And Thus Running (almost) Barefoot

My hairy legs and hobbit feet, encased in Vibram Fivefingers KSO Treks.So after most of the last year or so of not wearing shoes – teaching English sans shoes, doing a lot of walking and hiking in flipflops, Vibram Fivefingers or actually barefoot, etc. – I decided it was time to try barefoot running in the Fivefingers.

I’m no stranger to running, but we’ve been estranged, running and I, for some time; I haven’t run regularly (i.e., at all) since 2004. That summer after having completed AIDS/Lifecycle 3, I decided to supplement my 200+ miles a week on the bike with running (not having run regularly since college). I had it in the back of my mind back then that I wanted to try and do an Olympic-distance triathalon the following year. That never happened; too many distractions, such as moving across the country and training to be a whitewater rafting guide.

I kept up my cycling through all that, but the running tapered back off; eventually everything tapered off (except the spread of my gut) when my pusher got me hooked on World of Warcraft. Anyway, now that I’ve been getting back into cycling again, having used a bicycle to get around Bien Hoa, Viet Nam and Sai Gon, I thought what the hell, might as well start hoofing it again as well. I lost a lot of weight in my year abroad without even trying; not too keen on gaining it back now that I’ve returned to the land of cheese and saturated fat.

I’m pretty much starting from scratch though, even though I’ve logged a lot of miles on my feet over the past year. While I can’t claim to be in great shape by even the fattest (heh) stretch of the definition, I’m not a complete blob at the moment. So it’s been a happy surprise that after a week of very basic training, I’m a lot less sore than I expected to be. As I type this, my ankles are indeed pretty sore and my knees let me know about it when I walk up or down stairs, but it’s the good kind of sore: the-lactic-acid-buildup-because-you’ve-been-kicking-ass kind of sore, not the you-went-too-hard-because-you’re-a-noob-and-hurt-yourself kind of sore.

I know, I know, it’s actually not the lactic acid that causes the muscle soreness, but you know what I mean.

No Pain, No Gain: Tough it Out, Walk it Off

Ah, I can hear the echoes of athletic coaches past.

Of course ankle soreness is to be expected with new barefoot (or nearly barefoot) runners. The range of motion one experiences in the ankles is reportedly much greater barefoot than when shod in poofy-soled running shoes, so those little muscles and ligaments are relatively weak. After a few days of jogging on them – let’s be honest kids, I’ve been jogging, not running, to begin with – those little muscles and ligaments are, as the kids say, “all like – ‘Dude WTF?'”

While I anticipated this, I also expected the usual aches and pains that one experiences when one starts running after a long sedentary period of ass-sitting-upon (having been through this several times before). But having run three days this past week, the next day other than some lactic-acid-type soreness in the lower quads, the only soreness has been in my ankles.

Where’s the really sore knees and achy patellas? Where’s the shin splints? So far they’ve been non-existent. It’s all the more amazing to me because I’ve been jogging on pavement wearing my Vibram Fivefingers (the relatively non-stinky leather ones, fortunately). Granted I’ve been going really light – 10 sets of intervals of one minute of running with two minutes of walking, but still – no shin splints? I always get shin splints when I start running. I was all prepared with bags of frozen peas in the freezer, but so far – knocks on wood – I haven’t needed them.

The tibialis anterior, aka the meh muscle in my left leg that is always slacking. I would have thought my heels would be sore as well – I haven’t been running on the balls of my feet, but just trying to jog with a natural stride, landing somewhere between a heel and a mid-foot strike and rolling forward onto the balls of the feet and pushing off. I’ve found the best way is to not think too much about it, and let the foot do what Mother Nature designed it to do. I do try and make sure my knew is slightly bent though when my foot strikes the ground; this seems to be make a big difference.

I do still have problems with tightness and weakness in the long, skinny muscle that runs along the outside front of my lower left leg, but I’ve always had that problem. At the moment it’s as sore as my ankles. And shall we get technical for a moment? You know we are kids; nerdy is as nerdy does: I refer to the tibialis anterior muscle, which dorkiflexes dorsiflexes the foot.

Even when I was a young man back in high school, whenever I would start running in the summer in anticipation of football season, tightness in this muscle would bother me. I have to spend extra time warming it up before I run, even when I’m in shape and conditioned to it. Not sure why; I’ve never had a problem with this muscle in the other leg. No amount of conditioning ever seems to get this little ‘meh’-scle up to par with his peers. Meh.

Upon Further Re-dork-iflexion

Anyway, in light of this remarkably pain-free (re)start to running, I think whatever tiny, lingering doubts about running barefoot/pseudo barefoot I may have still harbored are hereby officially dispelled.

Of course, the trick is, now, not to get over excited and go out and blow the doors off one day because I feel good, and consequently injure myself or develop the aforementioned shin splints. In any event, I think I’m going to keep recording my progress here, just for self motivational purposes.

And in case anybody is wondering, I’m using the noob beginner’s program at Runner’s World to get back into the run of things. There is also a program over there for people who want to begin barefoot running, but I figure after the past year my feet are as conditioned as they are going to get by walking and hiking around; it’s time to hit the pavement, so to speak.

Maybe some day I’ll actually even condition the soles of my feet to run truly barefoot, and dispense completely with the Fivefingers or any other sort of foot cover. Maybe I’ll grow a shaggy beard then too.

In the meantime, to avoid the hotboxes that are Vibram Fivefingers when the Middle American summer truly sets in – I figure I’ve got about three more weeks before even running at night will prove too hot to wear them – I’ve invested in a pair of of self-made running sandals. I could have gathered the materials myself, but I’m lazy, so I ordered a kit from Invisible Shoe; it arrived earlier this week.

Once I get these made and log some miles in them, look for a review.

3 thoughts on “And Thus Running (almost) Barefoot”

  1. For how long have you experienced soreness in tibialis anterior when starting to run in VFF? I also just started to run in VFF and experience exactly the same thing, soreness in tibialis anterior and sore ankles.

    1. Hi Marek,

      I’ve actually been meaning to revisit this topic. At the time of this post, it took me several weeks to get my tib anterior muscle caught up wit the rest of my leg.

      Like I mentioned, I’ve always had problems with this wee muscle. I’ve just started light running again, after having severed my quad tendon Xmas before last, and once again, it’s the weakest link in my lower leg.

      If you’re like me, just keep at it, make sure you warm it up before you run — I like using a rolling pin to massage it before and after a run — and it should work itself out in a few weeks.

      1. Oh, and make sure you get your calf muscles warmed up and stretch them — a lot. Many people have problems with tight calves when they begin walking or running barefoot or in shoes without a raised heel, which can cause plantar fasciitis (which I’ve experienced) and other problems.

        I’ve found that if you keep the calf muscle stretched and massage the bottom of the foot, this works itself out rather quickly as well — or you might not experience any problems at all.

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