Feet are an awkward subject. We cram them into stilettos, stiff leather, and steel-toes for the workaday world. We kick off our shoes with a sigh at the end of a long day. When life gets us down We seek the feeling of sand between our toes. A post on feet might seem odd, but being a minimalist runner, outdoorsman, and budding sartorialist, I thought I’d accumulate my knowledge of feet in a single place.
Real “Barefoot/Minimalist” Running
Your feet are workhorses: twenty-six bones, thirty-three joints, and more than a hundred muscles, ligaments and tendons working together as a vital part of your overall skeletal well-being. Learning to respect this improves every facet of your life.
If you don’t spend much time barefoot, stop reading and go walk around your dwelling barefoot.
Where is your foot hitting the ground first?
Where does your foot leave the ground?
Write these down.
Go outside and run across some grass or up your sidewalk barefoot.
Answer those two questions again.
As you’ll note, when you walk you’re probably landing heel first. When you started running, you shifted to shorter steps and began landing nearer the ball of your foot. The reason your body does this naturally is that landing heel first nearly doubles your body weight on that point of impact. Your latest heel wedge running shoes may cushion that impact, but physics will not be denied.
Real running treats your foot like the highly evolved biomechanical wonder it is. As you begin to run with a quality midfoot/wholefoot strike, you’ll notice two things: your calves get a lot of work and your feet will be tired from the impact.
Take this seriously. Your body is telling you to do these things:
Rest and build mileage slowly. Muscles respond quickly to training, joints and bones adjust slowly. Everything you’ve heard about barefoot running injuries is true if you build quickly.
Learn your feet. Work them around with your hands. Articulate those thirty-three joints. Stretch those hundred muscles, tendons and ligaments. Not only is this fantastic for your feet, but it helps you prevent injury by finding sore spots early and aids in form by acquainting you with the internal structure of your foot in a “felt” sense.
Pay attention to your form. Good form eases the transition to running real.
Outdoorsman: Hard-to-Barefoot Activities
Now that you’re paying attention to your feet, you’ll notice you’ll still have to wear unhelpful shoes, go hard places, and carry heavy things. Here’s how to mitigate the effects of these things:
Consideration #1, Unhelpful Shoes
Minimize the time spent in shoes with a heel or a large wedge. Take off your shoes at work if you can. Choose shoes that you’ll be spending a lot of time in wisely. Stretch and massage your feet when you’re done with a stint. Walk actively, even in shoes that don’t help you engage your arch or calf muscles.
Consideration #2, Hard/Uneven Surfaces
Lengthen your build periods even further. Running form is not your only consideration; you’re also preparing the bottoms of your feet for increased articulation and local impact. Thin soled shoes help give you a thicker skin, but you’ll also be building that in your feet as well: both on the surface and just beneath the surface. Standing desks can also help train your lower leg for long stints on hard surfaces.
Consideration #3, Heavy Loads
Bare feet are amazing, but what if you’re carrying close to a third of your body weight in gear on your back? If you’re an avid hiker just shifting to real running, you’ll want to balance your use of minimal shoes and traditional hiking boots. The relatively inflexible shank down the center of your off-trail, heavy-load boots is intended to support the additional weight on your arch. The height of the boot is intended to support your ankle in the advent of a roll with that additional weight on your back. Knowing these forces are at play, self-evaluate your own biomechanical status and wear appropriately.
Real running does amazing things for your feet. Strengthening your arches as well as shapes and forms your feet, allowing you to rock footwear styles you may not have been comfortable with before. Varying the surfaces you run on and even occasionally (or routinely) running barefoot toughens the skin on your sole and individuates and strengthens your toes. But there are some downsides as well, hobbit feet should remain on hobbits. Here’s how to care for yours.
Consideration #1: Sockless
Try rocking your shoes sockless and running barefoot occasionally. It’s a fantastic way to clean up your form and also prepares you well for wearing other shoes barefoot, a sartorial edge runners can crush.
Consideration #2: Clean and Scrub
Gentlemen, it’s time. Paying attention to your feet by massaging and articulating them is good, paying attention to your skin is important as well. Use a pumice stone on occasion. Scrub your feet in the shower noting where you’re growing callouses. Callouses can give you insight into subtleties in your routine you would otherwise miss. Besides, you’ll be all set for beach and pick-up football season.
Consideration #3: American Heritage
I began my real running career when I was nine years old. That summer I read Mark Twain and James Fenimore Cooper for the first time. If Huck Finn and Chingachgook ran barefoot, by golly, so would I. Give in to nostalgia and raise a grubby foot to our human history.
Consideration #4: Raise Awareness
TOMS dedicates a day every year to raising awareness of the dangers of being barefoot in places where people don’t have things like clean water and people cleaning up after their dogs. This year it is April 16th. Join me in celebrating feet.