Oct 30

Real Barefooters number 5 – Gary Sidders – The Barefoot Bristolian

Hi Gary, thanks for taking part. The ‘Real Barefooter’s’ responses have gone way

beyond my expectations and I get a buzz out of hearing the stories of real

barefooters out there.

Having read a fair few of your tweets, I am guessing that like many barefooters you have read ‘Born to Run’. Did it start you off on your barefootdness or was it something else?

I first started my barefoot path when running became painful, boring and quite

simply zero fun. I was an average low mileage runner doing 4/6 miles 3 times a week,

maybe train up to 10 miles if my one race a year, the Bristol half marathon got

closer. It became a chore and sometimes I’d look for any excuse not to run. I laugh

now because I honestly thought my trainers needed to have the largest cushioned

heels I could get to suit my heavy landing.  I heard about Vibram fivefingers and

this new strange style of running. The key for me was the idea that these shoes

could stop my pain, mainly in the base of my back. As a carpenter who runs his own

business looking after my back is a major priority, if I can’t work I don’t get paid

so health is always at the top of my list.

I did my research and thought I’m going for it and bought the vff bilkas. I knew I

had to drop my mileage and I’d be lucky if I got to 5 mile distance within 3 months.

However the gains of pain free running in my back and also my knees won me over. My first run was on road and field. I was amazed that I could feel the ground

underneath me and by landing on my forefoot it didn’t hurt.

From that point I slowly built up my mileage including messing up my technique and

blowing my calves with a bad muscle strain. I ran on my forefoot and never let my

heels touch the floor what an idiot!!! Finding video footage for good technique was

hard and words are open to anyone to interpret how they like. After overcoming the

injury I did more research in to technique and started back. I found my calves no

longer tight but loose and supple, I run with a forefoot touch and a heel and toe

kiss (words borrowed from ken bob saxton but its the perfect analysis of how to



For those struggling you land with your forefoot ball first followed by the heel and

toe kissing the ground at the same time, it looks flat footed but its not. Also the

key is not to push off but to lift the foot.


Once I was comfortable at 5 miles I started upping my mileage effortlessly, I’d

completely fallen in love with running which is when I came across Born To Run. For

me, to read then actively go out and do what I was reading about was such a buzz.  I

totally connected with the book but this is where I was faced with a crossroad. On

one hand the book was about ultra running of which I’d never heard of but wanted to

try and on the other was the bare naked feet running that intrigued me so much. I

went down the naked bare feet running which was the right decision.

Again I started from scratch,  I ran half a mile with the skin on my soles burning

through friction the first day, then ran every other day on paths and roads to

slowly build up my technique and skill to hit 10k distance. I had my fair share of

blood blisters where I was landing too heavy at times also not allowing the skin to

recover in time. I also refused to run on grass because that teaches nothing about

technique. If you run on roads you know when you’re doing it wrong! Finally I was

amazed that even with a tiny 7mm sole on my minimalist shoes nothing quite compares to naked skin on the ground beneath you!


I have never tried Chia seeds. For the uninitiated tell us a bit about how you got into them and why you like them so much.


I heard about Chia seeds in Born To Run. I was even more amazed that I could get

hold of them in a shop quite local to me. Holland and Barrett sell them but they

give you half the amount for double the price compared to my shop. I did my research

and the first reason I took them was for hydration. The seeds soak up water and

slowly release it in to your system as its digested. I feel more hydrated when I

run. I think that’s the story behind the guy in Born To Run feeling like he had a

new lease of life after scaling a mountain.  Secondly it’s high in omega 3s and can

also help lower your cholesterol/blood pressure. I’ve got some of my friends and

family taking them now but the main response back is how good there digestive

system/ bowel movements have changed for the better. More and more reports of how good these seeds are keep emerging and they truly are a super food.


 I know that you ran the Bristol 10k barefoot although it was very rough. Have you run many races unshod, any that you would recommend for barefooters?


I’ve only ran 2 naked feet races, Bristol 10k and my first race the Frenchay 10k

also in Bristol.

It’s a race I had in my mind as my goal to run completely barefoot. Not only did I

complete it but I was also the first person according to one of the event organisers

to ever run it barefoot, (naked feet) I got such a huge buzz. It’s not a bad

barefooters race, there are some nasty surfaces but the adrenaline was pumping to

much to care. However my own personal number 1 rule is always carry foot wear with

you. If you need to stop, STOP! You do yourselves no favours running in agony. The

reason we were good at it thousands of years ago is we did it from birth, we never

had to retrain our brain to barefoot, it was natural instinct.


I love my Lunas, I know that you run in them also What else do you put onyour feet?


I started In vibram 5 fingers which I now use as casual wear, I then went to nothing

just me and my naked feet. I’m now on my 2nd pair of Luna sandals. I started with

the original sandal then moved to the Leadville pacer because the ultra marathon I

was training for was a mixture of trail (awful rocky trail) and road so I needed a

grippy sole. Since running naked feet and in minimalist sandals my feet have

changed. They are now spread wide, so normal foot wear cramps my feet. I now wear

merrell barefoot trainers just for casual but mainly its a winter shoe, they allow

my forefoot and toes to splay naturally. My work requires me to wear steel toe cap

safety shoes. The pro is they allow my foot to spread the con is there is barely any

flexibility in the sole.


 I would like to say that I cross-train but I would be lying. You use  kettlebells. I wouldn’t know where to start with them. How do you us them, does it make a difference to your running?


I started lifting weights when my upper body started to loose size and all that

lactic acid from running just simply destroys muscle tissue. I also read that having

a strong upper body gives you better posture and endurance when you run. I keep it

light, I do a 20 minute weight session at home on my non run days. It consists of 2

sets of ten press ups, 1 wide armed and 1 set with a more traditional press up

stance. I then do 3 lots of kettle bell swings with a 12kg bell kicking out 30 reps

at a time. This is fantastic exercise which seems to work all the body in one single


It’s fantastic for good running posture. I recommend people go online and read up

about it and also to learn good controlled technique. I then do 2 sets of ten arm

curls and 1 set of 10 sit ups which I do as slow and controlled as possible. Finally

2 sets of ten vomiting cats. Go online and read up they are fantastic and an

exercise I got from 4hour body by tim ferris. (Great book highly recommended)

It’s a 15/20min workout it’s nice and short but targets all the right areas and

doesn’t eat in to your day, simple.


I was impressed with your laid back attitide getting ready for a half marathon recently. Has barefooting changed your outlook on life or have you always been pretty chilled?


I would say its definitely changed my approach to running. It simply boils down to

the fact that I’m not going to break any world records running so I let time go out

the window, I’m not Mo Farah!(Seems to be hard for many to grasp or accept)

For me it’s about enjoying my run and disappearing in my own little world. All I

need to do is concentrate on good technique which is why I no longer listen to music

when I run. I take my phone with me and use my run keeper app, I stick it in my

pocket on silent and when I get back I like to take a look at where I’ve been. (yes

if I’ve had a couple of quick miles I get a little kick out of it if I’m being


My most recent half marathon I was very relaxed, I’ve enjoyed my best runs on

weekends when I’ve had a heavy meal with a couple of bottles of wine the night

before. I’ve ran up to 18 miles nursing a slight hangover. So I don’t take it

serious unless I’m running an ultra marathon.

This year I ran the bristol half with a group of friends and ended up breaking my pb

by 8mins. I found when training for pace my enjoyment went out of running.


As a child, I visited family in Bath alot and I think I recognise the crescent from your website. I haven’t been for about 35 years but a relative has just bought a flat down there. Are there many barefooters around in your neck of the woods?


I’ve met only 2, myself and my wife. (oh and 1 random guy who tapped me on the

shoulder during a race he then shot off). She’s slowly getting into naked feet

running but only to perfect her technique when running in luna sandals. I see about

3 minimalist runners during races but sadly no naked feet runners. I’ve also got a

few friends who run in vibram fivefingers but they’ve yet to do a race in them.


 I have visited your sash window website. I also love your tweet about a client giving you home made soup. Sounds like a nice lifestyle. How do you fit your running around work? What is a typical training week?


I really like talking to my customers about my running. It raises a few eyebrows.

Some think its great, others are on the fence and some say its plain wrong. I’m not

gonna preach it, I’m certainly not a barefoot activist. When I run I get strange

looks sometimes a bit of verbal but because I believe in what I’m doing, it’s water

off a ducks back. My job does make a nice lifestyle because when I finish my job at

whatever time, I go home, I’m my own boss. There is an on going joke with my buddy’s that I never work, I’m always running, but I just fit it around my day.

A normal week consists of running every other day of which 7/8 miles is the normal

distance. On a weekend I try to go off and come home when I want so runs can vary

from 8, up to 10/12/15 miles. If I know I’m working in some stunning locations I

take my running kit with me, when my jobs done I change and go off for a run. 1 week

I’m running through amazing countryside of Somerset or Gloucestershire the next on

Weston super-mare beach, more commonly its running when I’m back home on my own routes.

The word ultra keeps coming up. Are you training for anything in particular coming up? Where do you think your running will be upto in 5  years time?


My personal feeling is we were “born to run”. (Yep that bloody book) I’ve got myself

up to a level I never knew possible until I read that book. I run for fun and by

doing that I cover long distances. I now feel capable of running an ultra when ever

one appears in the Calendar I fancy. It’s not smug, it’s because I’m in tune with my

body I know when something hurts I adjust my technique slightly, I know that when my

muscles are screaming at me that when I stop at the finish line the pain goes away.

Just by understanding a few basics you can run further than you probably thought.

The main bonus to all my running and research is that our barefoot running style is

so efficient.

It means we run for longer with less effort, it also means we don’t hobble around

the next day with stiff legs. Every now and then I’ll tweak something that requires

an extra days rest, it’s just a reminder to me to perfect my technique on my next

run. As much as I like to think I’m the perfect barefoot runner I still need to

watch my technique as much as someone just starting out.

I strongly recommend people watch or invest in the vivo barefoot app or visit there

website to watch the video on perfect technique.

Also books by Ken Bob saxton and Michael Sandler are great reads also Scott jureks

new book eat and run is a great read for those thinking ultra.

In five years ill be running, my goal is to keep running as long as I’m alive its my

long term project. I wanna see how I’m doing at 60 then 70 and beyond but the one

thing the born to run book tells us is its our natural instinct to keep running. As

long as I’m healthy I’m gonna be running.


You can follow Gary on Twitter

Check out more Real Barefooters at the RB archive

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  1. Hi Gary, great to read about how you got into barefoot running.

    What you said about technique really struck a chord with me, I struggled with getting technique right for a long time. Every description just didn’t seem to make any sense – like you say, words are open to interpretation and good video footage is hard to find. The first few times I tried I would up with horrible sprains and blisters too.

    I’m still not quite brave enough to go completely barefoot though, kudos to you for getting there!

    • Ian Hicks on October 31, 2012 at 12:37 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Gary, I love your interview, your answers are much like my own (I’m Real Barefooters Number 2). I live in Trowbridge, near Bath. If you ever want to meet for run, I’m sure Chris will give you my email.

    • Gary Sidders on October 31, 2012 at 8:55 pm
    • Reply

    Glad to help Paul, Ian I’d be more than happy to meet up for a barefoot run as your quite local! I now have your email ;0)

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