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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Monday, April 23, 2012

barefoot running?

I often get emails asking what I do to get fit and/or stay fit.  As I work on my own recovery and try to get to a level of fitness I now find acceptable I have to ask myself that same question.   This will be the first in a long series of blog posts that will answer some of that question for the readers here and what I find of interest (but may or may not agree with) for my own training.  The easy answer is always the best, pick your own poison and then just go climbing!

It is called the "Principle of Specificity".
More here:

Not everyone gets to climb every day.

The Truth about Barefoot Running

Why barefoot running is not suited for the average runner.

By G.S.Seltzer

Perhaps you are familiar with the barefoot running craze, started by the book Born to Run by Author Christopher McDougall. Perhaps you have been thinking about giving barefoot running a try. Many run and triathlon coaches recommend running barefoot to some degree on a soft surface, such as grass, to help improve your running mechanics. Most experts agree however, that running barefoot most of the time is neither safe nor practical.

Reality Check

Although great in theory, running barefoot is not for everyone. Raise your hand if you came across any barefoot runners in any race you ran in the last year. The good news is that the running shoe industry is taking note of the interest in barefoot running and minimalist shoes. Minimalist shoes, or minis, are lightweight because they have few bells and whistles, such as built up heels that many experts claim make our legs and feet weaker, causing injury. Shoes like Vibrams provide a barefoot ride and feel, while providing some protection against puncture wounds from debris and road rash.

The Reality

Running barefoot is dangerous for the vast majority of runners for two main reasons. First, rocks, twigs, glass, and other debris will likely cause injury at some point. Second, the muscles and joints of the legs and feet typically are weak because we wear shoes continuously. Some runners attempt to eradicate this, running a few miles each week barefoot, performing foot and leg strengthening exercises, and walking barefoot in and around the house. Running stride drills barefoot on grass, the track, or at the beach are good examples. Strong feet provide a solid platform for the body to ride upon – weak feet do not. Start out slow focusing on your form will help you prevent injury.

Barefoot Running Does Have its Place

If you are determined to take barefoot running to the road here are a few considerations. Start slowly until your calves, arches, and Achilles tendons adjust. Increase the distance slightly each week, and listen to your body if you experience aches or pains as mentioned above. Run on a smooth, soft surface. When transitioning to hard surfaces, such as the road, try using minimalist shoes, which are low to the ground, lightweight, and provide the feel of being barefoot. Vibram, New Balance, Nike, and Newton Running make some of the better-known minimalist shoes.

Final Thoughts

If you are prone to injury using running shoes, running barefoot is not likely to change that; if you do not get injured often in running shoes, than why change? Trade in your heavy, clunky shoes with the anti-sway this, and the heavily cushioned that for a pair of minimalist shoes. Trade your heel strike for a mid-foot strike and rejoice at the results. Allow for a proper transition, and seek a qualified run or triathlon coach for assistance. The time and resources invested will be well worth it in the end.


Gregg Seltzer is a certified USA Cycling and Triathlon coach, as well as strength and conditioning trainer. Gregg owns Triability Coaching, based in Southern California. Contact Gregg via email at or phone at 800.884.2194.
The photos below are of my HRM  on a short hilly run intentionally done right at my lactate threshold pace.   Like weighing your climbing gear it is hard to know where you are really at unless you measure it.  In this case the easy way to measure performance (and performance changes) is with a heart rate monitor (HRM).


Dersu said...

Great that you started this series. I have a question about HRM. Which one do you use or reccomend. I'm interested in buying one, but it would be nice, if it had an altimeter next to all the typical HRM functions. Any suggestions?

Dane said...

Dersu, I've only used Polar so really can't make any other educated suggestions, sorry. My watch for running is the RS300 and my bike computers are the super simple CS200 for racing and the CS400 for training. Of the ones I use only the CS400 has the ability to measure elevation. Elevation is not something I typically care about in my own training. Nice feature for climbing though, and I have slipped my CS400 into my pocket for the local volcanos a couple of times.

The RS800 watch will measure elevation.

Anonymous said...

The Suunto Vector has an altimeter and HRM and is practically "standard issue" here in the UK, nearly everyone seems to have one. I believe the latest models are less bulky too. Not cheap though.

Dane said...

I've also looked at the Suunto Ambit..but he said, "not cheap".

For training a really simple HRM will do everything you really need. Finding and knowing what the HR zones mean and where you should be training in them is much more important that the rest of the fluff.


Suunto Ambit

Dersu said...

Will you write something about that ("Finding and knowing what the HR zones mean and where you should be training in them is much more important that the rest of the fluff.") in greater detail in some of the future post on this subject? I mean, the way you train or how one should train for climbing up big mountains?

BTW, what kind of bike do you use for training, road or MTB?

Dane said...

I couple of posts when I get the time.

Anonymous said...

The Ambit seems to have a GPS function too, but it eats battery power, as little as 15 - 50 hours with the GPS and 30 days in watch only mode, short enough to catch you out. The Vector seems to work for a year or so on one battery. My brother picked up a HRM watch for less than 50 dollars and it works fine, nothing special but does the job.