The Dos and Don'ts of Minimalist Running for Beginners

If you're anything like the other would-be minimalist or barefoot runners out there who have just finished reading Christopher McDougall's Born to Run and are just raring to get out there and be one with nature, you need to stop, calm down, and read the following tips before you proceed any further.  You and your body parts will thank me and there's also a good chance your wallet will too.

My first, ill-thought out plans to begin minimalist or barefoot running began with purchasing a pair of name brand minimalist shoes from one of my favourite specialist shoe stores in Melbourne (hey, they were on sale) and thinking I would be okay if I took things slowly enough.  Oh boy, was I wrong.  My mind and body have since readjusted but looking back I wish someone had taken me aside and told me to take things a lot slower before taking the big plunge.

My trusty Inov-8 shoes!

My trusty Inov-8 shoes!

(1) Do your research first and lots of it.

After totally butchering both of my feet and achilles tendons after one training session in my enthusiasm, I was out for about a couple of weeks and decided to go back to square one to give my body and bruised ego a break.

Luckily, my local library had Runner's World Complete Guide to Minimalist and Barefoot Running which I finished reading in record time as I was feeling sorry for myself.  The book is nice and short, offering the right amount of technical and practical advice as well as testimonials from other runners who have made the transition.

Go read it or, better yet, buy yourself a copy!

(2) Find the right minimalist or barefoot style running shoes for you.

Minimalist and barefoot style running shoes range from the bare bones running sandals, to ones with little or no padding or support, to those with a bit more heft but nothing close to what you would find in a traditional running shoe.

Of course, there's always the option of one going completely barefoot but I am unable to comment on that course of action as I've never personally tried it.

I started with some Vibram FiveFingers but found I needed more padding and support so I tried some New Balance Minimus shoes with some insoles for added support but I was still not completely happy.  Don't get me wrong, the Minimus is a good in-between type of minimalist shoe and served me well in a half-marathon I did last year but I wanted a shoe with a bit more of everything without sacrificing too much of the lightness for protection and some shock absorption. 

I finally found my perfect match in my Inov-8s this year.  Light weight, versatile, and great for road running, there are several models available offering different stack heights and drops.  This is the shoe I will be taking to my upcoming half-marathon come July this year.

Fishpond 604x90

(3) Walk before you even think of running.

Get your feet and the rest of your body used to not having several layers of material between yourself and the ground by walking around your house, or anywhere for that matter, with your new shoes and insoles if you have them.

You will be sorely tempted to go off for a run because your feet will feel so light and free but, on pain of butchered heels and tendons, you will regret it if you do.

(4) Build running distances and times gradually.

Due to my misadventures the first time around with minimalist running, I made a point of returning to a walk/run routine during my return to running after my feet and legs had recovered.

In the initial stages, I started with 1 km walks followed by short 500 m runs which I gradually built up over the following few weeks, months, and past year.  It was difficult at first as I felt I wasn't doing enough but patience really pays off once your body adjusts to the different mechanics involved and gear used.

(5) Do strengthening exercises for your feet, achilles, calves, and shins.

You know that niggly voice in the back of your mind or the annoying friend forever reminding you about your strengthening exercises?  Well, they're right.  Do not skimp on strengthening exercises for your legs and feet. 

Try the ones in the Runner's World book mentioned above along with your regular squats, lunges, and calf raises and you will be good to go!

It has been almost two years now since I transitioned to a minimalist style of running and footwear and I will probably never go back to using more traditional running shoes again.  Some runners find their running pains and discomforts diminish with this style of running and/or they are able to run faster with the change in gear but remember to just do what is right and comfortable for you and take your time.