International Barefoot Running Day 2012: my second year of celebration and my first barefoot trail run

Official poster of International Barefoot Running Day 2012

One year ago (May 1, 2011), I celebrated the first annual International Barefoot Running Day by running 0.6 mile on the streets of my neighborhood. That was the very first time in my life I was “brave” enough to run barefoot outside (other than one failed attempt I discuss below).

Today, I pushed the envelope by running a full 2 miles barefoot, including a 0.5 mile trail loop on Frick Park. This was my first time ever running barefoot on the trails.

My two feet

Soles of my two feet after barefoot run

Here’s the story of why I got into barefoot running, and what progress I’ve made in the past year.

My first barefoot run outside

I have to start with my first barefoot run outside. This happened in summer 2002, on the track at Carnegie Mellon University. I did only one lap. I did this as an experiment as I was learning from trial and error that running with lighter shoes seemed to feel better for me, and decreased injuries to my knees and shins, in particular.

You have to understand, this happened a decade ago, well before minimalist and barefoot running became much more widespread, through Chris McDougall’s bestselling book, Born to Run, that came out in 2009 (I read the book in May 2009 and highly recommend it to all runners!). At the time, my experiments as a runner had led me in the following progression of shoes:

The idea of really running barefoot never occurred to me, but I wanted to experiment with simply doing a bit of controlled training (on the predictable surface of a track) barefoot.

After a few attempts, I gave up. I suffered from

So for almost a decade, I simply never tried running barefoot again, even on a track.

Transition to Vibram FiveFingers shoes

I have raved repeatedly on this blog about my use of Vibram FiveFingers minimalist shoes. They are my regular shoes now (when not in winter) for running (road and trail), street walking, trail hiking. They came to my attention through a friend in 2009, and in conjunction with my reading McDougall’s book, I bought my first pair of FiveFingers shoes in fall of 2009.

It took me two years of occasional use to really build up distance with the minimalist shoes and change my form in many ways such that I no longer experience any undue pain on stress on my muscles or joints. By 2011, I was ready to use them as my everyday footwear.

The next step: barefoot

However, the idea of barefoot running kept on haunting me. The difference between running in even minimalist shoes and barefoot is vast. I experienced a lot of fears:

In the past year, since my tiny experiment on May 1, 2011, I have been doing small amounts of outdoors barefoot walking and running, mostly in the context of walking or running home 2 miles from work, and going barefoot at the office (I have always gone barefoot indoors at home, since I grew up under the Asian custom of leaving shoes at the door). Over time, I have addressed my fears to some extent:

I have grown to be fairly comfortable walking or running on concrete and asphalt, where the surfaces are mostly predictable.

The final frontier: barefoot trail running

But my experiments last year of even walking off the road and grass onto the trails of Frick Park had me whimpering after a few seconds, feeling totally unready to seriously walk or run on the trails.

Until today.

In honor of the second annual International Barefoot Running Day, I went for a 2 mile barefoot run today that included a 0.5 mile trail loop. The soles of my feet suffered a bit, but I actually managed to do this run without screaming or giving up. I came home with some hot spots on my soles, but nothing much worse than when I run 2 miles just on concrete and asphalt.

A year ago, I would not have believed that I would run a full half mile barefoot on the trails. But that was a year ago. A year ago, I would not have believed that I would be doing today many of the things that I have only begun doing last year (such as writing my own blog, playing music, programming in JavaScript). Things change. And all that is required is to take one small step at a time.

What next?

I still cannot imagine running barefoot for more than half a mile, or on much more difficult terrain than the one trail section in Frick Park. We’ll see what I have to report next year for the third International Barefoot Running Day!

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