Featured Comments Off on Run and bare it |

Run and bare it

Capt Seshadri looks at Barefoot world champion athletes who have made barefoot running a trend that has made a powerful comeback.

When it comes to a choice between shoes and no shoes, barefoot runners over the years have given their shod competitors a run for their money. In Rome, in 1960, a long distance runner, finding that the official footwear supplier had run out of shoes of his size and that those supplied to him were too tight for comfort, decided to run the marathon without them. And hit pay dirt. Four years later, in Tokyo, Abebe Bikila, the legendary Ethiopian athlete, successfully defended his title, this time running in shoes, and in the process, set a new world record.

Barely four months ago, on April 28, 2018, the world bid adieu to another barefoot running legend, Michael ‘Bruce’ Tulloh. In the early ‘60s, Bruce was a sensation, regularly winning European and international cross-country championships. Two decades later, his twin teenaged daughters set age records for running. Naturally, they also ran barefoot. Tulloh, who turned later in life to teaching biology, ran a grueling 4,600 km across North America, from LA to NY, in just 64 days. He appeared to have counted his paces since this arduous run was captured in his book titled ‘Four Million Footsteps’.

Bihar, in India, produces sportspersons from as varied disciplines as athletics, hockey and archery, but there is one great long-distance runner who represented the country in the ’76 Montreal Olympics, running the marathon barefoot in a surprising time of 2:15:58. His best marathon effort though was in 1978 in Jalandhar, where he timed 2:12:00, a national record unbroken to this day. In the 42.2 at Montreal, Shivnath Singh was in the van for 32 km, ahead of legends like Bill Rodgers and Lasse Viren. Finally, his finish at # 11 out of 72 participants, was an extremely credible performance at the time for an Indian athlete.

Barefoot running is not the exclusive preserve of the male. As a school student at the age of seven, Tegla Loroupe, born in the rift valley area of Kenya, ran 10 km to school and back every day. This early training led to her winning several half and full marathons while garnering gold in the 10,000 metres in the Goodwill Games in 1994 and 1998. Tegla, after retirement, was selected to champion the cause of ‘refugee athletes’ as the organiser of the Refugee Team for the Rio Olympics in 2016.

One of the most famous barefoot women athletes gained notoriety for a different reason, although subsequent investigations absolved her of all fault. Zola Budd, born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, migrated to England to escape the apartheid ban, driven by the fact that her world record of 15:01:83 in the 5,000 metres at age 17 went unrecognised. A year later, representing Great Britain, Zola erased her record with a performance of 14:48:07. Her claim to infamy came with her multiple collisions with Mary Decker, leaving Mary out of the competition and a tearful Zola finishing seventh.

While 27,000 km of running, including 50 + marathons qualifies Rick Roeber as one of the most prominent barefoot runners of this era, the real ‘godfather’ of the unshod foot is Ken Bob Saxton of Seattle, who has a century and more of marathons under his soles. And, running barefoot for charity, Ms. Rae Heim covered over 3,000 km across America to raise funds to provide shoes to needy children under the banner of Soles4Souls.

Ultimately, it’s a long road to run on. Whether for glory or for a cause.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Training Comments Off on Connect to the Ground |

Connect to the Ground

Running barefoot is not just a trend but practised by many elite runners as a habit, writes Capt Seshadri. 

Running a marathon is certainly no walk in the park, more so if you are running barefoot. But for many an athlete, unshod seems to be a preference over wearing shoes, be it a marathon, a cross country event or, for a few, even a sprint!

‘Barefoot’ or ‘natural running’ as it is often termed, ignoring technological and biomedical recommendations, is still practised in some parts of the world, more prominently in Africa and Latin America, rather than in the European or North American continents. The arguments for and against make for interesting reading, although there is no proven evidence to substantiate either view. It is widely believed in some circles that barefoot running, being natural to the human body, brings health benefits. History confirms that all the running before the advent of footwear was done on uncovered soles, most likely, even the first marathon that Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta with the news of the victory of the Greeks over the Persians. It also seems logical that the track events before the first Olympics must have been contested barefoot.

Preliminary scientific research suggests that the barefoot runner tends to land on each stride, on the ball of the foot, thereby avoiding stressful impact and repetitive shock of heel landing. This also increases the elasticity of the muscles and protects the adjoining areas like the plantar fascia. The arguments against, are lack of protection against climate and inclement weather, and the possibility of cuts and bruises from uneven running surfaces, resulting in painful injuries and sepsis. Advocates of natural running however, maintain that the shoe could cause and aggravate injuries and stress to knee and ankle joints, especially if not conforming to the specific configuration of the feet of individuals.

Since the late 70s, with much debate surfacing between running barefoot and with shoes on, manufacturers of athletic footwear took cognizance of the pros and cons and began designing running shoes for comfort and injury prevention. One of the cautionary points put across by them was that diabetics, especially, should avoid running barefoot, to prevent complications, while also citing possible bone damage to users.

All this triggered the move towards an intermediary and realistic compromise between running barefoot and running shod. And so came about the hybrid term ‘minimalistic running’, using thin soled and flexible shoes with a minimum of padding, like sandals or moccasins. This could possibly be an evolution of what runners wore for a millennium or more, before the design and development of the modern running shoe. A soft covering that permits the feet to adapt to the contours of the ground, allows for greater flexibility and adjustments to each individual’s peculiar stride or style of running.

Natural running is gaining popularity among the athletic community the world over. In November 2009, the Barefoot Runners Society was formed in the US; soon after, on December 12, 2010, the Barefoot Runners of India Foundation garnered 306 participants for a half marathon in the town of Khargar, near Mumbai. A few medical associations though, warn runners not to transit overnight to the barefoot ideology. Time, training and an understanding of the effect such a transition would have on the muscles involved, should dictate the duration of transition.

So, if the bare necessities of your running lives involve shoes, you might like to think again. Or, even maybe not. Possibly, time will tell.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Motivation Comments Off on Barefoot running – a more natural way to run |

Barefoot running – a more natural way to run

Barefoot seems like a great way to run but you need to work your way to it, writes Deepthi Velkur.

Barefoot and minimalist shoe running is slowly but surely gaining popularity despite substantial advances in shoe technology alongside enhanced shoe features like better cushioning, motion control, and even the arrival of special fitness shoes. Running barefoot strengthens your feet, helps you feel more connected to the ground and is definitely more fun.

Barefoot running can be quite a dreadful experience at first as your feet will be weak, so taking it slow is the way to go. When your feet touch the ground, make sure you land on your mid-foot or the ball of your feet followed by the toes and then the heel touching the ground. It easily takes anywhere between several weeks to months to build up the strength necessary for faster or longer running.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind while you start out running barefoot –

  • Take baby steps– Muscles in your body take about 6 – 8 weeks to adapt to something new. For the first 4 weeks, do walk barefoot for 20 – 30 mins a day. The next 4 weeks focus on running short distances on smooth surfaces like a few laps around a park or an easy jog around a soft indoor track. Once you are more comfortable, gradually increase the distance every week and move on to running on hard surfaces. Keep a close check on how your feet are adapting to the new surface to avoid injury.
  • Maintaining a good form– When you start running barefoot, you also need to focus on training your body on how to run with a good form. Skipping, toe-up drill or the lean drill are a few exercises you could try in training. Doing these drills ensures your running efficiency, help in striking the ground properly and staying injury-free.
  • Feel the ground– By wearing protective shoes all along, your feet find it difficult in sensing the ground. Try and include ‘feel the ground activities’ such as standing on one leg while brushing your teeth, using a balance disc / pillow at the gym or bouncing on one leg on a mini trampoline a few times a week.
  • Be Flexible– You  might feel some tightness or pain in the Achilles tendon. Making the back of your leg flexible with calf stretches or foam rolling helps during the transition to barefoot running.
  • Strong Feet– By doing a lot of balancing exercises, you can strengthen your feet. This can be achieved by standing on one leg, rolling your entire body weight from the outside to the inside of the foot and back.
  • Plyometrics– Since your feet have been cushioned with shoes, feeling the impact of the ground with barefoot running becomes a challenge. Plyometrics are exercises which include hop or skip with one or two legs, side to side hops or single leg box jump are good for preparing you for barefoot running.

Using the above tips will help in a smooth transition to barefoot running by reducing the tiredness in your knees and hips after a run or workout, helps in feeling the ground during a run and increasing the joy of running barefoot.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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