by Carl Strang
Last fall I outlined the debate in distance running circles about the growing minority of runners who are running barefoot or using minimal shoes that approach the barefoot condition. At that point I had bought but not yet tried a pair of the most extreme shoes on the market for the barefoot style of running.
I am at the 4-and-a-half-month point in this physiological experiment. So far things are progressing well, and I have reached my initial mileage volume goal of running 4 miles 3 days in a row, then taking a cross-training day on the bike trainer. Most of those runs now are in the Fivefingers shoes, and I continue to become stronger in them. Even though I had prepared for a couple of months by using the barefoot technique in conventional running shoes, I went slowly with the Fivefingers. The absence of all heel lift makes a surprising difference in the calf muscle’s involvement, and it is taking a while to gradually build my calf strength. I went ahead and bought a less radical pair of shoes which nevertheless are designed for the barefoot technique, and for a while ran in them on days when my feet or calves were a little more sore than usual.
At this point I am beginning to incorporate occasional longer runs (a recent 6-mile run was my farthest in 18 years), as well as some faster pace and interval work, and I am using the Newtons for those workouts. My pace, though slow, continues to improve. Where at first I was less than comfortable at 9 minutes per mile, now I can cruise at 8:15, and can do an occasional mile in less than 8 minutes without undue strain. I repeat the caution I read about often when first researching the barefoot method. Go slowly, don’t be impatient to build the speed and mileage. So far, so good.