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.


Tips for Achieving your New Year's Resolutions

It's that time of year again where you think over what you have accomplished, or not, during the past few months.  For most of us, you probably set yourself some New Year's resolutions late 2014 or early 2015 with the aim of ticking something off the list and, perhaps, rewarding yourself.

Of course, most of the time, the list is abandoned or simply forgotten come the start of the new year.  Why bother, right?  Well, you should, for yourself most of all.  It helps you avoid getting or at least wasting time being in the doldrums and more time doing things other than being in a total funk or a permanently bad mood!

Where To Begin? 

Start off with two lists - yes, two, one for short term and the other for long term goals.

Now, take your list for long term goals for the new year and write down only three goals.  Why only three?  No real reason but, think about it, one goal doesn't seem like enough and five sounds like torture so three sounds about right.  Ask yourself where you would like to be or what you would like to be doing this time next year.  What's your overall focus for the new year?  Improving your health and wellbeing?  Changing jobs or upskilling?  Starting or returning to a creative pursuit?  For myself, I focused on health and wellbeing and my hobbies.  I had been neglecting both for a while as evidenced by my increasing inability to fit into any of my works clothes and the dust collecting on my drawing supplies and half finished writing pieces.

My long term goals for 2015 were:

(1) Run a half-marathon

(2) Become confident enough to display my drawings or show family and friends

(3) Get some of my writing published

Don't worry if your goals don't seem lofty enough or, on the flip, overly ambitious.  This list of resolutions is for you and you shouldn't feel the need to justify your goals to anybody.  You have the whole new year to plan the next steps out.  That's where your list of short term goals will come in handy.

Next Steps

Set your list of long term goals aside and go to your list of short term goals.  Think of what you can do in the next one to three months that can get you on the way to achieving goals (1) through (3).

Here is what my short term list of goals looked like:

(1) Register for a half-marathon at least six months out

(2) Sign up for drawing classes, in person or online

(3) Contact publications, websites, etc I would like to write for

With goal (1), I signed up for the Run Melbourne half-marathon held yearly in July.  That's rights folks - I registered for a running event for the middle of the Australian winter.  Luckily winters are relatively mild in the southern hemisphere so, really, there was no excuse not to. 

The next step was to create or find a training schedule for a half-marathon.  You can find training schedules for all sorts of running distances online or in running magazines or books for free.  I actually used the training schedule provided in a special lift out in The Age newspaper for a promotion on Run Melbourne and it worked out great, well, maybe except for the parts where the schedule asks you to do hill repeats...

For goal (2), I signed up for drawing courses on Craftsy (see, as I didn't have time during the work day or after work to attend actual classes.  Craftsy courses are very affordable and your access to the courses you've purchased never expires.  Definitely something worth checking out if you want something more structured, with regular classes or sessions you can return to time and again.  You are also encouraged to post your art projects on the Craftsy website to share with your classmates.

With the third short term goal, I looked around for websites, rather than publications, that were looking for reviews and general content or filler.  Some websites will pay you per piece, while others will pay you a portion of their advertising revenue, and then there are some which provide you no compensation at all but will give you exposure via a contributor or writer profile or bio.  I tried the third option to begin with to get a feel for what sort of work was out there but I soon transitioned to publishing on websites that give you a portion of their advertising revenue.  Working for free is okay for a little while but, personally, I believe you should be compensated something for your time and effort.

Now I hope you go out there and set yourself some goals for 2016.  Remember your lists of short and long term goals are for you.  You will learn you are more than what you think.  Be it being able to get past that pain barrier when you are running or getting past your reluctance with showing your artwork to a friend or family member.  You can do it!