Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wanting to Run Barefoot? Here's how! - Phase 3

Phase 3 of this minimalist running guide builds off of Phases 1 and 2 and should only be read after reading the previous posts.

The Final Steps to Minimalism

Phase 3 starts at the 'Zero Heel Drop/Minimal Cushion' stage of Phase 2, so the next step is to raise the bar by losing the shoe. Now I should warn you that this is the stage that I'm currently at, so the actual barefoot thing is quite new to me as well. I will try to provide the most reasonable advice available, but I haven't personally tested it all... yet!

Assuming that you've become proficient at running light on your feet in a minimalist shoe, and have built up some sort of endurance for the activity, the most difficult part of this stage will be strengthening and adapting the soles of your feet. Not in a muscular way, but in tolerance-to-sharp-or-rough-things kind of way. And just as you did in Phase 2 as you transitioned to the right along the Minimalist Progression Scale, you'll want to start with extremely short barefoot runs (0-2 min). Please be mindful of the conditions outside when attempting this - if there is ice and snow your feet may freeze, if it's hot and sunny you could burn them on a hot side-walk; be smart about it.

You may find your feet feel quite warm on the soles while running and later may be a little tender to the touch. This is normal and is the reason you're starting out slowly, they just need time to adapt. Ice baths for your feet can feel really good! Also, has a great section on ways that you can help toughen up your feet more quickly.

Going Further - Limits of Form

You may not want to go all the way to barefoot running and that's totally OK! But, no matter where you choose to stop along the horizontal axis of the Minimalist Progression Scale, you'll likely want to keep increasing the distance you're running.While doing this, be mindful of the effects of fatigue on your form. In my experience, my form would break down 15-20 miles into a marathon, despite training exclusively in Vibram Five Fingers for 2 years, and that is when injuries can happen. Now this may be farther than you might try and go in your minimalist shoes, but the lesson will be the same; form breaks down with fatigue, and injuries are more likely at that point. Which brings me to my next point:

Train Low, Race High

Training in a minimalist style is great since you can focus on maintaining that proper form and you can adjust your run length to reflect how you're feeling. Racing on the other hand can present issues in terms of maintaining form. So, one option is to train in your minimalist shoe (or barefoot) and then use a slightly more cushioned shoe for your racing. This allows you a little give in terms of your form while you race and will provide that extra little bit of comfort. Traditional racing flats are a good option as they have minimal heel drop but still have enough cushion for when you're fatigued.

Staying Balanced

With long-term minimalist running certain muscle groups can become weaker than they would with traditional shod running, most evidently quads, glutes and tibialis anterior. This is not normally an issue so long as you continue running in a minimalist style, but if you're like me and you need to go back to a more cushioned shoe, say for trail running, you can have problems. So even if you don't plan to switch back, it is smart to do some form of cross- or weight-training, targeting the quads, hips and glutes.

I hope you've enjoyed this minimalist and barefoot running guide and that it has been somewhat educational for you. The only thing I can't emphasize enough is to build up to your goals slowly and deliberately while taking precautionary steps as needed to avoid injuries and other issues.

Run free!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Wanting to Run Barefoot? Here's how! - Phase 2

This is a continuation from Phase 1, please take the time to read it before jumping into this post!

Your Next Steps

You've done your reading and your pre-strengthening exercises and you're ready to take the plunge into minimalist running, so let's do it!

First thing to do now is figure out where you're at along the horizontal axis of the Minimalist Progression Scale below. Your goal is to progress rightward along the scale and downward, until you reach your desired result.
Start slowly by either incorporating a short period of fore-foot running into a longer run, or go out for couple minute 'minimalist run' (MR). In both cases you should start at the top of the vertical axis (0-2 min) and focus on proper form - light, quick, short strides. To help facilitate the fore-foot strike you can try moving one level to the right for your MRs. If you do this, you may want to stick with your typical shoes/style for your normal longer runs, that way you don't overdo it. For your MRs, only go as long as you are able to maintain that proper form otherwise you risk injuring yourself. And only progress when you're comfortable with that time and distance.

Progression should always follow the 10% percent rule. Just keep in mind that you will be changing both the distance ran and what you are running in and since the latter is a big change it's advisable to  decrease your time/distance when shifting right along the scale. Even starting again at the 0-2 minute mark is not unreasonable! Starting slowly will ensure a safe and happy transition to a minimalist running style.

Take Home Message: Find your current horizontal axis category and shift one to the right. Now increase time and distance in that category starting from 0-2 min. When you've reached an acceptable target distance, shift one more category to the right, and start again from the top of the vertical axis. Repeat as needed!

If you haven't been running recently at all, or are just getting into running and are wanting to go minimalist then you will want to start farther along the scale to the right and just progress slowly. You may even want to start at the Phase 3 Barefoot stage as suggested by So those of you who run a lot don't get jealous and try to skip ahead, it's easier to start running in this new form as a new runner, than it is to transition to a different running style. This is due to the potential muscle imbalances that you must overcome and rectify during the transition.

A Note About Form

Although it is called a fore-foot strike and you are supposed to land on your fore-foot first, some people think that they should only land on their fore-foot, but this just sets you up for problems. Try landing first with the fore-foot and then allowing the mid-foot to come into contact with the ground in a controlled manner. The heel can contact after this (if you're going slowly), but very little force should be applied.

Another way of encouraging that fore-foot strike is to run faster. If you've ever watched sprinters run, you'll have noticed that they're landing on their toes the entire time; this is just natural when you run that fast. So feel free to increase your speed a little, but be aware that with increasing speed comes increasing loading of the calf etc, so it may be smart to reduce the length of your MR.


The key to any great training program it to recover properly. This involves allowing sufficient time between work-outs and can include other recovery techniques such as stretching, rolling, massage or icing.

You'll likely notice that your calves and foot muscles are more sore than usual after you first start running with a minimalist style. This is normal as you're using a part of your body more than you did before. However, there are some things you can do to help those muscles recover:
Stretch after a MR, specifically the muscles of the calf, the arches of your feet and your hamstrings.

A golf ball can be quite helpful to massage out the arches. Another helpful trick is to use a small foam roller (or Trigger Point Quadballer or poly-carbonate water bottle) to roll out the calf muscles. This one always hurts so good, so be gentle.

For painful DOMS in the foot and calf muscles ice (or ice-baths) can be used. Remember not to stretch right after icing!!

A good massage therapist is always a welcome addition to any recovery regime. They'll be able to work out some of those knots that stretching and rolling just can't get at. Self-massage can also be a good idea if you know what you're doing. When booking a massage keep in mind that you will want a couple days of rest (ie. no running!) around the massage date. My suggestion would be at least no running for 1 day before and 1 day after the massage - 2 after preferred. This allows those muscles to really relax and stretch out. Gentle stretching recommended during this period.

Take Home Message: Recovery is extremely important! Rest and stretch it out after a hard work-out.

Happy running!
Check back for Part 3 of your guide to barefoot running.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Wanting to Run Barefoot? Here's how! - Phase 1

Barefoot and minimalist running have been suggested to be better on the body and induce less injuries, but that's not the only reason to go away from traditional running. Running either barefoot or in a minimalist shoe feels great! You feel free and energized, like you're floating along on your run, uninhibited by the ground on which you tread. Plus, they can provide great gains in strength and speed, making you the strongest, quickest runner you can be.

This step-by-step guide to minimalist running will emphasize an injury free progression from a
heel-strike style of running to as far along the minimalist scale as you'd like to go. Progression is always at your own pace and what you're comfortable with! I have broken up this guide into three phases: 1) Preventative Measures, 2) Your Next Steps and 3) The Final Steps to Minimalism. Each phase includes how-to's and helpful advice to make your transition as seamless as possible. Cautionary piece before I start: I am not an expert in barefoot or minimalist running, so this post is based solely on my experiences running in vibram five fingers and minimalist shoes over the last few years. Take from it what you will, but know that you may have different results.

Preventative Measures

The form and style of minimalist running is obviously different from that of traditional shod running. Runners tend to land somewhere between mid-foot and fore-foot, absorbing the impact using their muscles, especially their calves! Traditional running involves landing on the heel and absorbing impact using mainly the material of the shoe, with some contribution from the muscles. By landing on the fore/mid-foot, greater energy can be stored in the tendons and muscles, and that can increase the efficiency of running.

Another important difference is that cadence, or leg turnover rate, is typically higher in minimalist runners. This helps reduce the loads on the foot and muscles thereby reducing injuries. Also, by increasing cadence, it becomes quite difficult to over-stride and cause damage to the foot from an improper landing. Increases in cadence can also increase efficiency of running.

You can read through these websites to get an idea of some stylistic things to think about while transitioning to a more minimalist running technique: Pose Running (website is messy, but good info) and Chi Running

Take Home Message: Land lightly on the mid- to fore-foot to reduce stresses on muscles and bones of the foot and ankle

Common Injuries

Knowledge of common injuries and how to prevent them is also vital to your success. Here are two of the most common issues:

Metatarsal stress fractures involve forces being repeatedly applied to the bones of the foot above and beyond what the bones are adapted to. This is usually associated with a sudden switch to barefoot/minimalist running or a rapid increase in the time or distance ran in that style. This common running injury can be avoided by gradually switching from shod to minimalist running using proper form in which the runner is light on their feet. This allows the bones to strengthen and adapt to the new forces and encourages the newly strengthened muscles to absorb the load instead.  Another possible cause is from stepping on a rock with significant force while running. This is also the result of bad form as the runner is not staying light on their feet with quick leg turnover.

Achilles tendonitis and Achilles strains are also quite common. These sorts of conditions result from abrupt increases in activity without adequate recovery or stretching. The best approach to these conditions is prevention: undertake changes to your activities gradually, slowly developing the time/distance you run with a minimalist/barefoot style.

Strengthening Exercises

So with all this "increase-too-quickly-get-some-scary-injury" talk, what should you do? Strengthening exercises, that's what!  By starting to strengthen the muscles of the foot and calf, before even changing your running style, you can help avoid some injuries, and make the transition that much more seamless. Here's two exercises that can help prepare you to run barefoot/minimalist.

Eccentric calf raises (see link for video) can help strengthen the calf muscles and prepare them and
the Achilles tendon for the stresses of running with a fore-foot strike. This exercise involves raising and more importantly lowering the body using the calf muscles and can be done on a stair or a stool that is close to a wall or counter for support.

Towel pulls can help strengthen the muscles of the foot and ankle, thus helping protect the bones in the foot by absorbing the impact upon foot strike. To do these get a small towel (hand towel works great) and lay it on the ground in front of you. While keeping your heel still, use your toes to grab and pull in the towel toward your heel. Lay the towel back out (use your feet if you can!), switch feet and repeat.

Ideally you should do these exercises for a few weeks before taking on the next steps in your switch to minimalist running. Over this time, increase the time or number of reps that you do, allowing adequate recovery time and stretching between sessions.

Take Home Message: The saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" holds true for minimalist running! Prepare your muscles and your mind to make your transition easier!

Phase 2 of this guide will be posted soon, stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Weekend of Running in the Okanagan

Anytime we go back to the Okanagan to visit family we try and get in a good run or hike. This weekend we were lucky enough to do both!

Jenna approaching the KVR Trail tunnel
Saturday, Jenna and I ran along the KVR trail to one of the train tunnels and back. This was great training as it was a fairly constant uphill to the tunnel, then a nice downhill back to town, for a total of 21.3 miles. This run also gave Jenna a chance to try out her new Suunto Ambit 2R gps watch (review to come). Along the way we saw a coyote, a (easter) bunny and some deer.

Big Horn Sheep while hiking east of Penticton!

Jenna and I were joined by my parents for Sunday's hike which consisted of 9.5 miles in the hills just east of Penticton. Our animal spotting included multiple frogs and several big horn sheep!!

Looking out over Penticton, Naramata and Okanagan Lake

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

RED FAM - Still Streaking

We're half way through April and I'm still going strong. The RED FAM (run every day for a month) streak is now at 15 days, for a total of 112 miles. I had started off April with a slow week, but I'm building again and hope to hit 250 miles for the month.That might be tough though, because despite getting into a routine of running every day, some days are harder than others to get off the couch. This was especially evident in the two days following a 25 mile run. It always feels amazing once you're out there, just takes some motivation! So, to any of you streakers out there, keep streaking! We're halfway there!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Pacific Spirt Park Pocket Trail Map

When I first started running in Pacific Spirit Park I had no idea where I was going! That's why I made a pocket trail map so I wouldn't get lost. I still got lost once after that, but only because I didn't have my trusty trail map of Pacific Spirit Park!

Here is a copy of my pocket trail map so that you too can stay safe in the forest. Just remember to have it with you!

You can download a high-quality pdf version here. Just print it out, cut around the outside, fold in half and tape (for water protection)!

Always remember to run with a buddy and have a cell phone for safety.

Happy Running!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Recommended Read - Relentless Forward Progress

Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons by Bryon Powell is a great read for both beginners who are just plain bored of marathons, and those looking for tips and tricks to help them through their next race.It includes stories from well known ultra runners, training schedules for different length races, tips on what gear to carry, how to keep properly fueled, and how to deal with common injuries!

To encourage you to read the book, I'll only share with you a few things I enjoyed, as well as a few links you might find useful.

Reasons why you should read this book:
1. It makes running ultras more approachable to everyone. How many times have you had someone look at you like you're crazy when you tell them how far you run? Then you tell them they could do it too and they don't believe you. But here it is in writing: It's okay to walk in ultras too, its just one big adventure, so what's stopping you from getting out there?!
2. This paragraph: "There will be trying times in an ultra, but enjoy what you can of it. Take in the scenery. Talk with friends and strangers alike. Lose yourself in thought or zone out. Marvel at your accomplishments or laugh at your foolishness. Laugh. If it's a rainy mess, jump in some puddles. If it's hot, jump in a stream. Let out a triumphant cheer at the top of a climb and a joyous holler as you fly down a hill. Be a kid. Be happy."
Does this not make you want to get out there and run?!
3.The best line in the book is "Lube it, cover it, or adjust it". Okay maybe that's not the best line, but it can save you a lot of post-race (or during race) pain!
4. It introduces the idea of endurance snowshoeing in the winter, as well as fastpacking!

Useful Links:
-The Authors website:
-General resources: (Particularly for this article if you're just getting in to ultras "The Ultimate Running Experience: Completing your First Ultra-Marathon" by David Horton)
-Feet troubles? Try

Spring has sprung! Now get out there and run happily through the mud!

Thank you Tim for passing along a great read!

-J.B. Running

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

RED FAM: A Perfectly Foolish Thing to Start on April 1st

Run Every Day For A Month, or RED FAM, has been going around the running community for some time now, and has been something I've largely ignored (possibly due to the fact I couldn't figure out what RED FAM stood for). But with each each passing month a new opportunity came and went, an opportunity to start something ambitious and possibly a little foolish. This time, instead of ignoring it, I'm jumping on board.
I'm not sure why this sounds like a good idea, it's probably not. Maybe it's this warm sunny day reminding me of spring and all the running still to be done in the sun, or maybe it's because it's April Fool's Day and I'm a bit of a fool, or maybe it's that the 400 miles I've ran since Jan 1st this year is a little inspiring... No matter the reason, I'm going to give this a shot. I may not be able to run every day, but maybe that's not really the point. The point being instead that it's important to make a routine of your running, and RED FAM is just a really good motivator.

I'll try and post periodic updates of how my month of running is going, starting with today:
Day 1 was 7 miles through the trails of Pacific Spirit Park, including some trails I'd never ran before!

I encourage you to try RED FAM on your own! Or if you don't think you can run every day of the week, try making a routine of your running and sticking to it! Start with 3 or 4 days of the week and be consistent, you'll be surprised at what you can achieve.