Oct 13

From achilles pain to ultra distance in three months

Thanks to Florian for his story. I would love to hear your tales. There is truth to be found in each and every one. You can send them to me via the contact form at the top of the page.

Over to Florian:

I published before on Barefoot Beginner. Back then I really used to be a beginner. If I compare my 30 years of running “wrong” to my three year of working on my running style I am still a barefoot beginner. And I suspect I will always remain one.
06 first marathon
Why? Because after I trained for my solo Sahara trip in 2013 I thought to be as fit as never before. I used to run more kilometers per week than ever before and I seemed to be in a very good condition overall.
After my return I joined a company race in Berlin in my vibram fivefingers. 6000 people started on the 6km course. It was so much fun and I just ran as fast as my legs carried me.
I came in at number 81 with 20min flat. My calves burned like hell but it was fun and I loved it. So I started at another race one week later. My time was almost the same. I was so much into running that I planned to run ULTRA marathons and I registered for the Berlin 100miles in August 2014.
BUT, my achilles told me that they were very unhappy about the pace in my races. I started to feel some knots at my achilles and I tried to get rid of the pain that barely let me walk with ice, with heat, with massage, with pausing, with doing slow sessions… guess what.. nothing helped. More than a year later I still had pain in my achilles when I went on a short run. I almost didn’t run at all anymore.
In the meantime I gave up my apartment in Berlin bought a 1971 Mercedes Benz truck that was converted into an RV ages ago and travelled Europe and North Africa with my girlfriend. We drove half a year and more than 30.000km and have been to the most spectacular places.
But well, that is another story.
In July I received a call from Ronald Musil (race director of Berlins 100meilen.de). He reminded me that I preregistered for the 100miles a year ago and that I have a starting slot if I like to. I replied that I would really like to but am totally out of shape and that I don’t know if I am able to run that distance. He gave the best possible answer to trigger me. He said: Well, you won’t find out if you don’t try. He got me there, I agreed to give it a chance. I still had 33 days to train and to get in shape. My achilles was still aching and I went to a Berlin based natural running coach: Sven Spanka
He did some very simple analyses with me and was sure that all my pain is based in insufficiently trained calves. He told me to workout for my calves daily. Furthermore some training for my hamstrings, and most of all: my belly. My doctor who fortunately reads my blog, wrote me and suggested to treat my achilles with Traumel as often as possible. I did so and started running again daily. We went to southern France and ran some really nice trails there and then moved to Switzerland where I started to run mountain trails daily. All that running up and the daily training for my calves really worked. Although I could feel some pain in calves it did not get worse. But still the farest distance that I ever ran on record was 27 kilometers.04 swiss mountain trail
On August 16th I started at 6 in the morning in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg for the 100 miles. It was a perfect running day. I had so much fun and so much pain and fun again and much more pain. Friends of mine were waiting everywhere around the course and accompanied me for a while. So I ran my first marathon ever, and then my second. Then I tried to run my third and I failed. I made it to the 100km mark and couldn’t move another step. I had to quit although there were still 60 kilometers left. I had to admit miles are not the same as km.
For the race I taped my ankles, achilles and calves with kinesiotapes. I wore Luna Sandals and the only mistake I did, was to wear my sandals a little too tight on my right foot for the first 30km. That led to a swollen foot which mainly forced me to quit and had me suffer a little for the following days. Apart from that I was absolutely fine and most important my achilles pain is gone since that day.

Back in Switzerland I continued racing in the mountain and fortunately the minimal running fever caught my girlfriend Judy as well which let us run the alpine single trails together.

DCIM100GOPROWe even went to an alpine Ultra marathon together. Her competing in the 27km with 1500m D+ and me in the 55km with 3500m D+. I can tell you, now I know what running in the mountains mean. Although my achilles were fine I developed two really bad runners knees during the race. It took me forever (13hours) because I could only walk downhill. I had promised myself not to quit and finishe this race no matter what. I ended up being fifth. From the back. Almost everybody who was slower than me was taken out of the race because they did not meet the cutoff times which were really tight.
The race awarded every finisher with 2 qualification points for the Ultra Marathon Du Mont Blanc, which I believe to be one of the hardest races in the alps. So I guess there is a new goal ahead of me.

Since I found out this year, that most of the tendon pains you can experience during a race is a sign of muscle weakness somewhere else, I started to train my thighs and am now free of pain even on the downhill sections.

I did not run any remarkable times at all, but within three month I made it from an injured runner to two ultra marathon distances and a pain and injury free runner.

Do you experience any pain yourself? Let a good barefoot coach examine your running style and the strength of your ankles, calves, thighs, hips and belly and then train strength, not endurance for the affected muscles.
If something hurts use Traumel, Dolocyl and Kinesiotapes.

Aren’t we born to run?

Glücklichtrainer and author of nativerunners.com

Sep 26

My 5 mile running week – Why constraints boost creativity and motivation

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Why is that? ..and can I use it to give my motivation for running a boost?

Why is it that when faced with a host of obstacles, the brain sits up, takes notice and the creative juices begin to flow. How can we harness that for our own devices when struggling for motivation with our running (or anything else that we might care to mention).
Create a few carefully chosen constraints and your brain will kick into gear and look for inventive ways to make the most of what you have left.
Why do I run (and write) more consistently when my life is at its busiest?
Over the years, I have consistently found this to be the case. I dream about retiring and having the rest of my life to do nothing but run. I can picture myself running over the hills into the sunshine with an air of freedom and wild abandon. However, I know enough about myself to recognise that it just won’t be like that. At least not all the time. Given complete freedom, my motivation will plummet. In the same way that I crave a bit of peace and quiet from our crazy family life and an evening on my own is bliss, a week on my own is too much and I long for the hurly burly again.
My brain loves to solve problems – In Laws of Subtraction, Matthew May says that

‘Creativity thrives under intelligent constraints…it does not require unrestrained freedom; rather it relies on limits and obstacles.’

Given a blank page art is difficult. Given some rules, we thrive. If you have ever tried to write a Haiku or a limerick, you will know what I mean. You work within a framework of constraints and the juices begin to flow. Many things are the same. If I asked you to review your favourite running book and gave you total freedom, a few of you will jump to it but most of us are not sure where to start and therefore never do. However, If I ask you to tell us the best thing you learnt from a running book but you have to use exactly 33 words (and none of them are to be the word running) our brains suddenly start to work on it. We can’t help it.
Summer is the same for me. I work in schools and long for the summer holidays where I imagine endless days stretching into the distance. However the truth is that I don’t run as much during the summer as at other times of the year. I just have too much freedom. It goes well to start with but with a blank page to run into my motivation drops.


I have added a thread in our forum on the topic of intelligent constraints. Please come and join in. It is easy to login with facebook.

In summer, I am best if I give myself constraints and rein the freedom in. It works if I commit to running every other day with a friend. We did that last summer with success; we also restricted ourselves to not running the same route twice. It kept our motivation up.
How does it work in other areas of life?
It is certainly the case that I never seem to have enough money and some periods when we first had children were tough. Some of the best days out we have had as a family is when we have had strict financial constraints. We had a brilliant day doing all the free things for kids in Liverpool. The ice-cream tastes better when you know that it is the big treat for the day. When we need to be thrifty, our brains kick in and for some people it is their way of life. It is a lot of fun. When we are in that position, we often crave a big wad of cash but somehow days where we spend with no regard are just not as much fun. Maybe once in a while perhaps but not as the norm.

I am not a great cook and tend to go through the motions at meal time. I buy the same old things week in week out. However, I love it when we have next to nothing left and I need to create a meal out of it. There is something immensely satisfying and it tastes good. The same goes for calories. The popular fasting diet going around at the moment limits you to 600 calories on your fast day. (Don’t get me started – Eating and calling it fasting is like running in shoes and calling it barefooting). I have done it a few times and found the motivation to cook more creatively than I have for ages.
Many people make a living out of the struggle. They thrive on the task of sorting things out under tight constraints and even when they have made it and are very successful, they long for the old days of wheeling and dealing and ducking and diving. It can be in the heady world of high finance or the more gentle pursuit of gardening.
The late Geoff Hamilton was the chief gardener at The BBC for years. Geoff became very successful and created 38 beautiful gardens at his Barnsdale home and in the years before he died, made a number of television series and took viewers through the process. However, they were all pretty similar and merged into each other. His family said that he looked happiest when he did a series on the £2 garden. His challenge was to create a lovely garden on no more than £2 a week. He didn’t lower his standards but you could see the joy on his face when he used a cloche made from old bamboo and hose pipe rather than simply buying an expensive one. He seemed reinvigorated and no longer going through the motions. He got his mojo back. As an example, I appreciate that it is a bit random but it has stuck with me. I enjoyed that programme more than any other because my brain was ticking alongside his and trying to solve his problems.
So..how can we harness this for our own purposes? How can we add intelligent limitations to our running?
Anyone can impose strict limitations on things but how do we add a constraint that gets our creative juices flowing and us out of bed in the morning raring to go?
An obvious choice is limiting the number of miles we run. We could limit ourselves to a 10 miles a week or 20 or 30 or 50. Whatever fits best for you. You could run as many times a week as you like but have a maximum long run of 5 miles (or 10 etc).
How about limiting the number of hours a week you run. How about 3 hours spread in any way you like across the week but no more than 3 hours in total.
How about limiting the number of runs. If you are the kind of runner who runs almost every day, why not constrain yourself to 3 runs a week. Mileage is up to you but you must do the in no more than 3 separate outings.
During the summer, I set myself the constraint of never running the same route twice. It stopped me slipping into a rut and I had to get the map out to search for new places to run. It worked for me.
You could limit what you wear on your feet. How about having a week where you wear nothing at all on your feet.
The way we can set intelligent constraints for ourselves is limitless and what will boost for one person may just feel silly to another. Play around until one tweaks your curiosity. Dig a bit deeper until your creativity starts to work despite yourself. Then have fun with it.
I am going to set myself a constraint over the next couple of weeks. I am being drastic and am only going to allow myself 5 miles a week to play with. As soon as I thought about it, my brain started to come up with the best ways of getting the most out of them.
Should I run 1,1,1,1,1 or 1,3,1 or 1, 1.5, 2.5? Should I add some speed work into the mix in one of my runs? Should every run be barefoot? Should I mix up the terrain and run a mile barefoot on the rough stuff to help me get used to that? I have some good hills close to home, should I aim for them and do some hill reps? Maybe if I find a system that works for me with 5 miles, I could then scale it up. Perhaps this is a good way of pressing reset and going back to basics.
I would love to hear about some of the constraints that you set yourself to spice things up.
….and I wouldn’t mind some advice. Given a 5 mile week what would you do with it?


I have added a thread in our forum on the topic of intelligent constraints. Please come and join in. It is easy to login with facebook.

Sep 19

You don’t need anyone’s permission to run!

Those of you who have been reading my posts for a while will know that I don’t get annoyed. At least not in print. I am more the ‘Live and let live. run and let run’ brigade.

...but I read something a few weeks ago which got under my skin. I read a fantastic post from one of our members. It was a tale of real success and progress. The sort of story that you just have to share with people who will understand. Nothing wrong there. So what was it that made me so annoyed?
It was nothing to do with the story. It was the fact that they seemed almost ashamed. The runner posting wanted to share their progress but they didn’t feel right about calling it success. Where does that come from?
I then read another post from runner in another forum from a runner who was very disparaging about runners who they thought were non serious. i.e. Those who were not trying to win. Those who were discovering running later in life. The language used was insulting and what hit me more was that the person posting was completely oblivious to the impact that their words may have. He seemed to think that the everyone only runs to try and get on the podium. It was almost as if everyone else was running for his benefit so that he could demonstrate how good he was and beat them.
This simply isn’t the case.
I think he thought that during a 10k with a few thousand runners taking part, everyone was looking to see who came in the top 3 and was very impressed. I have done hundreds of races and I can safely say that with the odd exception (I once came 3rd – It was a long time ago!), I have no idea who won.
Running offers us so many benefits that many runners measure their success without considering times or race positions.
Running is not owned by a few people who are relatively quick compared to a few other people. We do not run with their permission and should not be seeking their approval.
Of course, most quick club runners understand that and they are encouraging, helpful and supportive. Unfortunately some aren’t and we end up with disparaging comments that say more about the commenter than anything else.
The real question is why we want to run in the first place. If it is because we want to win races then that is great but the answer will be different for each of us.
So…have a go at these 3 questions and see what comes out of the other end. It may not be what you first thought. Be honest with the first answer and then use questions 2&3 to dig a little deeper.
1. Why is running important to you? (e.g. I want to improve my fitness)
2. Take you answer from question1 and ask ‘..but why is that important to you? (e.g. Because I don’t want to die young from heart disease. I want to feel good in my clothes and keep my emotional state level)
3. One last time..Take that and ask ‘…but really. Why is that important to you?. (We only get one life, I don’t want to waste it. I want to enjoy my grandchildren and remain active into later life)
I went through the process and at no point did I mention coming third in a local race. I did that once and I loved it but it isn’t my real reason for running. For me, it is to do with maintaining my weight and keeping on an emotional even keel. I want to live a long and happy life that I can share with my family.
We can measure our success better when we first realise why we run in the first place. We need to challenge that dialogue that exists out there that it is all about times and podium finishes.
I enjoy running fast and enjoy trying to beat my previous times and for a few years that was all I did but I now have much more important reasons for getting out of bed for an early morning run.
I used to run with a club who had a number of different groups that ran on club nights. The slowest groups had christened themselves ‘The Slugs’. After yet another lay off, I returned on club night and went out for a 7miler with them. The pace was slower than I had ever run but I found it a humbling experience.
What I found was a group of dedicated, serious runners. They raced more often than most other groups and were more regular attendees at club nights as they seemed to be injured less than the faster groups. I came out of that evening with a different perspective than previously. For these people, running was deeply ingrained in their lives and there was real camaraderie in their group.
There are millions of runners out there with millions of reasons for running. It is folly to assume that everyone is there for the same reason as you. Understand your reasons, dig a little deeper and you will find the motivation that you need to be a runner in the long term.
You don’t need permission from anyone to run. Mark your progress against your own criteria and ignore everyone else’s agenda. Be proud of your achievements and shout them from the rooftops. We are listening and applaud you all. Bravo running folk. Bravo!

Sep 05

A hello from Andy at Barefoot Running Northern Ireland

We have a new service added to our coaches page for all those of you in Northern Ireland. Andy from Barefoot Running NI introduces himself here.


Andy from Barefoot Running NI.

Barefoot Running NISo I’m one of those people who started out barefoot running after reading Born To Run. It’s not something I feel the urge to apologise for, but so many barefooters started for this very reason, that it’s almost become a cliché. But the book is so good and the chapter towards the end with the Daniel Lieberman research is hugely compelling. So it is this book that started my barefoot journey. My first barefoot running experience lasted all of 1 minute 43 seconds according to my running app. I came out the front door, up the drive and on to the footpath. The footpath outside my house is very fine, sharp, stoney, rough old tarmac and the sensations from that overwhelmed me almost immediately. I passed a man walking his dog and tried to act confident and normal but I don’t think either of us were convinced. He gave me a look, part fear, part “you’re the weirdest guy I’ve ever seen, this is going on facebook”. I made it about 30 meters from the house and had to turn back, passing the dog walker yet again…
I soon found a new place to run where it wasn’t so challenging on new feet and took to the coastal paths. Comparatively smooth and barefoot friendly, and somehow running barefoot near the beach is infinitely more acceptable for members of the public when seeing a grown man running unshod. However you still got those looks… the stare/gawping from some members of the public. I don’t know why but for some reason it seems to be age 60 plus women who are most horrified by it. They make a part noise of utter shock, and part utter disgust or horror, as if you’ve already cut your feet and are continuing to run blood through the streets. It’s a great sound if I’m honest.
Anyway I kept at it and slowly worked my way up to half marathon distance, running my first barefoot half in 1:56 (20 mins faster than my shod time!). After the half, I got a lot of people approaching me asking about barefoot running and was I mad. It got me thinking, “I can’t be the only barefoot runner out there”. Surely some other people here in Northern Ireland must have read this book and been as inspired as I was.
I decided I needed to find out. I went home and that night set up a Twitter account in the name of Barefoot Running NI. I started posting barefoot related articles and vids. Started organising one man club runs and advertising them, saying “all welcome”.
I turned up at every race I could and got a club running vest printed up by means of advertising, getting people talking on social media and hopefully finding others. Word began to spread and at one race I was approached by our local mayor, who had heard all about it.
It wasn’t too long before I started hearing back from others. I actively trailed the net, searching forums and contacting other barefooters I found to join me in my quest to start a club.
It wasn’t until I received contact from Simon Hunter that I actually met, face to face,another barefooter. It was great to run as a pair and not be stared at like some you’re loon, parents ushering their kids away from you. It was no longer crazy, it was a thing!
Simon was onboard pretty much instantly and as psyched as I was about a club. He set up our facebook page, got himself BRNI running vest and we hit all the races we could. Soon we started attracting more barefooters and meeting up at the weekends for club runs.
In the past year then we started having more people approach us after each race and when word got out our club was going to attempt to run the Belfast Marathon 2014 completely barefoot, the press got involved.
We had tv spots, radio interviews, lots of newspaper articles.
We then had loads of people asking about barefooting and could we teach them. We wanted to… but we had no idea really where to start. We could tell them what we do but we had very different running styles. It was pretty clear that wasn’t going to work.
So, we found Lee Saxby online and found he was doing courses through Vivobarefoot, teaching interested parties how to become coaches. That was it, the solution, direction and inspiration we needed. We were in!
Now, one week-long trip to London later, three months of hard graft and a whole lot of work and study, we got signed off as certified running form/barefoot running coaches.
Now, two years after our humble beginnings as a one man twitter account, our club is excited to finally be able to offer this service to beginners and elite runners alike. Those wanting to learn to run from scratch, or improve their running form, boost performance or, simply, learn to barefoot, Andy and Simon of Barefoot Running NI can help.
We are very proud and excited to have gotten this far and the feedback we’ve received from our clients and coaches has been phenomenal. We’re there, we’re doing it, and we want to help you!

Jul 10

Why asking for the right shoes is the wrong question

Ask not which shoes are right but ask which shoes are the least wrong.

OK, that doesn’t scan but I really need a tweak in my mindset. The problem is that we live in a consumer society where whenever we have a problem, we can spend our way of it. If we get injured when we run, just spend, spend, spend until we have the shoes that sort that out for us.

We all like to think we are immune to these consumer pressures but nevertheless I seem to have been on a quest for the perfect footwear. I have been trying to find the silver bullet that will sort out all my problems.

The answer is simple. They don’t exist.

Deep down, I know that but it didn’t stop me trying to find the magic shoe that will make me injury free. I went on the hunt for the thinnest sole, the firmest sole and then the sole that shaped itself to my foot.

None of them really helped.

They altered my form to one degree or another. In fact, they all altered my form.  I know that I am never going to get a shoe that allows me to run the way I do unshod.

That has not stopped me craving them

I crave shoes for many reasons and not always sensible ones. The shoe manufacturers know that. They know that we often buy on an emotional level and if they can tap into that then they are onto a winner.

If I were selling shoes, I would do the same thing. As consumers we understand that …sort of.

I can’t be the only one. I know plenty of barefoot runners who have many more pairs of shoes now than they ever had in their conventional shod running days.

I craved huaraches because…..they were so cool and I had read Born to Run. I wanted original Lunas because of the leather and traditional feel. I couldn’t help myself. I sent to the US for a pair and they felt fast. I love them but they do alter my form a little. I now have a pair of tradional huaraches made from old tyre and leather from the Copper Canyons. They are very cool and they connect me with the Copper Canyons but they still make me run in a different way.

I craved Runamocs because ….they are mocassins and handmade. It was an emotional pull. They kindly sent me a pair to try out and I wear them all the time but not much for running. I have run in them and they are excellent, they are just such an expensive and beautiful mocassin that I couldn’t bring myself to trash them on the muddy trails near home. I wear them out and about and round the house on cold days.

I craved VFF because….they are reassuringly expensive. That must mean that they are excellent musn’t it. Well no, as it turned out. Not for me anyway. They are beautifully made and you can see where the money goes. They have such a huge following of dedicated runners that I had to have some. My form is just not good enough yet to handle big distances in them. They are not the solution to my problem and there is no point thinking that they might be.

The solution lies with me. I ran in Treksport for a while and they altered my form quite alot. Now I have some EL-X which feel like they have been sprayed onto my foot and alter my form much less. I enjoy running in them but I need to be careful not to do too much.

I craved Paleos because….they are shiny and gadget like. When Jorg sent me a pair, I found out that they were much more than that. They have the firmest footbed imaginable. It is stainless steel and they move with the contours of my feet. On rough ground, I have to slow down in them because I feel almost every stone. Maybe that is why they feel like they don’t alter my form much…but they do a little.

So…what is the right question?

How about.

Is my running form good enough to handle these shoe yet? …and…What makes me think that?
I have experimented and found that some footwear alters my form to a lesser degree but have yet to find one that doesn’t cause me a niggle now and again.

From a purely personal point of view, the ones that seem to be the least wrong for me are:

Vivobarefoot Evos – The first minimalist shoes I tried. I like mine slightly small with the insole removed. That way they hug my feet. They are like old friends.

Xeros – I find the 4mm Xeros about as good as they get. I enjoy running in mine and like the way they flex with my soles.

Sockwa – Easy to slip on and off and carry on a run.

Walsh Barefoot – When it get steep and slippy then I reach for these. I find that I hardly get any niggles when running in them. Great on the hills.

Paleobarefoot – Chain mail is cool and they are no gimmick. They are thin, firm and they work very well for me. They are the most flexible and I like the way your feet feel the wet and the cold.

Even so, if I don’t run barefoot regularly, these shoes do not solve my problem. My running form just isn’t good enough and secure enough to handle footwear too much and too often.

So…Stop looking for the shoe that will solve all your problems. Ask which shoe is least wrong and take it from there.

Before you splash the cash, ask yourself if your form is good enough to handle the shoes you are buying and then ask why you think that.

I am not against footwear. I enjoy running with something on my feet. That means that I am prey to the consumer messages out there. So long as I accept that the answer lies with me and not with a shoe designer then I reckon that is OK.
Just do it – Just don’t do it in shoes if you think that they are the thing that makes you run well. It is what is inside the shoe that counts.

ps – I have added a topic to the forum asking how many of us have more shoes now than before we began barefooting and which shoes are the least wrong for you. I would love you to join in and let us know here.  You can login in easily with facebook.

Jul 09

Tales from the Trig 1

I wanted to intriduce you to a place that is very important to me. It is about a mile from home and somewhere that I run to a lot. It is the trig point on Cheetham Close (sometimes known as Turton Heights).

A trig point is a triangulation station that is used when surveyig the region. They first started to appear in 1935 in the UK and are now an endangered species as new methods of surveying are being used, That would be a shame as many of them are old friends and they should receive listed status to protect them.

I have been meaning to do a ‘Tales from the Trig’ series of posts for a while and this is the first.


In this post, I introduce you to the West Pennine Moors where I do most of my running and also talk about building a barefoot community. (Sorry for the sound quality. It just shows that it gets windy up there.)

In early September, I will be taking part in a webinar hosted by Stephanie Welch and Sue Regan Kenney. I will be talking about why I wanted to build a barefoot running community. You can find out a bit more about that here.

Most important, I encourage you to get involved with our Barefoot Beginner forum. It has never been easier to login. You can do that with facebook. Click the login button and then click the facebook icon. Simple.

As you will see in the video, I am creating a forum for people who don’t like forums.


Jul 03

The joys of barefoot trail running

by Thea Gavin
for Barefoot Beginner

“Adventure may be out there. But without that perfect pair of hiking boots, you’ll have a hard time finding it.” HikingBoots.com

Have you been brainwashed like I once was, under the oppressive regime of foot-fear, advertized into thinking that travel on a trail meant arch support, deep lugs, perhaps Goretex, and most definitely a gusseted tongue?

You could sprain an ankle! Or step in something!

After three dry winters, there are fewer seeps along the trail; this one is still refreshingly wet.Pop(ular culture) Quiz: Which of the following are waiting to penetrate your innocent naked feet: a) rusty nails; b) shards of broken glass; c) hypodermic needles; d) all of the above plus horse poop, if you are on a trail.

Imagine this: a sturdy leather pouch, steel shanked, studded with rubber. How’s that for prophylactic-protection. Ouch. Even thin (4mm minimalist, possibly separated toes) puts a barrier between you and what is really there.

Let’s un-remember that last comparison. Now imagine you are born unable to hear. Then a doctor somehow fixes your little ear bones; your loved ones can’t wait to take you to a concert for a big dose of Beethoven’s 5th.


But all the sensational leaps and fortissimos are an auditory assault. Your brain, with no experience in sorting out this sort of stimuli, signals “pain!” and “chaos!” and your hands fly to your ears to muffle the horrific input.

Although they contain thousands of nerve endings, the bottoms of our feet have been cut off from what-used-to-be-normal sensory input most of our lives (or at least since we were kids). Emerging from this dark cushioned world makes them scream “ouch” to your brain when you first step out on uneven surfaces.

That was me, four years ago. But I did some research, gave my feet-and-brain credit, and time, and they figured it out as I began my barefoot trail journey by walking a smoothish path near my work, always with a back-up pair of sandals in my little pack. My motto: If it ain’t fun, put shoes on . . . and decomposed granite is not fun at first.

These shiny guys like to cross the trails . . . but sometimes get squashed by mountain bike tires. Go, bug, go.But now . . . my running shoe days are over. I step light and soft, ready to shift my weight, reveling in the peace of no-scuff and thud. Dust? Powdery heaven. Gravel? A chance to really relax and realize how capable my feet are. Mud?By far the best (at least in my rarely rainy Southern California climate). Puddles? Pure refreshment and a place to irresponsibly splash myself . . . with no need to worry about blisters from wet socks.

Horse poop? Lovely little pillows.

Coyote scat? A chance to step on second-hand rabbit fluff.

Get the (sensational sensory) picture?

Just as with weather, there is no such thing as a good or bad trail surface. There are just paths . . . a mix of rough and smooth patches to enjoy for what they are, for what they have to teach.

I have a favorite hundred yards of thick dust through a willow tunnel where my feet create silky splashes and the crepuscular bugs stick in my toothy sprinting grin. This is my barefoot trail running high, during which I sometimes forget the many lessons in humility I’ve almost learned: the vicious root-splinter jam that resulted in my only barefoot-related doctor’s office visit. Occasional spiny things that must be fingernail-plucked or dug out with a pocket knife. One ball-of-foot blister blob from a mid-day, mid-summer ridge run. The mysterious dark sole-splotch that I convinced myself—via some panicky internet research—was a melanoma . . . but turned out to be just a blood blister.

But yes, it’s true: rocky trails will slow you down. Hug this change in pace and terrain. It’s a chance to re-set your stance toward life: be aware of your body, relax relax relax, and see if your face doesn’t split into a smile as you take time to greet some even-slower-moving stone-faced creatures who were forged in fire deep beneath the earth. What distances they have traveled . . . oh-so-slowly.

I remember—my body remembers—long-ago summers spent running barefoot to the end of a rock jetty at a local beach. How I hurtled from boulder to boulder, as fast as my feet could leap, full of a trust I was not even aware of, a lithe-limbed confidence that a landing spot would open up. When I hear so many passing hikers comment that “I used to go barefoot all the time in the summer when I was a kid” – I wonder why, how, when we lose that wildness and let society shove us into shoes, even though our proprioceptive body is perfectly capable of finding a way over, through, between whatever rocky obstacles trails contain.

That my adult, choosing mind has re-learned not to obsess over where to plant my feet: that is the inexplicable and rapturously best part of the barefoot trail running experience . . . my fabulous feet find their own way; more bugs stick in my grin.

Until . . . yowch! Sh*t! My rock-radar fails, and somethin’s gonna be black and blue by tomorrow.

If no one is around, I might shout a word or two (see above) to disperse the pain. But if any shoddies are within hearing distance, well, I must not break the barefooter’s code of smiling silence.

Then—and this is key—I must open up my clenched toes. Re-relax. Greet the ground with a whole sole and remain vulnerable to that one shuffling step that could land me on something sharp, again. It’s worth the risk: here I am in the sun (or rain, or fog, or wind) with breath and life and many friends to say “hi” to: roadrunner, black sage, shapely river cobble.

Tomorrow, there might be a bruise. There might not. What remains, though, through long days under fluorescent lights, is the feel of flying flying flying . . . with such light bare feet.

IMG_7638 (480x640)

Thanks Thea – Make sure you check out Thea’s blog ‘Barefoot Wandering and Writing’ here.

Jun 25

Training Log wb 23rd May 2014

Wed 25th May 14

3 miles in 4mm Xeros tonight with the last half mile barefoot. It is the first tme that I have been out in the evening for a while. i usually run in the mornings but have been struggling to get up early enough.

It was also my first run in any sort of footwear for a while and I must say that I had forgotten how easy the Xeros are to run in. Maybe I shouldn’t ask what footwear is right for me but ask which is least wrong. The Xeros have rarely caused me any issue at all and are so easy to carry.

The Northwest barefooters summer run is coming up soon so i thought I had better put in a mile or two. Looking forward to exploring a bit during the summer hols. I have booked a camp pod near the area we used to have a caravan. I am looking forward to running the same routes that I used to run a few years ago.


Fri 27th June 14

3.2 miles in Xeros on forest trails by a babbling brook. I decided to run and out and back course so that I knew how much time it would take and so I wouldn’t feel pressured into hurrying. Wearing Xeros meant that I could go on rougher terrian than I have been running. A little rubbing between toes on my right foot but other than that they are excellent.


Jun 24

How to overcome my barefoot awkwardness – Some days, I don’t!

I read a comment recently in our facebook group that struck a chord with me. It was heartfelt and was about feeling awkward about people gawping when we go out for a run barefoot.

The obvious advice, is of course to get over it and not worry. Let them gawp, we have every right to run barefoot if we want to. However, if you are anything like me then it just isn’t that simple.

I have days where I couldn’t care less but they are rare. Contary to popular opinion, our barefoot running is not attention seeking behaviour. I don’t do it to stand out from the crowd and be different. For me, barefoot running is a pragmatic means to an end. I need to be barefoot because it allows me to run. I don’t do it for the adoration of the crowds. That just isn’t me.

Check out 16 ways to tie your Xeros and huaraches here

I did a quick survey of barefoot runners a little while ago about the barriers to barefoot running. I wanted to know what had stopped them taking the plunge and start sooner? One of the main things was people thinking that they were mad. It is tiring to have to explain ourselves all the time. We find ourselves in a position where we can end up defending our barefootedness repeatedly. It can become tiresome and if I am a truly honest, I have found myself avoiding runs sometimes because of it.

There you go. I have said it out loud. That is a bit of an admission. There are days when I have not been out for a run because I was not in the frame of mind to handle the gawping. I just felt like I could do without it.

It is similar to many people who come to running later in their lives for the health and weight benefits that come with it. I have known runners who are keen to get out there but only when nobody else is around or they have the camaraderie of a group to add a layer of protection. I understand that, it makes sense to me.

So..what do I do about that. How do I handle it?

Firstly, it is much better now that I have recognised the pattern of behaviour in myself. Now that I can see what I am doing, it is much easier to overcome and tell myself that I needn’t worry. I steel myself against it and run anyway.

I often run early morning when I see the same dog walkers and milkmen. We have been through it all and they no longer bat an eyelid to my barefootedness.

I also have some simple answers ready. At first, I used lots of funny responses about their dogs being barefoot and how I was born barefoot so it is easy for me. Now I tell the truth. I say that it is part of my rehab from a running injury and that it helps makes my feet and legs really strong. People seem to accept that without a second thought. It makes sense to them.

I run with a friend or two. We just chat as we run and people seem to accept that as more normal than a lone barefooter out and about and gawp less.

Finally, there are days when I haven’t got up early and for one reason or another can’t face it. I sometimes run a route with no people or I might leave it until tomorrow. I run for myself and it is meant to be enjoyable.

I know that there are many sensible folk out there who think that I should just run and not care about the gawping. I know and that is also the advice I would give if asked. I just want to be honest with my advice and say that there are just days when I can do without the attention and the stares. I have no desire to be a local celebrity thankyou very much. This barefoot lark is a personal thing for me and not one that I am doing to attract attention.

I share my stories because I want to help injured runners find another way. Feeling awkward is OK. If we pretend that we are all barefoot evangelists all the time and never acknowledge those feelings then our reluctance can creep up on us unawares and prevent us taking those positive steps forward.  Thanks to Tim for his very honest post in our group. It is good to know that I am not alone.

Happy running folks




Jun 16

Who should I trust when buying minimalist shoes?

We recently had a question in the group from a new member who was wondering where to buy minimalist running shoes.

We got a good response that ranged from specialist retailers where you can call in for a chat and expert advice to the big corporations who stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap but couldn’t care less about your running or wellbeing.

I guess it depends what you are looking for. If you are new to the whole barefoot/minimalist thing then you may be looking for a good chat and some advice before buying then there are a number of retailers who are specialists.

Here are a few who I know will do a good job. It is meant as a starting point. If you know of any more then let us know in the forum.

Barefoot Britain - Run by Tracy Davenport. Tracy is a barefoot runner and specialises in Sockwa and Xero shoes. She also sells Luna Sandals and a Luna DIY kit. My first pair of Xeros and my Sockwas came from Tracy. Her customer care is excellent and she will spend as much time as you need having chat about sizing etc before you buy.

Footworks – Run by Colin McPhail in Edinburgh and a specialist in barefoot/minimal running. Colin also organises and hosts the Scottish Barefoot Conference and has a good reputation amongst our group members for spending time making sure that runners get the right thing for them. I always think of Colin as a specialist in Vibram Fivefingers but they also stock Lunas, Xero, Vivobarefoot and others.

Primal Lifestyle - Run by Matt Wallden. Matt is the UK distributor for VFF and very knowledgeable. He often pops up in our group to offer advice on VFF and all things barefoot and minimalist. He is well placed to point you in the right direction if you are lookiong to try on a pair of VFF and need to know you nearest retailer. You can also buy online from their VFF store.

Ten Point – Run by Helen Hall. Helen is a barefoot triathlete (understatement of the year) and coach. She runs a Tri-store in Amersham, Bucks and she is very knowledgeable. Helen was the first person to ever look at my running form and she nailed it in the first 50m. A knowledgeable person to chat to.

Born Barefoot - Run by James Anelay. James runs an online store that specialises in VFF, Lunas, Merrell and Lems. My trusty VFF EL-X came from James and I visited him last year with my son as he hosted a session with Barefoot Ted.

Xeros shoes – Run by Steven Sashen and Lena Phoenix. When I ask a question, Steven is usually the first to repsond and the great thing is that you can buy Xeros from them in the US and they will ship quickly all over the world. Their website is a great barefoot resource and well worth checking out.

XeroshoesUK - Run by Simon Hanna. Simon runs a very similar website to Steven and Lena in the UK. My 4mm Xerosand my children’s Xeros all came from Simon ages ago. The 4mm are still going strong.

Go-St Barefoots - Run by Jorg Peitzker. The home of the amazing chainmail Paleobarefoots. I have two pairs courtesy of Jorg and they are the real deal. Great customer service. Certainly one of my favourite things to run in.

Softstar – Founded by Tim and Jeanie Oliver and run by the Softstar Elves. If you want to find Softstar shoes (and they are lovely) then you might have to go direct to Softstar themselves. They are a fmily run business and intend to remain that way. I have a pair of Moc 3s and they are just lovely to wear. Now and again, they have a sale where the things left get cheaper every day.

Luna Sandals - Run by Barefoot Ted. My first pair of Lunas came direct from Ted in the US way before the introduction of fancy ATS laces. I love them. It is very easy to buy direct from there and get them sent to all over the world.

Feetus - Run by Lee Firman. Lee runs an online store based up in the north east. Feetus mainly specialises in Vibram Fivefingers, Luna Sandals, Xero Shoes and Iguaneye.

Barefoot Running Store - Run by me! – Here is the place to get hold of zero drop fell running shoes from Walsh. I am not trying to take over the world with these shoes but they are awesome if you need to race down a muddy hillside. Plus they are made in my hometown of Bolton. I have been working with them for a little while and you can find out a little more by visiting the store.


The big boys who don’t really care about your feet, just your money!

I wasn’t sure whether to include these but they are a reality and we are all consumers. After wrestling with my conscience for a bit, I decided that you needed to know the full picture and decide for yourselves. The decision is yours.

Amazon – There are tales of folk knowing what they want and finding it at a discount on Amazon.

Sports Pursuit - I know folk who have bought cheaply from Sports Pursuit. They have a VFF sale periodically which seems popular.


My advice would be to form a relationship with one of the retailers who really knows what they are talking about. You may want plenty of advice after you have bought a pair. This was one of the reasons I started to guest post on Barefoot Britain. Buying the right shoes is important but what you do and don’t do in them is more so.

I wouldn’t spend a fortune if you are new to this. Start cheap and experiment. You will learn more about what suits you as you go. If you do end up chatting with one of the retailers listed above, say hi from me.

Happy running


ps. This list is a starting point for discussion. if you have any other suggestions or want some particular advice, you mention it in the forum here.



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