I walked 500 miles in barefoot trainers. Will I walk 500 more?
Updated: Jan 28
In fact, according to my Garmin watch, 599 miles or 1,240,645 steps over a period of eight months before writing my verdict.
I’d been curious about the barefoot phenomenon. On one hand there are plenty of fantastic athletes and adventurers I follow increasingly promoting ‘getting back to natural movement’ and on the other there are numerous opinions online about how ‘dangerous’ it is to start walking in barefoot shoes.
Personally, I lean towards the opinions of those who have walked the road, over those who have merely read about it. So after researching the likes of highly successful marathon runners who for a large majority of their life have ran barefoot (let’s ignore the fact a few are now sponsored by million dollar trainer companies) I decided to purchase a pair of SAGUARO barefoot shoes £29.00 - bargain mate!
The inspiration to start looking at barefoot movement had also come from the fact I had recurring flare ups of plantar fasciitis and had tried various 'recommended' running brands over the years to no avail. I also wanted to start improving my mobility and stability to help improve my performance in BJJ.
What’s the difference between barefoot shoes and high street trainers?
Well the barefoot shoe is flat flexible and shaped for the foot. They also have a wider toe box at the front allowing your toes to splay out naturally. Whereas a lot of high street trainers curve up at the front; the shoe itself doesn't give enough flexibility to allow your toes to flex naturally so in order to mimic the movement they added an upward curve, allowing a rolling motion, but with rigid toes. Conventional trainers and shoes are narrow at the front, squashing your toes together. Hence why bunions are such a common problem.
This is an imagine from the Vivo barefoot: Shoespiracy video. The edit is quite dramatic, but it shines a light and is worth a watch.
Runners will be familiar with the following terms - Supinator, Over Pronator and Neutral Pronator.
It is likely that you’ve been put into one of these strike categories when buying running shoes, hi-technology trainers that stop you from striking the ground in certain ways. These trainers have built in stability and heel cushioning, so no need to work on your form to strengthen the areas that will likely be causing this...
If you want to delve deeper into the history of the modern day trainer, I recommend you read the book 'Shoe Dog.' It is the evolution of Nike and ultimately the reason behind all that extra cushioning in your shoes today.
Minimal barefoot trainers don’t provide extra heel cushioning and stability because your foot was built to do that all along!
In fact the foot is pretty extraordinary - it's made up of of 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and a whole network of nerves which brings me to...
Our feet have thousands of nerve endings that help provide instant feedback to the brain. It’s more impressive than any high-tech computer sending instant communication along our bodies network and keeping us consistently informed and reactive to our footing.
So when we stick a thick rubber sole on the bottom of our feet we ultimately block this communication and signalling, resulting in us landing heavier on our feet and not being as quick to react to uneven ground. Watch the difference between someone sprinting barefoot to running in trainers and you'll notice the barefoot runner is a lot lighter on their feet, likely hitting the ground with a forefoot strike. In fact, try it yourself and you’ll see how your technique changes, likely striking with the forefoot and moving more efficiently - lighter and with better agility.
To put it simply, blocking the foots sensory feedback with thick soles is like putting thick rubber gloves on our hands; we lose all the valuable feedback and sensation with less control over what we are doing.
So that's the difference!
Now to my personal adaptation to the barefoot trainers.
Jan 21st 2020
This was my first wear in the Saguaro trail trainers, *and walking before I could run!
Wow, they felt light and comfortable! Although, I noticed the immediate need to deliberately lighten up my feet each time I hit the concrete ground.
22nd - 25th Jan 2020
I was planning on gradually switching out the trainers but they had been so comfy to walk in that I actually kept them on. Checking back on my daily step count, I walked around 15,000 - 20,000 steps a day which is a usual mileage within my working week because coaching is rarely a sit down job!
I didn’t realise I landed so heavily when walking. I certainly felt this when walking on concrete. I clearly wasn’t the light agile Ninja I'd thought I was! I also wasn't used to the sensory feedback, it was like someone had switched on a button to 'overload.'
26th Jan - First Run
Is running after only four days into barefoot movement recommended? Not really! Although I thought I’d try a steady two mile run on road and I could stop if it didn’t feel quite right.
It’s worth noting that I have a spent large portion of my life doing Martial Arts (which is barefoot) so although this doesn’t qualify for hitting the road (Jack) I wasn’t completely new to barefoot movement. I also have a good level of lower body strength and mobility for this particular movement.
If you are a total newbie to barefoot movement I would recommend a few weeks/month of regular walking first before taking it to the next step. Everyone is different and it's vital you listen to your body and give it time to adapt. Too much to soon is not a good thing.
My feet felt very light and free. I wanted to run faster! The hills felt easier too! However, Martial Arts aside, I was aware that up to this point I had spent a large portion of my time and movement in trainers, so essentially I’d taken a cast off my foot and without a doubt over the years muscles will have experienced atrophy (waste/shrinking) - on that note I knew that curbing my excitement (and pace) to allow my feet and calves to adapt to the extra work I was putting on them was crucial.
29th Jan 2020
With the atrophy in mind it’s no surprise that my feet ached the next day! It wasn’t painful though and I was well aware this was DOMS in a brand new place! I’m very familiar with good DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and it's vital to be aware of your body and your personal feeling of ‘adaptation vs injury.’
So out came my spikey ball to roll my feet - I can’t recommend enough the value of daily foot rolling, whether you train or not!! And a tennis ball is also just as effective. However, a ball with spikes is nice for hitting the pressure points. Another option is a golf ball which you can stick in the freezer for some cold therapy too. Although the third option is particularly hardcore.
30th Jan 2020
So my friend called;
“Fancy doing The Vitality Big Half?”
“Wanna join me for my hill training today then?”
Kenyan Hill Training.
This was pre-Covid so my friend was aiming for a PB in the London 2020 Marathon. And I have to say training with a running buddy certainly helps keep pace on these kind of sessions.
For our Kenyan Hill training session we set a faster than comfortable pace and sustained it up and down a hill for a set time.
We did x3 rounds of 10 minutes.
I’d filmed a few video’s to look at my technique and was aware of trying to use my fore foot more. As mentioned, it felt much easier going up hill but slightly harder coming down with the extra load on the calves. Hence my extra effort to stay light on my feet!
Feb 1st 2020
I had worn the SAGUARO barefoot shoes for all of my outdoor activity since buying them on the 21st Jan. As I increased my training intensity I was pleasantly surprised to having no additional tightness other than normal a few foot DOMS.
Scrap that - my calves were super tight by the afternoon! Also the top of my left foot was feeling sore. Perhaps from the down hill running?
Luckily I had two scheduled days to rest, roll and stretch!
3rd Feb 2020
My foot had settled down and I had a half marathon to prep for in March, so a three mile run was on the cards.
I decided to head to a trail route in Richmond Park. I love it there. I much prefer trail running to road running. This is why the majority of races I take part in are in woodlands and through fields!
The first 1.5 miles felt great. But then my calves, particularly my right, felt like they were on fire and I had to stop short of 3 miles. Not gonna lie, it left me deeply dissatisfied. But I reminded myself that my calves were certainly not used to working as hard - permitting the time to adapt is key.
Feb 4th - March 14th 2020
I continued with my daily walking and slowly building distance on the runs. Weight sessions, stretching and yoga also helped with my adaptation.
One morning (and the only time I switched from the barefoot shoes) I did put on my Adidas Boosts. But no joke, I nearly fell down the stairs because I couldn’t feel my feet! A slightly lighter footed Ninja now, I saved the fall (told ya, agile!) and switched straight back to barefoot before I got to the front door - haha.
I had built up to five miles running now and my calves and feet were adapting.
The Vitality Big Half was on March 1st. Obviously I wasn't quite ready for a 13mile road run in barefoot trainers and so I ran in another pair. My feet did blister and were feeling a bit squashed, but I still had a great run and did feel my legs and calves held out better due to a strengthening both physically (stronger legs) and technically (I felt my form was improving) over the period.
I met my friend for what was going to be a six miler along the Hammersmith River route but it ended up as a very steady eight miles. Good news is my feet and legs felt great. I had no issues to mention, at all. And moreover this includes the next day.
Eight miles was the longest run so far in the barefoot. The route was mostly trail grounding but the SAGUARO's do have a good protection on the bottom so I can vouch that it doesn't hurt your feet - thought I’d highlight, as this is a common question!
22nd March 2020
A speedy three miles today (tempo run.) I was running a faster pace with seemingly less effort. Woo! This is a combination of the added strength training, walking and yoga. But it’s amazing how light and free your feet feel.
I also noticed that my feet weren't blistering up at the sides anymore. Prior to barefoot it didn't matter what trainers I wore, I always had a constant rubbing at the side of my big toes! I imagine this is due to the wider toe box.
May 26th 2020
I realised I couldn't wear my trail trainers with every outfit, even if I wanted too. So I was ready to invest in the more expensive Vivo Barefoot shoes for a more presentable look for meetings etc. I also bought a pair of white Vivo trainers which make my feet look massive! I've worn them a handful of times but due to lockdown I've stayed in my Saguaro's. The Vivo Barefoot do feel well made and supportive though. These particular ones feel thicker underneath but I don't feel I have worn them enough to give a verdict as of yet.
I wanted to continue to research and study ‘movement and the feet’ further, so I signed up to a six hour workshop with The Foot Collective. These workshops focus on everything to do with feet and hips. I must say it was a fantastic insight from forward-thinking people and I recommend that you check it out. I think even the TFC online workshop is a great introduction and insight into movement and mobility for anyone who has an interest.
Inspired by the seminar I wanted to continue to work on my foot and ankle mobility.
Therefore, I got Dan to make me a balance beam!
These are expensive online ($400) but can be made for next to nothing.
If you would like a balance beam made, contact us for something more affordable! We doubled ours up as a handy barbell!
I purchased my second pair of Saugaro’s because mine were now starting to wear thin. And I mean this in terms of protection to the floor. This is when I realised upon checking my Garmin watch, I’d done almost 600 miles in the first pair!
Checking where your trainers wear away at the bottom is also a good indication of how you're walking / running.
And there we go, that pretty much brings you up to date…
Eight months of wear and I am onto my second pair. So yes I will walk 500 more miles!
Summary and for those who wanted to skip to the end!
There were initial aches in my feet and especially my calves which was eased by stretching and rolling my feet daily.
Never underestimate the value of daily foot rolling!
I walked before I ran! And I highly recommend walking before you run, even if you are a seasoned athlete. When you do start to run take it easy and short in distance.
Strength training is also a vital part of strengthening ligaments and tendons so do incorporate this.
Initial sensory feedback from the feet can feel quite intense and you may find you want to lighten up your load!
One thing I haven't yet mentioned is toe socks! A little annoying to get on and off but it adds to the freedom of the toe splay.
Every one is different and this is just my personal journey and adaptation from conventional footwear to the barefoot shoe. If you are interested in switching up be mindful of taking it slow and I really can’t stress this enough so to reinforce - everyone is different! But I would say it’s certainly worth a try because allowing your feet to move naturally and more freely feels great and is one of the best adjustments and decisions I made.