Walking & Running Barefoot: conditioning the feet

I have recently taken to running and walking with no shoes on. It’s not something I do very often, perhaps walking maybe 5 miles per week and running maybe 3 miles at the most.

Less of a surprise was how much of a joy it has been to walk and run barefoot cross country. It really does feel amazing to be so closely connected to nature and to be able to feel the contours and textures of the surfaces you run over so regularly – it brings a whole new element to running and can make a regular training route new and exciting, just like when you first came across it!I thought it was a bit of a risk walking and running with no shoes over pavement and tarmac at first, but I was surprised at how quickly my brain, eyes and footfall adapted to noticing and avoiding potential hazards!

When I first started road running I did try out minimal running shoes with some New Balance Minimus Zero but they tended to really hurt my feet if I went anywhere over 10km – not good for my long runs or for Half Marathons. I have now settled on a pair of New Balance MT110s.  They’re not exactly cushioned shoes at all, with a 4mm heel to toe drop – but far better than the Minimus Zero over 10km+ distances (and with much more room in the toe box). I use them on the trail and on the road and I really cannot recommend them enough as a tough racing and training flat for the spring and summer months!

It looked like I was going to either have quite a bit of time off to allow the blisters to heal or strap up my feet heavily and purchase a more cushioned pair of shoes – something I would never consider doing as I love my MT110s and hate to change things when they’re working for me (granted, it could be argued they were giving me blisters but I felt the problem lay somewhere else…)However, after running a Half Marathon and Quarter Marathon in quick succession, with all the requisite training in between, I began to have problems with recurring blisters when I ran at a certain pace or over 6km. They just would not heal no matter what I tried and so I turned to various forums and websites for some advice and tips. There was so much out there and I’d tried most of it so I began to despair slightly!

In the end, I posted a status on Twitter about my problem and thankfully an old friend put me in touch with someone who used to run Ultra distance races, including the Badwater Death Valley Ultra!  This is how I came to get some advice from now retired Adventure & Ultra racer, Primus Lambert. Primus told me that he used to harden his feet by walking as far as he could, every day, with no shoes on – it didn’t matter what the weather was like, the worse the better!

I don’t think I’ll be making a regular thing of walking, or running, with no shoes on when the winter months come around like Primus did.  However, I will say that I’ve noticed that walking and running barefoot for just a few miles a week over this summer has really worked a treat on my feet!  The blisters have largely disappeared and I feel more confident and comfortable going faster and further.

So, my advice to those of you out there who get very sweaty (and consequently blistered) feet when running: eschew those shoes once in a while – it’s good for you!

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