barefootYou don’t need anyone to teach you how to run, right? Well, that’s what I thought until recently, when I realised that for most of the first 30 years of my life I have been doing it wrong. It had never made sense to me that running was considered such an unhealthy activity in terms of the effects of the impact on your body, or that so many people were getting injuries just from running. After all, once upon a time it was the only way we could get around. Did the Kalahari bushmen suffer from knee degeneration or Iliotibila band syndrome? Somehow I think not.

Chances are that when I started out running around barefoot as a kid I was doing it properly, but over time my environment (and my shoes) have trained me to do it differently. You see, when we run in our modern shoes on flat roads – or even worse, treadmills – we tend to get lazy with our running. We tend to strike the ground with our heels first, stand upright, don’t lift our feet very far off of the ground, and for many people, this leads to poor posture.

Do me a favour. Take off your shoes and go run around outside on the grass – or even better, watch a bunch of kids running around barefoot. Look really closely. Which part of their foot hits the ground first?

You will find that it is the mid-foot (essentially the ball of the foot, or a spot just behind the ball). This is a natural running style. It allows the heel to be lowered more softly onto the ground and drastically reduces the impact of the run. Now if you have good posture when you run and you stand up nice and straight with your gluteals (bum) and your abs engaged and your shoulders back, you will soon realise that in order to land on your mid-foot, you will have to lean forward.

Leaning forward also means that your centre of gravity is in front of your feet. The combination of not striking with your heels (after all, how do you slow down going down a hill?) and leaning forward leads to a much more natural run with greater speed and less effort as well. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what I thought until I started doing it. Now I can do exactly the same run as I did before, and I do it easier, faster and have less tiredness and fatigue afterwards.

So if I can’t have my traditional runners, what shoes should I wear?

Well, some people have started running with no shoes at all, but for most of us using your average roads and paths, that is a bit extreme. Fortunately there is a whole swag of shoes coming onto the market now that are designed specifically for this purpose. There are Newton runners, Nike Frees, Vivo Evo’s and Vibram Five Fingers, just to name a few. Personally, I have gone for good old Dunlop volleys, which are nice and flat and not too padded, so really encourage correct foot strike.