Some area runners are leaving their sneakers behind to try a more natural approach to training. From barely-there shoes to nothing at all, some seasoned runners say barefoot running has its benefits.
Some area runners are leaving their sneakers behind to try a more natural approach to training.
From barely-there shoes to nothing at all, some seasoned runners say barefoot running has its benefits.
"Running sneakers provide a tremendous amount of support and cushioning, but they could be hurting us by causing the foot area to move differently," Framingham runner Adam King said. "Shoes are basically doing the work nature intended our feet to do."
A self-proclaimed "fitness geek," King said he's always interested in running improvements and was intrigued by the trend he read about in magazines.
While shopping at Framingham's REI store two weeks ago, King spotted a shopper sporting a pair of Vibram Five Fingers - a thin-soled shoe with separated toes designed to provide some protection from rocks and glass while simulating being barefoot.
That day, he walked out with his very own for $80.
"It took about 10 minutes to get my toes in the toe sections, but I got used to them," he said. "I was surprised how natural they felt right away, like I was barefoot -- which is the whole point."
The 32-year-old runner said he wears them about four times a week, and runs less than five miles. Though he said he gets quite a few confused gazes and questions about the unique shoe, King said the Vibrams have helped his form.
"I run on my feet often. I use my feet from work to leisure. I want them to be as strong as possible, and running barefoot I think will help that," he said. "After the first time I wore them I was sore in places I didn't know I had."
Northbridge runner Tim Doiron bought a pair last summer after reading about the benefits and said the change has improved his stride.
"I tend to strike on my heels, and when you run barefoot you really can't do that. It's nature's nice way of telling you that hurts," he said. Barefoot running "forces me to run on the ball of my feet. When you put on a pair of shoes, you don't always do that."
Doiron, who is 41, is training for the Boston Marathon next month, and recommends runners wanting to lose their sneakers start slowly.
"You have to gradually go into it. I by no means consider myself a barefoot runner; I'll occasionally go out and do it because I like the freedom," he said. "If you do it 100 percent, your form has to be improved. You're going to get pains you're not used to having."
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. David P. Magit sees patients at Milford Regional Medical Center and UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester and says barefoot running can pose risks for runners if they do too much, too soon.
"Someone who has run their whole life in a sort of hind-foot manner and quickly changes to a forefoot manner may quickly develop pain in the foot. The bio-mechanics are completely different," he said.
Magit said runners with sneakers typically land on their heel, transition to the hindfoot, then to the midfoot and finally to the forefoot.
With barefoot running, he said that process is reversed and different muscles are used.
"Instead of the force being transmitted to the heel bone, in the forefoot, force is being transmitted to the muscles of the leg. Runners can become much more fatigued a lot earlier in their running distances because those muscles are not built up and strong enough," he said.
In addition to stretching the hamstring and calf muscles before running barefoot, Magit recommends people run less than a mile every other day, and increase their distances by no more than 10 percent each week.
"Because muscles aren't conditioned enough, you can get sore and tired easily," he said. "Any signs of soft tissue swelling or persistent pain that's not going away with rest or ice ... should be evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon."
Mario Fraioli, assistant manager at Westborough's PR Running store, also cautions barefoot runners to start in small doses.
"Before someone even thinks about going to run barefoot, we encourage them to just walk around their house a few minutes barefoot, and get used to the sensation of not having shoes on," Fraioli said.
Though the store doesn't carry them, Fraioli, a longtime runner, said he owns a pair of the Vibrams and has used them on occasion.
"It feels different. All of a sudden you've got to think about what you're doing," he said. "Afterwards, you can tell you've done something differently because all of a sudden you're sore in places you wouldn't think twice about."
Fraioli said customers often ask about barefoot running and the specialty shoes.
"We certainly see a demand for it and it's something we're exploring. It's not just something we're looking to jump right into," he said. "We have to give it a little more thought and sort of see where this whole barefoot running trend goes."
King is confident the trend will live on.
"As with most 'extreme' forms of anything, it will only be adopted by a minority of folks. The danger of running barefoot, the cost of Five Fingers ... and the 'weirdness' and unfamiliarity factor will keep widespread adoption to a minimum," he said in an e-mailed response to a question. "I think for converts, however, it will continue to be a part of their respective running practice."
To read more stories about the Boston Marathon, check out the Marathon 2010 blog at blogs.wickedlocal.com/marathon10.
Milford Daily News writer Ashley Studley can be reached at 508-634-7556 or firstname.lastname@example.org.