Category: Barriers

Jan 16

Barefoot running and the ‘Paradoxical Theory of Change’

mirrorI know a runner who cannot face running in organised events anymore. He would love to but cannot get anywhere near the times he was running a few years ago. Nobody else cares but he is weighed down by the things he achieved in the past.
One of the biggest problems we face when we begin something new is that we come to it with a whole host of expectations and back history. Experience is useful but if we are not careful it can also be the thing that stops us making progress. It can become a barrier and to some extent we all suffer from it. We need to let go of that previous version of ourselves and accept where we are at today.

It is what a Gestalt therpist would term ‘The Parodixical theory of Change’. The paradox is that the best way to change is to first accept and be comfortable with where we are at the moment. It isn’t always an easy thing to do. We are much more comfortable shutting out eyes to our current selves and creating a shiny image of the person we want to be.

So…we can end up putting things off until we are either the same weight as we used to be, we are at the same mileage that we used to run or we can manage the same sort of speeds we used to achieve. It is easier to spot in other people than in ourselves.
[spacer height=”08px”]As runners, most of us are prey to that ‘miles a week’ dialogue. It is one of the ways that runners classify other runners. Are we a 20 miles a week runner or a 40 mile a weeker? Those of us coming to barefoot running from a lifetime of running can find it hard to shake. The thought of dropping down to almost zero can be hard to accept.
[spacer height=”08px”]Even more pervasive is speed. Again, runners class other runners by their pace. Are they a 40 or 60 minute 10K runner or a 3 or 4 hour marathon runner?
[spacer height=”08px”]It has been hard. I was typically a 20 mile a week runner and could just about get under the 40 minute mark for a 10k. Going back to zero took some time to accept.
[spacer height=”08px”]The fact is, I was always running on borrowed time. I was always going to break down eventually…and I did.
[spacer height=”08px”]One of the biggest things that I have done whilst barefoot running is let go of my vision of the runner I was. I have accepted who I am now and what I am capable of at the moment. I look at myself in the mirror and accept where I am up to. I am grateful and count my blessings because there was a time where I was not sure if I would ever run again.
[spacer height=”08px”]I look at myself and feel no shame about where I am up to. I embrace it. To be honest, I feel a sense of relief at not having to live up to that runner I used to be. I have let go and accepted that this is a different phase of my life.
[spacer height=”08px”]I am in no rush. I have the rest of my life stretched out in front of me and want to be a lifelong runner. I am building from the ground up and rather than feel shame, I feel pride in the fact that I didn’t give up. I kept searching and experimenting until I found I way that worked for me.
[spacer height=”08px”]We have nothing to prove to anyone. We need to accept where we are, embrace it and smile. Forget what we can’t do and celebrate the things we can achieve.
[spacer height=”08px”]Give it a go. Look at yourself in the mirror, let go of the past and celebrate the things that you can do today. It doesn’t stop you dreaming and thinking big but you will be doing it from solid ground.

[spacer height=”08px”]Embrace it and step into the person you are rather than cling onto that mirage from the past. Do it often and make it a habit. It is one of the most empowering things that you can do.

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?[spacer height=”10px”]

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.[spacer height=”10px”]
Why do I run (and write) more consistently when my life is at its busiest?[spacer height=”10px”]
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.[spacer height=”10px”]
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.[spacer height=”10px”]
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.[spacer height=”10px”]

[important]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. [/important]
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.[spacer height=”10px”]
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.[spacer height=”10px”]

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.[spacer height=”10px”]
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.[spacer height=”10px”]
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.[spacer height=”10px”] can we harness this for our own purposes? How can we add intelligent limitations to our running?[spacer height=”10px”]
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).[spacer height=”10px”]
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.[spacer height=”10px”]
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.[spacer height=”10px”]
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.[spacer height=”10px”]
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.[spacer height=”10px”]
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?

[important]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. [/important]

Apr 18

Is barefoot running really that difficult?

Is barefoot runing really that difficult or do we make it seem harder than it really is?

Recently, I asked over a thousand barefoot runners what they thought were the barriers to barefoot running. What things prevent people from actually taking off their shoes and giving it a go?

We sometimes make barefoot running seem more difficult than it really is.

Why do we do that?

If barefoot running is such a pure and simple thing, why do we talk about and intellectualise it so much?

We certainly don’t do it on purpose and maybe if we can understand a few of our reasons then we can remove some of the mystique and help new runners find their way.

We talk about all sorts of stuff, often in great detail.

I have been asked more than once why barefoot runners talk so much  about shoes. My theory is that it is because barefoot is so simple. If we didn’t talk about shoes then we wouldn’t have anything else to talk about.

XerosYou also need to remember that as an online community, we are spread all over the globe and we come together for the camaraderie. When we do that online, we chat because there isn’t much else to do. Pretty soon we start getting into the minutia of the subject and it can all end up feeling more complicated than it really is.


Many of us have been searching for a solution to our injury problems and experience a kind of awakening when we discover barefooting. We just have to share. That was certainly the case with me and it can lead to an unintended evangelical tone to some discussions that can seem a little daunting or overbearing to the beginner.

We discuss barefoot running thoroughly because many of us are questioned about our barefootedness repeatedly. We find ourselves defending our position and want to have well formed arguments ready in case of derrogatory or disparaging comments. We don’t want to do something just because it may be the latest fad. We want to make sure that what we do is backed up and has some substance.


We feel the need to reduce risk. In today’s society, we have a tendency to believe that we should reduce all risk and educate ourselves thoroughly before embarking on something new. Forums and discussion groups spring up and we talk about every single aspect of a pursuit in great detail. I am sure that is not restricted to barefoot running.

Forums are great places to make our learning curve less steep but can leave our heads spinning with contadictory advice. We don’t know who to believe and so end up reading more and more. We get what is known as ‘analysis paralysis’. We can’t begin until we have read just one more article.

And unfortunately, there is a feeling that some runners can come across as a bit grandiose about barefoot running. I have read discussions were some barefooters have been disparaging and elitest with anyone who disagrees with their point of view.


No specific group own barefoot running. It is for everyone but I know that when I first started reading some forum discussions, I came away with a feeling that it was for other people and not me. That was simply not the case.

Barefoot running is an inherently simple pursuit. You take off your shoes and run. We can treat it a simply as that and learn the detail as we go or we can study to the nth degree before we begin.

My advice is to learn as much about barefooting as you feel you need to. Don’t be put off by some of the detailed discussions out there. They are perfectly valid but you don’t need to know everything in order to begin.

Download the Barefoot Beginner Guide and start today.

Think about it, but don’t over think it. You will learn more in 40 seconds of actual running than in a year of reading about someone else doing it. It really can be as simple as that.

Come and join in the chat in our Barefoot Beginner facebook group. We are a warm and friendly bunch, you will be made very welcome.

We run, we chat and we smile.


Apr 04

Is age a barrier to barefoot running?

So…you would like to begin barefooting but you think that you are just too old. It sounds fantastic but you think that ship sailed a good while ago.

So the question is:

After a lifetime in shoes, is age a barrier to barefoot running?

There a a couple of things to consider here. We will come to he physical aspects of age and running in a few moments but first let’s consider how age might affect our view of barefooting as a pursuit in general.

Young people like to think that they are only free and liberated souls on the planet and that their elders are simply old and set in their ways. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

I was once running past an elderly gentleman as he went for a stroll one sunny afternoon in the countryside. As I pulled alongside him, he looked down and asked me why I was barefoot. He listened carefully and took in everything I said. He told me that he felt exactly the same about swimming. If he wasn’t skinny dipping, he felt like he was cheating.

He was well over 80 years of age and more open to the idea of barefooting than many people a quarter of his age.

So…if the mind is willing, is there any physical reason why getting older should get in the way?

There are a few things to think about:

One of our Barefoot Beginner group members, Kathryn Priest, is currently doing a dissertation in the use of barefooting in the rehab for falls patients. During our online discussion she brought up 3 things:

  1. Bone Density – Do our bones become less strong?
  2. Muscle status – Have we beome so malaligned over our lives that it is impossible?
  3. Plantar sensitivity – Does the ability of our feet to feel the ground decrease as we get older?

The following is my own take on the theme.

Bone Density

We know that bone density in many women can decrease following the menopause. This need not be a barrier but may well be something to consider. Exercise and diet are the commonly advised ways to combat this. It is easy to get sucked into scientific claim and counter claim here but it would seem pretty universally accepted that exercise can improve bone density over time. Proceed with caution but do proceed seems pretty sensible here. It certainly should not be a barrier.

Muscle Status

Of course, the older we are, the longer we have had to really mess about with our proper alignment. We may have had a lifetime of poor posture and little activity. We could go into great detail on how many things we do on a daily basis can mess us up. Suffice to say, that the longer we have been doing them, the more remedial work we may need to do.

This is not a barrier to barefooting. It is a reason to begin! We may need to adjust our expectations and time scales but we might as well start and get on with it.

Plantar Sensitivity

Plantar sensitivity is fascinating. We know that our neural density decreases as we get older. On the face of it, this should mean that our ability to feel the ground should be less and this should decrease our ability to barefoot successfully. Does this mean that we should not begin?


It simply means that it might take a little longer for our ability to feel the ground to develop…but it will. If anything, this again is a reason to begin barefooting rather than a barrier.

If your feet feel the ground less through your shoes, the best thing to do is take them off. You will be able to feel the ground so much more.

A few little success stories:

A couple more of our group members chipped in. John Richmond has just started to barefoot at the age of 62 and John Lupton at the age of 65. They are loving it.

Age is no barrier to barefooting. You may need to adjust the timeframe but the benefits will be worth it.

A few more real barefooters:

Peter G Smith: After years of running, transitioned to VFF at age 52, Luna’s at 53, Ultramarathons at 54 age is just a number.

Felicia Brownlee: You gotta go easy!! Barefoot a few minutes a day, and ease into it. Just like lifting weights….you don’t curl 100lbs your first day at the gym, it takes time!! After years of wearing shoes, the foot/ankle full range of motion is inhibited and those muscles begin to weaken at the least utilized point so it’s almost like starting over, literally learning how to walk again with ALL of the muscles and ligaments at their full potential. , IT IS TOTALLY WORTH the baby steps to BF. Its beautiful, fullfilling, and liberating! Ice and rest and go easy!

Rene Borg (Champions Everywhere): We’ve retrained people over here over the age of 70 – it’s never to late to learn something new, it just generally get’s a bit harder.

You can follow the discussion on age and barefooting in our facebook group here. We are a warm and friendly group. You will be made very welcome. 

Mar 30

Barefoot running is impossible for me, isn’t it?

So…what do you do when you hear about other people being successful barefooting but can’t see how it could be possible for you?

You want to give it a go (You are reading these words after all) but the whole thing just feels impossible.

Well, the first thing to realise is that you are not alone. I speak to people who feel like that all the time. Some have never really done any running and some have a lifetime of running behind them.

My dad is one of them. He is now over 70 and has been a runner all his life. He looks at my barefoot exploits and shakes his head. He is determined that he couldn’t do it. For him,he says, it is impossible.

He has no real injury worries and runs with beautiful form and so he has no motivation for even trying it out. He will continue to believe that he can’t possibly do it even though I know full well he could if he needed to.

I think that is the point.

Many of us come to a point where we can no longer continue doing the same thing we have been doing for years.

It isn’t working for us anymore.

For me, I feel like running in conventional running shoes is impossible rather than barefoot running. I think that my point of view is more reasonable. I was designed to run barefoot rather than in built up shoes. But…..My dad will never accept it.

Unless…something or other means that he needs to.

There is a reason that you are reading this. You can see that there are plenty of  runners successfully adding barefoot running to their lives. However, you may also have heard tales of barefooters breaking down injured and are convinced that you would be just the same.

It happens but…..It doesn’t have to be like that.

It is perfectly possible to find a simple and safe way to make barefoot running a reality for you.

Here are few things to consider:

  1. Why are you reading this? What is your story so far?  Is running the way you do working well and allowing you to run safely and relatively free of injury?
  2. If the answer to the last question is Yes….. you are fine and running really well…… then good luck to you. You are one of those rare souls who is just like my dad. If not then consider why you are continuing to do the same thing but expecting a different outcome. I have heard that described as the definition of madness. It may be time to look for a new approach. Barefooting might just work.
  3. What is the specific thing or things about barefoot running that you think is impossible? Tough question. It can be hard to single out a particular reason especially for an activity that feels so alien to you. Have a look at our list of 33 barriers to barefoot running. Do any resonate with you? Sometimes it is good just to acknowledge those worries and say them out loud.
  4. Read a few success stories. You could start by having a look at our Real Barefooters page and joining our facebook group.
  5. If you have still think it is impossible, post your thoughts in our group. We have a family friendly community and there will be people who thought exactly the same and overcame it.
  6. Find a safe way of beginning that starts where you are at. Downloading the Barefoot Beginner guide (In the sidebar to the right) is a good place to start. It will guide you through your first steps at your pace.
  7. Let us know how you go on. My first barefoot run was 40 seconds. Think about that. I didn’t begin by taking off my shoes and running a half marathon. I managed 40 seconds on a smooth road before I had to slip on my shoes and walk home.
  8. Finally, remember that barefoot running is not superhuman, it is very, very human. If you are human (make up your own jokes) then running is the thing you were designed for and we don’t arrive in the world with Nikes attached to our feet. We arrive barefoot. As I heard Matt Wallden (Primal Lifestyle) once say. He comes from a long line of barefooters. He was born barefoot and so was his mother before him. You are just the same. Why on earth do you think that you are not?

Still thinking that it impossible for you? A few more things to consider:

So…If we know that going barefoot is as human and natural as breathing, why have some people got to the point where they just think it is impossible for them?

We live in a modern world, where we have lost touch with the fact that we are animals just as much as all the other species that inhabit the earth. In the hurly burly of everyday life, it is easy to forget that we too were made to survive on this earth we inhabit.

Shoes can be used very well to protect our feet so we assume that they are a universally good invention.

This is not the case.

They can protect our feet but also be the cause of so many problems. We can learn a lot here from the treatment for horses. If a horse is lame, one of the first things to do is remove its shoes. Shoes are often the cause of the problem.

We became adapted and our feet are one of the most amazing structures in the animal kingdom. They are part of a system that allowed us to move around quickly with minimum body contact with the floor.

It must stand to reason that the part that is designed to touch the floor is superbly adapted to provide feedback to our brains that allow us to move around quickly and safely.

But….only if we let them actually touch the floor. T

The foot is designed to work in a complex way. It needs to be able to splay when it touches the floor, the toes need to spread. We need those nerve endings to feel the ground beneath them.

At school, we learn about our ears being responsible for our balance and of course they play an important part.

But..they are not the only part.

The soles of our feet also play a vital role. The way the foot moves fires muscles in our legs and lower back at just the right time. Those who say they can’t barefoot because of a muscle problem or back problem are exactly the people who should give it a go.

It is a belief thing.

Sometimes we just can’t see ourselves doing something because it seems so far from our normal experience.

So…..challenge your assumptions and make sure that what you think is the case is actually true

Choose one barrier at a time, overcome it and get out there. It might just be the best thing you ever do.

I asked the Barefoot Beginner community what they would say if they had a minute with someone who said, ‘Barefoot Running is for other people. It is impossible for me.’

We had lots of responses and the final word goes to Nichola

I’m so lucky. I’ve gone barefoot most of my life and I’m almost 60 now. I only wear shoes to work or when going out and even then I’ll often slip them off. My early school photos show many of the class in bare feet.Now I wouldn’t class myself as a barefoot runner because I definitely don’t run as much as I should. My feet are bare more often than not. I don’t have leathery soles or cracked heals.What I’m saying is Take your shoes off wherever possible. Get used to being barefoot more than shod and then it won’t seem so unnatural when you go out to run barefoot.

It really is possible if you take it one step at a time.

Happy Running