Saturday, 17 November 2012

Barefoot Freedom Night

I have been transitioning to barefoot-style running since August this year and I had planned on talking about barefoot running and my experiences a bit later on this blog but I was unexpectedly given the opportunity to go to a "Barefoot Freedom Night" at Innovation Warehouse in London this week which I couldn't not write about.

John has also been transitioning to barefoot running though he's taking the more extreme route of just running in bare feet and the other night he did 7.5km about 5 of which was on tarmac. Now one of the best things about running barefoot and running on unforgiving and tough services like that is that you learn proper form very quickly.

John discovered, as you can see from the photo below, that he has a tendency to push off forward (rather than lifting) with his feet which created the mother of all blisters because of the rubbing doing so causes between foot and ground.

The results of poor form when barefoot running - a massive blister!

You'll have to ask him about it and I'm very proud of the fact that he didn't pop it but he did post a picture on Facebook which got a lot of comments and discussion and was how I found out about the barefoot freedom night.

Free barefoot training seminar? nearby in London? with a chance to win some minimalist shoes? £3 entry?

Very hard to say no to that, so I signed up straight away!

The evening was hosted by Ian Randolph in aid of Age UK and co-hosted by @StartUpFit (They have loads of other events happening on their meetup page as well which are totally worth checking out). Both Ian and the guys (Neil and Klaus) from @StartUpFit were keen runners and Ian regularly runs around London in nothing but his Birthday shoes. I have to take a moment to thank Ian, Klaus and Neil for putting on a great evening at Innovation Warehouse, arranging some seriously inspiring and passionate speakers and getting together an excellent group of barefooters.

On to the good stuff...

The evening speakers and indeed raffle sponsors were Vivobarefoot and wow did they deliver a high value evening. Right from the start I got talking Ben Le Vesconte who is training director at Vivobarefoot and we've subsequently agreed to set up a training session so I'm really excited to set that up and hopefully I'll be allowed to take some footage of my running before and after and see if I can get it up here so you can see the difference.

Anyway, once introductions were done, Ben proceeded to give us the facts about correct and incorrect running posture and style and literally within 5 minutes, I'd spotted the main reason my barefoot running has been causing me foot pain: I'm over striding!

Despite thinking I'm landing with my feet underneath me, the mere description that Ben gave of the injuries (Planter Faciitis, Achilles Tendinitis and Metatarsal stress fractures among others) along with a description of how you tell when someone's over striding: Their feet are making "slapping" noises made light bulbs go off and I had a big grin on my face because even if I learnt nothing else, that night, my running was going to improve.

Next up was Mark who, like myself when I'm working with my business consultancy clients, is very direct and open and while some can see that as confrontational, it's really provocative and he made a very compelling case!

Mark got us all to draw what we think a foot looks like on a piece of paper. I don't suggest you do this now, but do pause and have a think about it before reading onwards.

Our feet, when we're born look make a kind of V shape from the heel up to the toes. Google images for "Babies Feet" and you'll see what I mean.

So why then, do adults feet not look like that?

Obviously I'm going to say "the modern shoe", and you've bound to have heard the arguments for and against cushioned soles to shoes, but this isn't about that. This is about the fact that modern shoes, ALL modern shoes close to a point (be it sharp, like smart shoes, or rounded, like trainers) they all squeeze our toes into a nice, rounded toe box.

The problem here is that our feet aren't rounded at the end!

In 1905, a bunch of doctors did a study on the natural foot shape based on people who had been barefoot their whole lives.

Checkout the photo below to see what a normal foot looks like:

A barefoot person's feet are quite different to those of the modern day person

Looks pretty weird huh? Well that's because we've grown used to feet that look cramped together. Have a look at my feet in the photo below and compare.

My feet are not the "normal" human evolved feet. They're a product of a lifetime of wearing shoes.

What a difference!

[Edit: Also check out the x-ray of my left foot from my recent metatarsal fracture scare]

The most important thing to note is that my big toes are not in line with my heels (as per the 1905 photo). This means that my walking, running and indeed posture is compromised from how the "normal" evolved human's.

There was loads and loads of other really fascinating and mind blowing stuff from the Vivobarefoot guys but this foot shape was something I'd not come across before and completely blew my socks off.

Quite literally.

I'm no longer wearing socks and will be chucking out all my pointy, restrictive shoes in favour of wide toe boxed ones or no shoes at all. I'm also starting a "foot" diary and will be taking photos of my feet regularly to see (hopefully) how my toes start to realign towards their more normal positions, so apologies in advance of more foot photos up here.

I can recommend a read (or two) of their free ebook on barefoot running technique and if you're in London, check out their training clinics!

To cap an amazing evening off, not only did I meet loads of interesting people who I'm going to be keeping in touch with but I also won a pair of the Vivo's in the raffle! Mark at Vivo recommended that I grab a pair of their "lifestyle" shoes so I can wear them to work, and that's exactly what I've done and I can't wait for them to arrive!

I'll also be speaking to them about getting involved in my marathon which would be so exciting and I can't think of a bunch of people more dedicated to improving the health of people's feet (even if they don't buy their shoes). It really is inspiring, so expect more from me about Vivobarefoot and in the mean time, you should checkout their Pinterest board of press, reviews and blogs of their shoes.

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