I like to race. I belong to a very competitive running group where racing is an integral part of our mindset. I understand that there are people who “say” they don’t race, enter a 5k race, and immediately search the results afterwards to see how they did. Yes they were racing.
In order to race you need to train, and that means running fast. Training is not just about running a zillion miles a week. It is about mixing mileage with interval training. You are trying to condition yourself to run faster and to push your anaerobic/aerobic threshold down the road. You have to train faster than your aerobic threshold and that can only be done with interval training.
So what about barefoot running? I would say 95% of forum posts, blogs, articles , YouTubes, whatever, talk about barefoot running as if it was a state by itself. I think a lot of these individuals are true “fun runners” who have never run faster than a 12min mile in their entire life. They think of running as “not walking”. Speed is never mentioned. So learning to run barefoot is just a matter of translating your 12min mile pace to a barefoot 12min mile pace and that is that. Barefoot running is some sort of Yoga-like transcendental experience designed to get in touch with your inner being (whatever that is.) Here is a great YouTube that epitomizes that mindset. I understand it is meant to be a “training” class in barefoot running but it looks really funny to me. The instructor is teaching the people to run like hamsters with itty-bitty strides and then talks about how sensual barefoot running is. Yes – a true fun runner. My guess is that he has never run a 5k faster than about 30min.
The difference between running 12min per mile and 6 min per mile is huge. The loads exerted on the ground by your body are several magnitudes greater as you go faster. If we translate that into a barefoot running scenario there are added challenges to adaptation. The barefoot “fun runner” may feel they have totally mastered the art of barefoot running and can do their 12min mile pace on many varied surfaces, but when pushed to run faster find that they are no longer adapted.
I have been running barefoot about 5 months now. Before that I ran with Vibrams for a couple of years. If I had it to do over again I would have reversed the process (see my other post). The one thing I have noticed is that running barefoot over my usual route is typically just as uncomfortable as it was 3 or 4 months ago. Why? Well I am doing it faster. My usual shod jogging pace is about 8:30min per mile. Barefoot I started about 11-12min per mile but have been steadily increasing the speed. I am now ok at about 9:30 pace which is nowhere near my 8:30 “normal” pace.
So let’s say that in a few more months I can get to a comfortable 8:30 mile pace on the varied (I purposefully pick prickly) surfaces. How much faster can I go? We have races that actually are on those surfaces. They are worn weather beaten sidewalks and asphalt torn up, cracked and very tough to run on. Racing with shoes you don’t even notice. Barefoot I am ouching through it if I get very fast.
Frankly I don’t see ever being able to match the pace of my shod-self racing on these surfaces. For an old guy – 55 – I am pretty fast. I run 5ks in 18min high. I did a marathon a few years ago at age 52 and ran it in 2:57 – which is about 6:40min mile average. It is unimaginable for me to be running barefoot over any sort of prickly terrain at those speeds.
What about really fast runners? I think most of them are limited too. Check out this guy. He is supposedly an expert barefoot runner. On flat dirt / trail terrain he is absolutely flying. Now watch him as he goes into the rocky terrain. Big difference. Our club has XC races on this sort of terrain. On that rocky terrain I can unequivocally say that even though he is 30 years younger and a lot fitter, if I were wearing shoes I would pass his barefoot tiptoe act like he was standing still.
Finally, I have a theory about our bipedal hominid inability to run barefoot very fast. I will share it in another post…..