How and why to become a minimalist runner in 5 simple steps (run barefoot!)

Running barefoot is crazy, or so I’m told!

Apparently, I’m crazy to attempt trail ultra marathons in my minimalist running shoes but I LOVE my Vibrams, from Barefoot Junkie.

And yet, here I am, I run everywhere in my Vibrams 5 days a week and I WILL complete an ultra marathon in them. Also, running barefoot is how we were meant to run, I hear the naysayers saying ‘we don’t live in caves anymore’ and I get that, but still, it is natural for us to run this way, not with cushioning so that we cannot sense the ground. 

Why do I think more people should become minimalist runners? Quite frankly and simply, it makes you a better runner, not necessarily faster (I will come back to that later) but definitely a better runner from a technique perspective. I look back at photos of me running before my barefoot days and I can see that despite what I thought then, I was a heel striker. In case you don’t know, heel striking is inefficient as each strike scrubs energy from your forward momentum. I am now definitely a forefoot striker and my feet are lifting much higher up behind me especially when in a sprint, much better form, just from barefoot running. The coaching I had pointed me in the right direction, definitely, but the barefoot running took me down the right road (pun intended) so that now I am a more agile runner, much better able to sense the ground beneath me and adapt to it. I know of at least one occasion when I was running that being barefoot has saved me from an ankle injury (due to an unseen hole in the ground).

How should you start with barefoot running?

1. Decide why you want to do it, maybe it is to get better form, maybe to develop better calf strength or even just for the novelty factor (other runners always talk to me about it!).

2. Choose a brand, there are many, do your research and find a brand you can trust, for me, there was no question about it, had to be Vibrams via Barefoot Junkie, great shoes that last forever and fantastic customer service. Whatever brand you choose, be careful on sizing because it matters more with barefoot shoes.

3. Decide if you want toe socks or not (if in toe shoes!), I found that the fit of my shoes are better with my InJini socks.

4. Start running in your shoes but start extremely gently. You will probably quickly notice that your calves really hurt! That’s because you are now using muscles differently, remember how much it hurt when you first started running, no?, well, try doing an exercise you are not used to and see how you feel (seriously though, don’t hurt yourself!!). That’s exactly what you are doing because you will absolutely be running differently, immediately in barefoot shoes, 1 or 2 heel strikes is all it will take to change your running technique!

5. Keep trying the barefoot shoes and gradually extend your range. It took me about a month until I could run my normal distances on the road, it was a month of calf pain but it was so worth it. Take your time and listen to your body, you will soon find that you are running lighter and easier than ever before, keep that in mind, it will come but it takes perseverance. Sometimes I found it easier to run on a treadmill during the first few days as Vibrams actually adapt to the shape of the foot somewhat and the fit gets a little better.

As for running faster, other minimalist runners say that on race day they run in ‘normal’ running shoes and that because all of their training has been in minimalist shoes, they run faster (due to better run efficiency built up), but as I have not done that, I can’t attest to it.

On a separate note, Vibrams will save you money as well because they are no more (often less) expensive than normal running shoes but they also do not wear out anywhere near as quickly, my first pair have now run 400 miles and are barely showing any signs of wear, other normal running shoes I have used have always needed replacing by about 300 miles!


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