a great deal on what kind of instructor you end up with. My instructor is not only very organized and sociable but also very open minded and not quick to judge. Read: MATURE. I say a small prayer every day when I attend clinics, thanking God for bringing such a wonderful person into my life, because my running adventures wouldn't be the same without her. She is also becoming a friend :)

    The first few classes there were a few comments from some of the more vocal members of the group about my 'gorilla feet' 'yeti shoes' 'wierd toe shoes' etc. And the requisite comments and questions about 'how can you run with no support' and 'don't your feet get cold' etc. I have tried to emphasize always that these strange shoes are RIGHT FOR ME, but aren't necessarily right for anyone else. The right shoe for any runner is the one that lets them run injury free.

    One girl I run with has incredible form, very upright, tiny tiny steps, feet landing right underneath her, and a super speedy cadence that must be near the perfect 180. She wears conventional shoes. I try to emulate her, and when she wore bells on her shoes for our Christmas eve run, hearing her feet bang out the cadence for 14k was soothing and very helpful to me. She has no injuries AFAIK. Her shoes work for her, and she shouldn't change a thing. If only it were this perfect for every runner....

    My instructor told me on one of the first days that her adult son has a pair of VFFs so I knew she wouldn't be completely negative about them. I told her and others that I was coming back after being sidelined by injuries after running two halfs in conventional heeled shoes, and that these had allowed me to run (so far) without injury, but that it has taken months and months to transition.

    The DSW are the way to go for extreme cold, slush, oatmeal, cookie dough, and deep snow. I ran in them two weekends ago and it was minus 30 with the wind, and lots of blowing drifting snow. The ice was biting into my face as the snow blew and swirled around us, the worst part of that run was my frozen eyeballs...needed ski goggles. My feet however were TOASTY WARM, and I really liked feeling all the snow beneath my feet. At times it felt like I was running in piles of marshmallows....I had great ground feel, which of course helps you mind your stride... The DSW that I have are the scuba shoes, and have neoprene up the ankles with a zipper. I usually can't do the zipper up with the thick sock, but regardless even when I ran in shin deep snow on that really cold run, my feet stayed warm. They were wet with sweat when I took my socks off, but much warmer than if I had worn conventional shoes.

    The DSW are pretty good on any type of snow, and even some ice. Sheer black ice not so much, but that's when your short stride with your feet landing under your centre of gravity will prevent you from falling...

    Overall the clinic members are pretty accepting and non judgemental (if they even notice) about my minimal shoes. I have two nicknames, 'Yeti Feet' when I wear the VFF's and 'Aqua Belle' when I wear the water shoes. I feel like the instructor and group leaders (pacers) have been extremely supportive towards me, and even when I had a very bad long run due to not being able to breathe properly; I found kindness and care, not judgement. I liked this clinic so much that I have signed up to be a group leader (pacer) for the next clinic which starts TONITE! We are broken up into pace groups according to our finish goals, and people can move up or down into different pace groups whenever they feel like it!