Monday, August 15, 2011

VFF = Transition to Footwear

Lately, I've been questioning my motives.

Example 1:

I ran 13.1 miles a few weeks ago, my first longish run since last November. My barefeet handled it pretty well, but they were getting tender in those last few miles and my feet definitely didn't feel like putting in anymore miles. Would it have been better if I ran shod? Could I have run longer?

Rambling in my head:

A couple of years ago, I was excited to discover that shoes don't necessarily improve the running experience. Running barefoot is an option. It's an option. It's not necessary, though. Sounds weird to say that. Why would I even have to admit it? Some conditions, like distance, weather and surface, shod is better for me. I believe I would have hated the hills less at the Flying Monkey marathon if I wasn't so concerned about how rough the ground felt.

Example 2:

Last week at XC practice, one of the kids asked coach if they could run barefoot. Coach said no and for good reason. The state of Tennessee mandates that middle and high school XC runners have to compete with shoes on their feet. Coach wants kids to train with shoes since that's how they will race. I wish this rule didn't exist. It feels awesome to run skin to ground on the XC course. There's less weight on the foot and foot landings are more stable on the bumpy surface. I feel a bit guilty about having an unfair advantage.

Rambling in my head:

Frankly, I've always been more comfortable with ground feeling than the feeling of social angst in my head from being one of few not wearing shoes. I'm ready to try and conform to the group.

Before practice today I dug out my VFF shoes from under the bed and wiggled my toes into them. I ran in shoes for the first time since January. I'm transitioning to footwear. I'm not ready yet for those cushy wedges. I may never get there. The VFFs are a start.

Hello, I'm Kelly. I'm a recovering barefoot fanatic.


  1. Hey, you're going the wrong way! But maybe it's the right way. I ran in my VFFs for the first time in a long while on Sunday and removed them after two miles because I was getting a blister on top of my right big toe. They've now been banned until winter, if then. Good luck. Cheers!

  2. Kelly-
    We did briefly discuss this topic running and since then I have engaged in seriously thinking about my own barefoot running. It is an interesting point about conformance vs. the barefoot experience. I am caught in the middle as well. I have a few thoughts I am tossing around as well about making the transition to footwear.

    I am far less inclined to worry about the first example. I have long thought of my feet as prognosticators for the rest of my body. If my feet begin to be sensitive at around the 10 mile mark (which has happened) I probably need to start thinking about finishing up my run before I have serious damage to knees or back. I believe that my training for that distance is lacking if my feet cannot take the pounding. However, I do acknowledge that if the course is on particularly rough pavement or terrain it can accelerate that sensitive feeling.

    Your second example is the part that has me thinking about going back to shoes. I have never had a problem discussing my decision to go barefoot with other adults. A small part of me even enjoys the uniqueness of being a barefoot runner. The experience of running barefoot and directly contacting the ground has made my runs very enjoyable. The question then is: Am I doing the correct thing by the kids? I have a couple kids in my small group that have asked me if they could go barefoot for the day. My answer was “No” for the same reason as Coach Chris. These kids are required to race in shoes and should practice that way. The TSSAA requires runners to wear shoes. Practice the way your race in any sport. It gets more complicated.

    My daughter would like to run barefoot. As a barefoot runner I know the dangers and advantages of barefoot running. As a parent I know my 11 year old daughter. I don’t think she would pay enough attention to where she is putting her feet to successfully run without stepping on something that may cause injury. I also, as a parent and barefooter, feel that she is already pushing very hard on getting ready for the race season and it is not a great time for her to transition to barefoot running. Why should she? If she is going to run in next year in 8th grade, on into high school, or even college it must be in shoes. The parent in me says the smart money is for her to stay shod.

    The TSSAA says “shoes”; the parent in me says “shoes” but I am out there running with the kids without shoes. Last year as a part time helper it was not so much an issue. This year as a full-time volunteer, I am a role model for these young men and women. I wonder if my non-conformance to the rules, parental wishes, and the norm will not turn into an impediment at worst distraction at best. Or perhaps I too am making much ado about nothing. You have definitely made me think.


  3. @Viper, What brought this on for me in the last couple of days is that someone brought to my attention that I've been a bit fanatical about my diet. I started seeing barefeet in the same light. Funny you should mention issues transitioning back to footwear. I have TOF pain today, nothing serious though. I'll have to take it easy tonight. Stupid shoes.

    @Mike, You've written a blog post in my comments! That's a sure-fire sign of a future blogger - too much to say. Perhaps we should get coach's opinion about it tonight. He's never told me not to go barefoot, but the lack of a negative doesn't necessarily make a positive, or something like that. Regarding your daughter, I think she would do just fine adapting to barefeet. Evan and I run barefoot together around the neighborhood every now and again and he does fine. He prefers it. I think most kids would enjoy it which is why I don't like the rule.

  4. The coach may have a point, but I'm not so sure. If running barefoot teaches you to run gently and makes the feet stronger, why not do it? I'm obviously biased, but I feel I'm a better runner in shoes thanks to all the miles I've run barefoot. Of course, overall I'm a better runner barefoot, if for no other reason because my feet are so handsome they dazzle the competition.

    All that aside, the rule is needlessly discriminatory and anti-axiomatic. Is that a word? I don't know, but it sounds smart. It reinforces the false idea that shoes are safer and necessary. If the kids were to train barefoot, they would develop a healthy attitude towards authority, which is to hate it with every fiber of their being.

  5. @ Josh, I bet your competition is more than dazzled. They are probably flustered that they are getting beat by a barefoot dude. It's surely a psychological advantage. Regarding the kids' healthy attitude, they probably get more ticked off by all the intervals we make them run (6 x 800 Monday night, 16 x 200 tomorrow night) than forcing them to keep their shoes on, but I agree that the rule reinforces the universally accepted truth that shoes are safer and necessary. You play by the TSSAA rules or you don't play. They can express their individualality at their local 5K. For the record, there are occassions when the kids are encouraged to run barefoot sprints to improve running form, but as a general rule barefeet are discouraged.

  6. NOOOOO... Stay barefoot! If you want to wear something minimal for xc practice with kids thats fine.. If you wear the "traditional" running shoe again, you'll have problems again.... and face it, you like the feedom.

  7. Wait, I assumed you were kidding about the "traditional footwear" thing. You were kidding, right?

  8. I plan mostly on running in VFFs or aquas for XC, but I also bought a pair of New Balance MT101s with laces and everything. I don't know, are those traditional? I bought them at Kohl's for $39, so they aren't expensive like minimal shoes. I like how the NB MT101s fit my feet, but they do seem too shoey, not slippery.