Tag Archives: barefoot running

Foot stretches

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Foot Stretches

Sandal running on hard surfaces puts strain on my feet. These stretches are valuable for all runners and anyone that spends time on their feet.

1. Sitting cross-legged, interlace the fingers of the left hand between the right toes. Wedge the the knuckles close to the base of the toes. Wrap the fingers around the top of the foot. Press the palm of the hand into the ball of the foot. Grabbing the foot, rotate it around the ankle joint. 5 long breaths clockwise, 5 long breaths counter-clockwise.

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2. Still grabbing the right foot with the left hand, clasp the left hand over the left hand. Squeeze the toes, the top of the foot and ball of the foot. 3 long breaths. Release the fingers.

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3. Grab the right big toe with the left hand. Pull it straight out and push it down towards the ball of the foot. Release. Grab the second toe with the left hand. Pull it straight out and push it down towards the ball of the foot. Continue with all the toes individually.

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4. Press the palm of the left hand into the top of the right toes. Draw the toes back towards the heel. 3 long breaths.

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Wiggle the right and left toes and feel if there is a difference between the two. Repeat with left foot.

5. Toe stands. Rolling onto the knees, curl the toes under, trying to place every toe firmly on the ground and sit on the heels. Squeeze the knees and heels together. The more upright the body, the more intense the stretch. 5 long breaths. At first, this stretch can hurt like hell. It gets easier the more you do it.

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Sandal Running

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I spent three months running in minimal sandals. On the 4th of July in Marseille, I realized that I forgot my running shoes at a yoga studio in Peterborough. With limited selection, I bought a pair of Patagonia sandals on closeout at a local outdoor store. I have been experimenting with barefoot running techniques for several years, since reading “Born to Run” and running with the Raramuri in the Copper Canyon.  Until buying these sandals, I’ve always run in normal shoes, often past their prime.  I have begun to look at my shoes as a barrier from the hazards of the road or the trail, rather than integral to support or to my stride.  I enjoy running barefoot on grass and on sandy beaches, when available.  Excepting the racing flats of my school days, I have never bought minimalist running shoes.   

The sandal design is simple and reminds me in many ways of huaraches— the sandals worn by the Raramuri.  The sole is several millimeters thick and the synthetic, woven structure hugs my feet . The sandals don’t offer any structural support, serving mainly as a barrier.  

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Basic Technique

Long term runners can experience heel and knee pain from impact. To run safely and effectively in the sandals, I run on the toes and the balls of my feet. It looks kind of like tippy-toe running. In one fluid motion, I spread my toes wide, evenly plant the balls of my feet on the ground, roll over the knuckles and push off the tips.  

Short strides reduce strain on the knees and require quick leg turnover. To avoid stressing the knee joint, my legs assume similar alignment to isometric 90º lunges. My ankle is never ahead of my knee when it lands. This engages the muscles instead of the framework. Landing the foot is an active process.

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The experience

On fresh legs and feet, sandal running is euphoric. The feeling is light and turnover is rapid.

Over three months, activating the muscles in my toes has built up the inner arches of my feet and strengthened the external shin muscles that support my knees. I have more awareness and strength in my feet, and both balance and stability have improved. However, after several consecutive days of sandal running on hard surfaces, my feet feel hammered and my legs like mush. It’s harder to maintain good form.

The sandals limit where I run. I feel everything through the thin soles. Europe was easy; the surfaces forgiving. In Corsica, I ran on sand and dirt and in Berlin, grassy parks. Colorado was more challenging and the sharp rocks kept me off the trails and on the roads. New Mexico is a mix– it has soft sediment, but also sharp goatheads and cacti.

I love running and I want to run everywhere. I try to run with physical and mental awareness to stay healthy. Experimenting with different footwear and form keeps me learning, but sometimes I just want to turn up the music and launch out the door. Sometimes shoes are convenient.

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