July 2014 archive

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.

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