Minimalist Running for Complete Beginners - My Story

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May my story, and the information I provide, ensure you begin your minimalist running injury free to enjoy for as many years as you choose to run.

With a strong interest in health and fitness, I became a Fitness and Group Fitness Instructor back in 1996. I naturally progressed to becoming a runner for both enjoyment and as a way to ensure I kept fitter than my clients. After a year I developed shin splints. Due to my line of work it was very difficult to rest in order to recover appropriately, so I continued to suffer from shin splints for over a year. It was recommended that I make an appointment with a podiatrist and sure enough I ended up with orthotics. Full length sports orthotics served their purpose from 1998 - 2011 provided I updated my runners every 6 months - that was how long it took for my runners to lose their support. I could always tell when a new pair of runners were needed. My body would let me know via the infliction of knee and shin pain. Over the 13 years of wearing orthotics I was able to remian shin splint free and knee pain free so long as I replaced them every 3 years with newly made ones to manage my knee joint health. However, come 2012 updating both my orthotics and shoes no longer did the trick. I was unable to do the thing I loved so much for more than a couple of minutes before a sharp, severe knee pain set in. I had come to a fork in the road. Where was I to go from here. I could have a new mold made of my foot in order to construct new orthotics or......

Mid 2011 a good friend of mine lent me a book he had read by Christopher McDougall called Born To Run. All that I read within the book made so much sence to me - the whole minimalist running technique seemed natural. I became a believer but took no action on what I had read at the time, however, coming to this fork in the road regarding my running future I had to make a decision regarding what I would do. I decided to take, what was at the time, the road less travelled and it was the best decision I have ever made. 

My minimalist running journey did not come without it's repercussions.

The Biggest Mistake I Made That So Many Others Make Too:

Doing too much too soon. It's the reason so many people, including many health specialists, disagree with minimalist running. Do too much too soon and you will end up with an injury. I made the mistake as have others with a "bad" story.

When you read various articles on minimalistic running for beginners you will notice that they all explain the same thing, "take it easy", "ease into it", "don't do too much too soon". Me - well I went all out. I will never forget the joy and elation I felt exercising in my Vibs (Vibram Five Fingers). It just felt so good and so right. I felt lighter, had more spring in my steps and felt so energised. It was primal. It was instictful. I just couldn't deny how natural it felt.

I did everything in my Vibram Five Fingers, I taught step aerobics, hi and lo impact aerobics and any Les Mills classes I instructed. I walked everywhere in them, weight trained in them and used cardio equipment in them. I even wore them to social events. I basically lived in them. The only thing I did not do was run in them (and sleep in them). You see, I was a treadmill runner at the time and I just couldn't get the correct technique. I figured I'd get there eventually. Well, "eventually" turned into a good 12 months. You guessed it, I ended up with an injury. I found out about 8 months after injuring myself that I had inflicted upon myself a stress fracture - mid right foot. The stress fracture did not show up on previous X-rays that had been taken both 2 weeks, 6 weeks and 10 weeks after the initial injury, so things were treated as though I had a soft tissue injury - lots of strapping and courses of anti-inflammatories. I continued wearing my Vib's. It took around 3 months before I could walk with no pain and at around the 6 month mark I was able to teach low impact classes. It was February 2013 when I experienced my first decent run - and I haven't looked back. I love minimalistic running and will never go back to conventional runners.

So please, please, please......ease into it. I now realise I needed to ease into transition from conventional runners to minimalist runners more so than the average person as I had been wearing orthotics for 13 years. My feet were even weaker than the average foot encased in conventional runners only.

Why Barefoot / Minimalist Running?

  • Have you ever watched a toddler run? I recommend you do and notice what part of their foot they land on. A toddler has not yet been conditioned by our running technique beliefs so will run 100% naturally.
  • Think about how you land when you do any other high impact move such as skipping. Why should running be any different? The bone structure of our feet are designed to be one of the best shock absorbers on the planet provided we land forefoot. Heel strike only sends shock waves up the legs and through the knee, hip and spinal joints.
  • Way way back before the invention of appropriate weapons, tribes had to work as a team to run down an animal in order to kill and eat it. There were no running shoes back then. Humans have the physiology to run down an animal. Animals will fatigue or dehydrate far before any human. Do you think tribal humans were landing on their heels????
  • Check out running technique sites and see how heel striking actually slows your running. In effect using a heel strike is like hitting "the brakes" with each stride.
  • I don't want to sound religious, although I will say I am a spiritual person, but have a look at the perfection of nature. Think about the perfection of the human body. Now, what ever intelligence you believe in, be it "God", "Universal Energy" or what ever you like to call "It", "It" created this. It created our feet with perfect design. Or perhaps you believe in evolution. The years of evolution constructed the perfectly designed foot. Do you realy think "man' can out design what ever "It" you believe in or out design years of evolution?
  • Strengthen the feet. Studies have proven barefoot / minimalist running does just that.
  • Studies have also proven there to be no difference in injury rates between those who run in conventional runners and those who choose to run minimalist /barefoot.

To me, it seems landing forefoot is our complete natural state. I believe the whole idea of heel strike came about as a money making scheme by some large company wanting to make lots of profit by introducing, and marketing, runners designed for heel strike. This heel strike running using conventional runners simply weakens our foot muscles. Since minimalist running, my feet have changed shape. They have gone from looking very narrow with no shape to what I now describe as looking like a human back. They are narrow where the ankle and arch begin (like a humans' waistline), then widen to the base of the toes (like the top part of your back). I like to describe my feet as having "Lats". They look strong. 

Getting Started:

  • Get on the net and check out sites on barefoot / minimalistic running techniques.
  • While you are there, check out sites to strengthen your body in preparation for barefoot / minimalistic running. Unlike conventional running which is about getting fit by running, barefoot / minimalist running is a case of becoming fit to run. You will need to strengthen such things as your core and postural muscles, foot arches, calves, hamstings and glutes.
  • Stretch!! Especially calves, achilles, hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors.
  • Skipping is great for introducing your body to a barefoot / minimalistic running. Cruizing on a scooter is also good, focusing on the forefoot landing under your hips as you push yourself along.
  • Again, start slow. It is recommended to use minimalist shoes or go barefoot to only walk for the first few weeks. Then, providing you are in a good space with the walking, you may want to incorperate a couple of minutes of running. Increase running time slowly, maybe just a couple of minutes at a time. Increase your running distance by no more than 10% at a time.
  • Avoid sprints or fast pace running for a while as your calves and achilles will suffer.
  • Consult a podiatrist / physiotherapist who is educated in barefoot / minimalist running. Be mindful of the fact that some physio and podiatry clinincs are in agreements with certain brands of running shoes and will promote their use for commissions.
  • Expect to experience calf and achilles tightness when starting out. This is normal as your body adjusts to your new form of running. Make sure you give those calves and achilles enough rest between runs. Do not push through your pain threshold. Make sure you stretch and strengthen calves and achilles. A great functional stretch for calves is, with toe balls planted on the edge of a step, hang your heels off the back of the step keeping knees straight but soft. To target the achilles the same stretch is great adding a knee bend unitl you feel it within the achilles region. To strengthen, standing heel raises are great. Advance to single leg heel raises when a further challenge is needed.

Good Form:

  • Land forefoot allowing the heels to make contact with the ground. Not allowing the heels to touch down will lead to extra tight calves.
  • Ensure feet land under hips.
  • Keep your strides are short.
  • Maintain good posture. Keep tall as you run with hips under shoulders.
  • Run quietly. Land softly.

Do not attempt Minimalistic or Barefoot running if:

  • You have issues with inability to feel your feet such as the case with some diabetics. Without feedback of how your foot is landing on the ground you will end up pounding the ground too hard.
  • Your foot has not healed 100% from an injury be that soft tissue or bone.
  • You suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or any other abnormality of your feet or legs.
  • You read content to learn more about minimalistic / barefoot running and you come to the conclusion of disbelief. Your thoughts create your reality.

Another important thing to note is that minimalist / barefoot running is not for everyone. I'm a believer due to the conclusions I came to via research and the fact I have come out the other side injury free as well as orthotic free. My feet do recieve quarterly adjustments to ensure both their health and the health of my knee and hip joints. Myself personaly, I will never go back to conventional heel strike running or the use of conventional runners. Conventional runners actully cause me grief now so for me it's minimalist all the way. 

I really hope I have provided you with information you have found useful. Feel free to leave a comment on my Facebook page.

Yours in Keeping Functional and Natural,

Donna Dekker

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