Barefoot running requires a big change in form when compared to the way that most people run in shoes. There are certainly exceptions, but most people will strike first at their heel, then roll forward on their foot and finally push off with their toes to propel forward. I have always been one of those people, so I know this gait well. It blessed me with a short, choppy running career full of shin splints and turf toe. The heel strike with an extended knee puts a lot of force through the entire body. Barefoot running doesn't allow for this unnatural form so...time to learn a new gait!
A mid to forefoot landing has been pretty easy for me to practice and develop. I started working on it while I was still running in my New Balance shoes. I think that starting to change my gait then has been beneficial, but it didn't let me practice the other important piece of the puzzle. The foot lift. Not having a good foot lift was the likely cause of the major bout of Achilles tendonitis I developed after pushing hard through a 5K in early June.
The foot lift is an important concept in barefoot running because it prevents a strong push-off with the toes. A strong push off can lead to blisters and Achilles tendonitis (a-ha!). The foot lift concept has been escaping me however and it lead to some problems. Last week on Monday I went out for a quick run, and for the first time set out with no shoes at all. I did .7 of a mile and had no pain in my heel which had been the major problem. Perfect! I took a day off, and went out on Wednesday. At some point during that run, I felt some pain at the ball of my foot on the left, right behind the big toe. Thinking I had stepped on something, I stopped for a look. No cuts, no blood, a little bit of rough looking skin from the pavement. No big deal. Keep going. Run a little further; more pain. Stop and repeat the process. Since I couldn't see anything I figured it was just the outer layers of skin getting sore and I pushed a little further. I should have listened to my feet and stopped. I made it another 200 meters or so and the burning in my foot had become nearly unbearable by that point. I stopped running and limped the last 1.5 blocks home. I cleaned the grime off of my feet and found the blister. Ouch. It was deep, down below the thick skin on my sole. I smacked myself in the head for ignoring my body once again and hoped for the best.
By Friday, the pain was gone from the blister and I could walk normally again. I wanted to get out and run but it was getting later than normal and the light was starting to fade. I am not a Ninja, so not wanting to step on something because I couldn't see it I put my Merrell Trail Gloves on. I spent that entire run focusing on form and trying to understand the foot lift concept better and making sure my blister didn't get worse. Mission pretty much accomplished. I felt like I started to develop a good foot lift on that run, and I went about 1.1 miles with no return of heel pain so I think that problem is in the past. I even did some plyometric work in the backyard after the run and went in the house pretty full of myself.