Run Training Plans

“Barefoot” Running Step by Step

September 23, 2010

SET YOUR FEET FREE

I started running “barefoot” (with minimal foot protection) last October after reading the book Born To Run by journalist and ultra-marathon runner Christopher McDougall.  In the book he talks about, among many other interesting things, a study that showed the correlation between the price of your running shoes and injuries is this: The more expensive the shoe, the higher rate of injury.

Vibram FiveFingersThis concerned me because I have been running in high-end shoes for years now. My shoes have a price tag of $174.00. I have survived… but my last few races I did say “Hello” to my left knee and noticed my achilles was acting up. I wondered if my racing days were coming to a quick close. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to leave the pricey shoes in my closet and pick up a pair of $80 Vibram FiveFingers®.

I was thrilled to see the Athleta Chi article Born Free: Barefoot Running because featured athlete Suzie Cooney she did a great job of explaining the mechanics behind running barefoot (with nothing on your feet) and she shared credible references. I am more of the grab a pair, put them on and GO kind of girl. I did just that.

I put on my Vibram FiveFingers in October. I knew I wasn’t supposed to just take off running vast mileage so I wore the shoes around town and to the gym, at the airport and the grocery store.

The Coleman FamilyIn December I was corralled waiting for the start of the Las Vegas Rock & Roll Half Marathon and I noticed a man wearing FiveFingers! I wanted to ask him about them and how he got up to training for his half marathon in them, but I didn’t say anything to him. (Silly me.) I was running in my high-end shoes because I knew I hadn’t built up enough “barefoot” miles.

In April I ran the 2010 Salt Lake City Half Marathon “barefoot.” I was running the race with my husband, Aaron, my thirteen-year-old daughter, Leah, while pushing my ten-year-old daughter, Lucy, in a jog stroller and that combination took most of my attention.

It was only around mile 10 that I even remembered that I was running the race “barefoot” and smiled that something that had seemed like such a big deal only four months back had almost gone unnoticed.

Salt Lake City Half-Marathon FinishHere is how I conditioned my feet for the race.

Like I said, I wore my Five Fingers around town and to the gym for my workouts. I was doing 20 minutes of cardio three days a week. My feet held up great.

When you start wearing them, you will notice changes in your gait. You just can’t comfortably run heel-to-toe in a shoe that was not created to force that movement. Think about a child, they don’t run heel-to-toe. Take off your shoes and sprint on the grass. You probably won’t run heel-to-toe either. Your feet will stretch and feel the ground beneath them. Your toes will spread out and actively participate in your run.

Get comfortable with your new gait and then start adding time and miles. One of the first things I noticed was that my calves hit a new burn level. Living in Utah, I waited until enough snow had melted before I transitioned my training from the treadmill to the streets — my calves were on fire again. Bare FootprintsI run “barefoot” in the rain, but the snow is just too cold. Running in the rain is great especially when you circle back around to look at your cute footprints. For snowy days, I have picked up a pair of Nike Free 5.0. These shoes are Nike’s answer to the minimalist’s shoe.

Listen to your body and listen to your feet. If your feet are slapping the ground and making a lot of noise, you might be tired. Slow down or walk. I love running in the grass and on trails and I think it’s kinder and easier on your feet. If you think about it concrete and pavement weren’t created with barefoot running in mind… at all.

The following is the three day per week half marathon training I followed while also conditioning my feet for the “barefoot” run. This is a great beginner half marathon training program modified by a trainer, Kasey Payzant. This is the schedule she uses to train children and teens and those of use who don’t have the time to get four runs in each week. If you are not yet up to running 3 miles, you can add 2-3 weeks to the top of this training. You may want to start with 1 mile, 1 mile, 2 miles the first week. Followed by 1.5 miles, 1.5 miles, 2 miles the next week, and continue with 2 miles, 2 miles, 3 miles the following week, then follow the program below.

Half Marathon Training Schedule from Kasey’s Run Club
MON MILES
WED MILES
FRI MILES
SAT OR SUN
WEEK 1 3 3 4
WEEK 2 3 3 4
WEEK 3 3.5 3.5 5
WEEK 4 3.5 3.5 5
WEEK 5 4 4 6
WEEK 6 4 4 3
WEEK 7 4.5 4.5 7
WEEK 8 4.5 4.5 8
WEEK 9 5 5 6
WEEK 10 5 5 9
WEEK 11 5 5 10
WEEK 12 4 4 Rest Half Marathon!

If you are training for your first half marathon, barefoot or soled, choose your race and get your calendar out. Work backwards from the race day week by week. You do not want to finish your training without a race to run. Similarly, you probably won’t finish your training if you haven’t actually registered for your half marathon. Don’t give yourself an out!

30 Comments

  • Reply Brittany @RebelRoadSister September 23, 2010 at 11:36 am

    Great article! I have been hearing so much about VFF’s but kept putting off the purchase. After reading this, I think it’s time to make the switch!

  • Reply Sylvia September 23, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    I am inspired by your writing, Rachel! I read an article about barefoot running a few years ago and really, it made sense!

    I was a runner since high school, never super fast, but ran a few marathons, 10K’s, 5K’s, etc. and really enjoyed it for YEARS (I just turned 45)! However, 2 knee surgeries within 2 years due to degenerative cartilage, and now recovering from hip arthroscopy surgery (labral tear repair, removal of loose bone, resurfacing of my femoral head – all because of a water skiing accident last summer, which also included a fracture AND before the diagnosis, did my second triathlon, which certainly didn’t help the healing!), I am slowly getting back to running. I would like to be able to feel good about it again…I need new shoes and think that maybe the investment into the VFF’s is the way to go. Thanks for the training schedule and tips on how to “break” into the shoes…do you think that maybe my love for running would come back if I tried these??? Honestly, at that price, there’s nothing to lose!

  • Reply Suzanne September 23, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Nice! Thanks for sharing your training regimen! I especially love the photos of you and your cute family. At SLC this year, all of you Colemans were inspiring! I was so fortunate to be able to witness your accomplishments! I’ve got my own pair of VFFs but haven’t been able to wear them running much because of a back injury. But, I am really looking forward to strapping them on and hitting the trail.

  • Reply Rachelle September 24, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Hi Rachel,
    This is so great! As a runner and a mom as well, it’s so cool to see how involved your family is in your passion, and I am so impressed.

    Your article brings to light something that we’re starting to see more in this ‘barefoot’ market – and that is that people have begun to understand it and to move past curiosity into action. There is science behind the benefits to minimalist shoes, but more than that, there are voices like yours that inspire and excite people to try this for themselves. Minimalist footwear is more than a fad thanks to this credibility.

    The next big step will be for people to realize that this kind of footwear is as great for everyday wear, hiking, paddling and even indoor athletic pursuits as it is for running. And the side benefit is that if you wear minimalist shoes for everyday pursuits, the body may require less adjustment time if or when you decide to try them for running. It’s good to let your feet move naturally, period. Doesn’t matter what you’re doing.

    Find a pair of great minimalist shoes that have a look you like, and that work with your athletic and street clothes, you’re ahead of the game. This market is moving toward versatility, and I would encourage your readers to look at all of the cool options out there (more and more every day). For instance, as great as VFF is for flexibility and toe splay when running, not everyone would be comfortable wearing them with a skirt.

    I would love to say kigo footwear (http://www.kigofootwear.com) is the best minimalist lifestyle option – of course I believe that (grin) and our Mary Jane style is oh so cute. But even I will admit that variety is the spice of life. I encourage your readers to look around at the various brands of minimalist shoes and find one that has the widest wearability for them, and then just commit to it both for the running times and beyond.
    Thanks and happy running! Rachelle

  • Reply ashleigh September 24, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Anna, these shoes actually look awesome considering I dont like running in shoes.

  • Reply Suzie Cooney September 24, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Rachel, wonderful article! You really know your stuff and am so amazed of all tht you do. I’ll share this all my clients!

    Aloha, Suzie!

  • Reply Stacy September 26, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Great article! Wonderful information shared – thank you!
    I was wondering if younwould recommend these shoes for walking.
    I do the Susan G Komen 60 mile walk. Blisters are almost expected.
    I’m wondering if these shoes would be better on the tootsies than my expensive New Balance running shoes.
    Would love your opinion.
    Thanks again!

  • Reply Steph September 26, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    I have sever pronation in my feet. I am also an avid power walker for the last 25 years. It has resulted in bunions that hurt without walking with arch support. Do you recommend these for power walking or for bunion correction?

  • Reply susan saint September 26, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Rachel- did you have any problems initially with bruising of your toenails? I have developed them on both big toes coinciding with wearing VFF’s. Not sure if I should keep wearing on not.

  • Reply Sean M Kelly September 26, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Hi Rachel

    I put a comment on your bio page. However great article and inspires me to go barefoot even more.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Carpe Diem
    Sean
    http://www.BeInspired-blog.com

  • Reply Senya September 26, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    I bought the VFF Bikila which were made for running, they have a bit more “grip” on the bottom than the normal VFF. I don’t do more than sprints on the treadmill. I had the same fears as above – I too had the expensive cross-trainers – yet the first sprint was a revelation. You don’t even feel like you are running. It reminded me of my dancing years, I felt grounded yet lifted at the same time, my posture was perfect, my gait was effortless. My calves did get more of a workout – still do – since there isn’t all that sneaker padding on the heel eliminating the full stretch. My toes are in a much more natural straight line from my foot, which helps to counteract the high heels I wear as part of the corporate uniform. I highly recommended VFF for exercising and for normal everyday shoes.

  • Reply Mary September 26, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Rachel: I loved your article and your training schedule. I started wearing my Five Fingers at the beginning of July because some of my co-workers were training for a triathelon in theirs and I was intrigued. I wear mine walking, biking and for Zumba. I also wear them to work where I walk and stand a good part of the day. I have seriously flat feet with a Tailors bunion and thought I’d have trouble with going “barefoot”. I haven’t had any problems and love the way my feel feel in my “barefoot” shoes. It’s always fun to hear how people use their barefoot shoes.

  • Reply Juli September 26, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    ENJOY, but BE CAREFUL!
    I LOVED, LOVED,LOVED the results of my Vibram Five Fingers Sprint, but now I am writing this with a broken ankle. I switched to the Vibram TrekSport (designed for road running) which I look forward to running in when I’m healed. Here’s my story:
    I’ve hiked & walked for over 14 years, & have taught PE for over 2 years. I got tired of having my hip & legs ache at the end of the day, no matter what athletic sneakers I wore. I switched to the Vibram Five Fingers Sprint, & WOW! what a wonderful change! Jogging/running didn’t hurt anyore & I felt GREAT (no pain or aching) at the end of the day. My leg’s muscle-tone became very defined, cellulite became less noticable, & my stomach lost it’s “pooch”! I had the same experience as the previous joggers/runners, my running-gait changed. The bottom of my feet (heel & ball of foot) were consistantly TORN-UP/Blistered; which I remedied by applying athletic tape &/or “Glide” to the friction areas & a cusioned insole. I was determined to make the shoes work, the results were worth it. I could only jog 4 miles, tops, the bottom of my feet couldn’t take much more. I jogged a 4 mile route that included concrete, asfault, dirt trail & grass. The grass & dirt trail felt the best. BTW, they wash great in the Washing Machine, air dry…the smell’s gone & they look like new.
    I wore the Vibram Five Fingers Sprint for the past 8 months during my walks/jogs, & while teaching PE (8 hours/day). About 2 months ago, I changed from walking to jogging. One month into jogging, I woke-up one morning & my ankle ached. I wraped it up, took some Advil, & jogged for about 1 more week, when I realized it just wasn’t getting better. I went to an Orthopedist. He x-rayed it, & saw nothing. A week later, it still hurt. When I went back, it was broken. The Orthopedist said it was probably weakened, then finally broke within the last week. Now, I’m in a “boot” for a month or so, while it heals. The only “work-out” shoes I’ve worn for the last 8 months is the Vibram Five Fingers Sprint. I take calcium daily & have taken it for over 20 years – I don’t have weak bones…or so I thought. The Orthopedist said it’s about the angles, not always the bone’s strength.
    I’ve traded the Sprint for the TrekSport, which is designed more for the road, more cushion & thicker sole. I have yet to try them, because the broken ankle. I think I’ll use the TrekSport as a training TOOL, and switch between them & regular sneakers (& hopefully won’t be so achy at the end of the day). I’ll see how that goes. I don’t know if the Vibram Five Fingers “caused” my broken ankle, but I think I need to not rely so much on them. But, gosh, I LOVE the results & the feeling while I’m jogging in them – I feel so free!

  • Reply spc September 27, 2010 at 6:16 am

    Has it occurred to anyone that the reason folks who spend more money on running shoes have more injuries is that they tend to be those who are most serious about the sport?! Think about it! If you don’t run much and just pick up a pair of ‘running shoes’ to do your grocery shopping, you’re not going to spend much.

    …On the other hand, if you’re really logging the miles, and serious about your sport, my take is you are far more likely to ‘invest’ in protecting your feet.

    I did not read ‘Born to Run’ …so maybe there’s more to the study – i.e. if they studied groups of ‘like’ individuals (same amount of miles/year) there may be something to it. Otherwise – I’m not buying it!

  • Reply Bob P. September 27, 2010 at 10:51 am

    I read “born to Run”, and purchased a pair of VFFs. I am a believer. I used to have leg discomfort and sore knees after a few miles. I don’t have that experience with the VFFs. I finish my run, and then go about my day. No discomfort, no pain. I don’t have any monetary interest in any footwear manufacturer.

    Last Saturday I logged a personal best 5k, and I hadn’t run in 6 weeks prior to the start. I took 30 seconds off of each mile, bringing me across the line at 21:13. I attribute this to the VFFs improving my running style.

    @spc – Read the book. The study focused on runners at marathons and running events. No stylish soccer moms were part of the study. My expensive running shoes have less than 20 miles on them. Are you a size 10 and want to buy them cheap?

  • Reply lnm September 27, 2010 at 11:27 am

    This was a great article about *one woman’s* experience with barfeeot running. I loved hearing about the experience. I also read the book, and was inspired. It seems to make sense. I ran my first marathon last year, at the age of 56. I wore top of the line running shoes to train and compete. But the week after the race I wound up with 2 stress fractures in my left foot, and was in a boot for 8 weeks. I thought the concept of barefoot running might be the answer for me, once I got out of the boot, so I discussed it at length with both of my foot doctors- well known and respected podiatrists, who are also sports medicine specialists. Both of them had the same reaction: If you START OUT barefoot running, at an early age, your feet will probably adjust to it and “toughen up.” Just like the Indians in the book- who run barefoot all their lives. That’s assuming you have the right angles where your foot bones meet your ankle- which many people do not. But both doctors said that once your feet get used to shoes, running barefoot is just asking for trouble, and the older you are, the worse it will be. Both docs said my feet would have fractured much sooner, had I been running barefoot. At least the shoes put off the injury. It’s true some shoes may be “over-designed,” but the key is to find one that is the happy medium. Where you can run for miles, run like the wind, have a big smile on your face and stay injury-free for as long as possible. I am running another marathon again in 3 weeks- after re-training myself, and trying several new brands of shoes. But I prefer the cushioning, and so far- fingers crossed- no injuries.

  • Reply A September 27, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    I haven’t owned a car in years and I walk EVERYWHERE. I walk a minimum of 4 miles a day on the road and I purchased Vibram 5 fingers KSO last month and LOVE them. I only wish they made a winter/waterproof version now because winter is coming up and I don’t know what I will do!

    These shoes are so comfortable. It takes a few days to learn how to put them on quickly but it does get easier.

    I haven’t tried running in them yet and if I did it would probably be trail running…I just think the road is too hard on the body…as someone else said…it was designed for cars, not people.

    These shoes are great but take it slow, people…it doesn’t matter how fit you are, you are using different muscles and need to adjust to anything new…let your muscles get in 2-4 weeks of gentle adjustment…easy walking everywhere in them…around the house, on trails…

    I had almost no adjustment time but like I said…I have walked everywhere for the last 4 years…most people ride in cars all the time so everyone will be different!

    My tai chi teacher said these are excellent for people as well. Now when I wear “normal” shoes sometimes they hurt, can’t imagine why I ever wore them, and I want to put my 5 fingers back on!

  • Reply Diane September 27, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    I have very high insteps. Although I do run great barefoot on grass, I’m worried about pavement. Does anyone out there who has very high insteps tried the Vibram and if so, what do you think? How does your feet, ankles, shins, knees and hips feel?

    Thanks.

  • Reply Jamie September 27, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    Have you guys seen the website http://www.Youarethetechnology.com ? It’s all about Vibrams five fingers And it’s pretty cool.

  • Reply JR September 28, 2010 at 9:56 am

    What do you think of the Newton running shoes?

  • Reply Melyssa October 3, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    I love reading about runners who go barefoot or wear minimalistic shoes. I am a newbie runner. Just ran my first 5k yesterday. Before I started running I knew I didn’t want to experience shin splints, sore knees and backs. I did some research and read Born To Run. I started running in fake Tevas, and when I put my KSO’s on, I was in love! And just today, I ran completely barefoot for the first time.

  • Reply Holly Jorgensen October 5, 2010 at 8:03 am

    Just take it very slowly and work your feet in gradually!! You are rebuiling ALL of the muscular systems in your feet. I got a neuroma and the beginning of one when I embraqued to aggressively and quickly into barefoot running after not being much of a runner for years and always being in tennis shoes.

  • Reply Amy Carrillo October 23, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    RACHEL!!

    I was so excited to see you on athleta as a featured athlete!! We have been addicted to Signing Times for 8 years- starting with our oldest son & using it for our next two children as well! I feel like we know you & your family & you have helped us so much!!

    I run “barefoot” too & with vibrams- I just completed my 3rd 1/2 marathon & my first long race in vibrams. They rock!

    I just wanted to say congratulations & I hope your family is doing well!

  • Reply robin March 31, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    thanks for the awesome article! i just moved to SLC january 2011, and want to get into running, specifically barefoot running. i’m a complete novice and i’m hoping you could give me a few places i can start my running. i just have no idea where trails appropriate for a beginner are to be found, despite an extensive search online. you are such an inspiration and i can’t thank you enough for sharing your world with us!

  • Reply Rachel Coleman March 31, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Robin, Like I said, start slowly and on the grass. Even if you have been running for awhile, you will be using different muscles. Your calves should burn. Try Ferguson Canyon (beautiful and serene once the snow melts) Be careful running on pavement or sidewalks, when you do, listen to your feet… no really, listen with your ears, your feet should not be slapping the ground as you run.

  • Reply Jenn Hydeman July 12, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Hi Rachel,
    I am completely inspired by your stories. We have a dynamic family, full of differently abled people. My son has autism and still requires a stroller at times due to his low tone and low stamina. My question, what stroller do you run with? We have an Adaptive Star special needs stroller, but, it just doesn’t work how I thought it would (no swivel wheel, no guard on front wheel). We are in desperate need of something that will allow the full family to play together. On that note, if you have any reccomendations for adaptive bike seats for differently abled children, I am all ears. Thanks!

  • Reply Meghan August 16, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Those VFF’s being the talk of the town, I had to assuage my curiosity. Found a retailer nearby & tried on a pair.

    I thought they felt fine, although the little “sleeves” around each of my toes felt funny. At the end of the day, though, the price tag was such that I couldn’t really justify them. Besides, I much prefer the feeling of actual bare feet on the ground.

  • Reply clarebear August 16, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    I think it’s important to remember that when you are going to embark on actual barefoot running, drills are necessary. My husband is a POSE runner, and he no longer has any knee or foot pain when he runs. However, he had to retrain himself to run, and did numerous drills and did very short distances for a long time, until he was proficient with the style. Now he is injury free! Hooray!
    Good luck to all with barefoot running!

  • Reply WomenFitforLife April 9, 2013 at 7:30 am

    Rachel, your article was so great. I just simply can’t imagine running barefoot, but that is not to say that I would not want to try 🙂 My co-worker got inspired by the same ‘Born to Run’ book as you did and he has now finished two barefoot half-marathons. He runs until the first snow hits the ground and starts again when the streets are clear. I find that so amazing. He also says that when he was running with expensive and supportive shoes, he used to have a lot of foot problems. Now, he has no more problems.

  • Reply Sandi Ferguson October 16, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Thanks for the article. I hate running in any kind of shoe and made my own hauraches from nylon string and flipflops bottoms (YouTube). Just finished a 13 mile run tonight getting ready for a 1/2 marathon in about 3 weeks. I am 50 years young. I feel so much lighter not wearing running shoes!

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