The Scottish Barefoot Run and Conference is in just two weeks!

By Jae Gruenke | Uncategorized

Aug 24

My favorite event of the year is the Scottish Barefoot Run and Conference, organized by Colin McPhail of Barefootworks shop in Edinburgh and ultrarunner Donnie Campbell. This year’s event will be on Saturday 6 September, 10am-10pm, in Bruntsfield Links. No pre-registration is necessary and the cost is only a suggested donation of £10. You’ll find the conference timetable here.

I’ll be a speaker at the conference this year and I’d like your help in planning my talk. In the comments for this post, please tell me what you most want to know about barefoot/minimalist running or natural running form. What are your burning questions?

Here’s a video of the running route this year, and fear not, you can run it in any footwear. Almost no one will be truly barefoot (even I plan to wear shoes on the Crags). 

It should be a great event, and I hope to see you there. But whether or not you can make it, please post your questions by clicking on “Leave a Reply” just below the title of this post. I promise to respond.

Many thanks!

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About the Author

Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.

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(18) comments

Bert Bruynooghe August 25, 2014

I haven’t read anything about breathing and ‘good form’: should I simply let breathing as it is as long as it doesn’t interfere with my movements, or should I try to put as many strides into one breathing cycle as possible? The first one seems at first the most ‘Feldenkrais-like’, as I always fall back to this breathing when concentration loosens up or after a mid-run fartlek sprint; the second approach has the advantage of keeping my cadence high, but it requires me to run counting all the time. Even more difficult for me is the advice I read somewhere to have asymetrical breathing cycles: 3 steps inhaling, 5 steps exhaling; it is hell to be running, counting and breathing that way…

Reply
    Jae Gruenke August 26, 2014

    Great question, Bert! And I’m afraid you’re not going to like my answer. I recommend the third option: asymmetrical breathing. No need to do it right away when you start running, but at whatever point you begin to notice your breathing (ie it becomes audible and obviously rhythmic) you should start breathing in cycles that add up to an odd number. The reason for this is that people tend to exhale strongly on the same foot over and over again, and this reinforces asymmetrical movement habits. But if your breath cycle — meaning inhale plus exhale — adds up to an odd number you’ll alternate which foot you start your exhale on and the effect can be quite magical. Not only will you begin running more symmetrically but also you’ll get a little lighter and smoother. The downside is that you need to pay a lot of attention to counting till you get used to it, and you also need to alter your counts when your effort changes, such as when you run uphill. But after awhile you’ll get used to it and you’ll fall into your usual counts automatically. A comfortable running pace for me on flat ground has me breathing 5 steps in, 4 steps out, for a total of 9 footfalls per breath cycle. Use this image for your breathing: imagine you’re breathing downwards into your lower ribs, on the inside of your spine. Your breathing will immediately slow and your form will improve. Additional info: I heard an interesting interview with Dr. Mark Cucuzzella suggesting that running with a higher carbon dioxide level in your blood improves endurance, and thus you should inhale longer than you should exhale. He warned that it takes awhile to get used to it. I do find it works. Here’s the link to a blog post about it (I haven’t tried the breathing exercises in the post so I can’t comment on them, but I also agree with his recommendation about nasal breathing) : http://naturalrunningcenter.com/2013/10/20/breathing-exercises-runners/

    Hope that helps!

    Reply
robin roche August 25, 2014

Hello,
Here is my question. Without seeing me, I don’t expect a definitive answer but maybe a general idea. I have had 2 stress fractures, 1 in each foot. It has been the same fracture and most common area, 2nd metatarsal, midshaft. I am currently in Brooks stability shoes and before that MErrell min. shoes. I am back to running trails with no pain. My biggest concern/question is how am I put together that would cause these fractures? What am I doing funky with my gait? I know my form is not the best, to say the least. My sister in law compares me to a dinosaur so I supposedly doing something strange with my arm swing. Just a mystery to me and makes me question the risks V benefits.

Reply
    Jae Gruenke August 26, 2014

    Hi Robin. My guess would be that you’re running too upright or with too little mobility in your pelvis and upper body. Metatarsal stress fractures in running are due to shearing stress, not impact. In other words, the accumulated stress that leads to them happens when you’re toeing off, not landing. If your weight is too far back when you’re trying to push off the ground, downward force gets applied in a place you don’t have a joint — along your metatarsal bone. To relieve this stress, you want to fall fowards and up off your feet, rather than feel like you’re pushing off. If you’re doing it right you won’t feel like you push off at all (hence the popular myth that you shouldn’t push off in running) unless you’re going up a steep hill, and even then you should try to keep moving your weight forward and up so you minimize the sensation. I would also recommend you look at your diet — it might be fine, but then again maybe your bones could be stronger? Here’s the resource I recommend for dietary information: http://www.westonaprice.org. You also may be interested in this: http://runnersconnect.net/running-nutrition-articles/foods-that-increse-your-risk-for-stress-fractures/.

    I hope that helps!

    Reply
John Bridger August 25, 2014

Hi Jae.

In trying to increase speed I increased my stride length. This actually made me a bit faster for the same HR but at low 170s cadence compared with previous 180. This caused a very slight overstride and a hamstring and lower back issue. I am back to a shorter stride and 180 cadence. I think my chin is correct also my arms and leading foot position. My ROM and angles are nowhere near Shalane’s. Two questions – 1) what should I do to get more power to the ground and increase my air time, and 2) is there a safe way to increase my ROM and angles?

Many thanks.

Reply
    Jae Gruenke August 26, 2014

    Hi John. I would not recommend intentionally manipulating your stride length because you can end up with the effect you got. Instead, to run faster, move your face forward more dynamically in space and let your body trail after it. This will result in longer/quicker strides, depending on whether you’re accelerating or maintaining a speed and what the terrain is like. If you find you can’t seem to make it work, you may be holding your calves and/or hip flexors too tightly. Don’t worry if your increased speed comes via higher stride rate rather than length — depending on your body it may be what’s right for you. Haile G. runs with a stride rate around 210!

    Good luck!

    Reply
Sue August 25, 2014

Thanks to you and your exercises I now have full noticable pelvic rotation however my feet seem to disrupt this fluid motion. I do wear an orthotic which has also helped my grounding and stability but I still have difficulty with a smooth toe off and I have a tendancy to lift my whole foot off the ground instead off rolling through. This of course impacts my recruitment further up the chain in the glutes and hips. Any suggestions?! Thanks.

Reply
    Jae Gruenke August 26, 2014

    Hi Sue! I’m so glad to hear you’re doing so well. However for this particular issue I’m pretty sure the orthotic is the problem. You want to feel neither grounded nor stable when running — light and mobile are better and healthier feelings. It may take you a little while to wean off the orthotics, especially if you’re wearing them all the time, even when not running. Go gradually, first working on shedding them in your daily life. I recommend you gradually — perhaps over the course of a couple of years — go all the way to the opposite extreme of barefoot or, if necessary, minimally shod running. This strengthens the arches and gives your nervous system the feedback it needs. Along the way you’ll find yourself more able to land midfoot-ish, with the heel kissing the ground, and then move lightly off your toes at the end of your stride. I also recommend you work on relaxing the tops of your feet (just imagine water running down your shins and dripping off your big toes) — this often helps runners move forward on their feet. However if that image makes you run in a funny, prancy way, then forget it.

    Follow up with any additional questions, I’m happy to help.

    Reply
Andrew August 25, 2014

Hi. Following a few training sessions with yourself I made my first move towards barefoot running in terms of shoes, dropping from a fairly supportive shoe with about 10mm heel drop to about 4 or 5mm. All went well for about 6 months training for a marathon and for marathon itself, where I had a PB. However, since that race I have experienced some nagging pain in my Achilles tendon (both) and very tight calf muscles. Are there any strectches you would recommend or should I rest for a while ?(Can’t see that happening for too long to be honest, althou dare say I could suffer reduced mileage for a bit). many thanks again for your help.

Reply
    Jae Gruenke August 26, 2014

    Hi Andrew! Funny, I was just thinking about you the other day. I’m glad to hear about your footwear change and marathon PB, that’s great! As for the achilles, that’s usually due to a tiny bit of overstriding or an exaggerated forefoot landing. Since I know you’re near me, why don’t you just pop in and I’ll have a look free of charge? Email me and we’ll work out a time.

    Reply
Ken August 26, 2014

I can not get my cadence above 160-164 for easy runs at 8:30 to 9 min pace. When I increase cadence my pace increases. I seem to be “stuck” at a step length of 1.12 m or 43 in. I’m 5′ 11″. Been running for 42 yrs. Successfully transitioned to Newton Gravity 3 shoes. Feel like and am landing on mid foot and video confirms that. Don’t appear to be overstriding either. Just seem to be stuck on one step length regardless of cadence. Thanks for taking our questions.

Reply
    Jae Gruenke August 26, 2014

    Hi Ken. What an interesting problem. First let me say that we can’t be sure your natural cadence needs fixing. The stride rate target of 170ish in order to be using your elastic tissues properly is an estimate, and no one knows how much it may vary from person to person. If you’re not having any pain or performance frustrations then there may not be any need to fix this. However, as a Feldenkrais practitioner I think it would probably benefit you overall to be able to vary things — the benefits of versatility aren’t necessarily linear but they are considerable. Your fixed stride length suggests you’re running on flat surfaces — roads, treadmills? If that’s true, some trail running should break up your stride length habits! Agility drills would also be great. Try something like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNIFdh573VA. Don’t be put off by the burly football players!

    Keep me posted on how it goes.

    Reply
Rebecca August 26, 2014

Hi Jae,

I won’t be at the talk, but I do have something I’d like to know about!

I have been wearing minimalist shoes for a year now, and recently started running in totally bare feet. I thought I’d been building up slowly, and definitley within comfort levels, but now have achilles tendonitis. I’d really like a programme for transitioning into barefoot for when I’m back running- I think I need constraints set by others or I get carried away with the fun of it all!

Also- I’ve been trying to lengthen my calves with the traditional stretches (against a wall, off a step) for a year now and nothing much has changed. Any suggestions?

The final thing is a bit personal to me perhaps- but I can’t find any shoes which are wide enough in the toe box for my feet- my toes always touch the sides (my feet flare out from the midfoot so my toes are wider at the nails than at the metatarsals if that makes sense), I’ve tried vivo barefoot, mizuno, new balance minimus, innov8, none of them work. I have vibram 5 fingers, but with the tendonitis I can’t run in them at the moment, and when I can it will be for short distances. Any solutions to my quandry?

I love your blog by the way and have found the advice on form really really helpful! Particularly what you have written about abs, and also relaxing the top of the foot- that really increased my comfort when running. Thanks!

Rebecca

Reply
    Jae Gruenke August 26, 2014

    Hi Rebecca. I’m sorry to hear about your tendonitis — what minimalist shoes were you wearing before your barefoot transition? It sounds like you have a very healthy foot shape, that’s how feet are supposed to be. Try Soft Star Shoes, they’re incredibly wide in the toe box and if that’s still not a fit for you they also will do custom shoes. http://www.softstarshoes.com. As for a programme, I’m not a coach and don’t play one on my blog… training plans are not my area of expertise. You’ll know your transition is too fast if you feel ANY discomfort, so bear that in mind. Also, since it sounds like you’re not running now, maybe you just want to start back completely bare and build up gradually, instead of starting in footwear, getting fit, and then having to scale back again to go bare? For lengthening your calves, have you tried this version: http://youtu.be/hOm5otRxyO4?list=UULPrb1CfaQn3KVlytqIlJpQ ? If your achilles are too sore to go up, just go down and then use the other foot to help you get up again. Your tendonitis and your tight calves suggest to me you may also have tight hip flexors — if so, it won’t matter how much you stretch your calves, it won’t make any difference. So if that’s the case, work on your hip flexors as well. And finally, for healing achilles tendonitis, I recommend getting an earthing mat, putting it on a pillow on a footstool, and resting your achilles on it for at least 20 minutes/day… and much more if possible! You can get one at http://www.earthing.com or search on amazon.

    Best wishes for speedy healing!

    Reply
      Rebecca September 1, 2014

      Hi,
      I’ve been running in NB minimus trail shoes, and also some mizuno minimalist shoes that are zero drop but with 8mm cushioning- on my long runs. And a bit of five finger running thrown in. I wear vivo barefoot shoes as casual shoes nearly all the time.
      Thanks for the advice about the hip flexors, they are really tight- do you recommend any stretches? I hate the one where you go onto one knee with the foot opposite, they make me panic and are really uncomfortable- do you know any alternatives? I have been doing the calf stretch you link to, before runs, I’m not sure it’s helping the length of my muscles bit it feels amazing to run afterwards.
      I’ve ordered a device to check we have electiricy wired correctly, and then I’m going to get an earthing mat. I’ve wanted one for ages, so your advice gives me a great excuse! Thanks, Rebecca

      Reply
        Jae Gruenke September 2, 2014

        That all sounds great. You’re right not to do that stretch if it makes you feel panicky, there can be a connection between this kind of tightness and anxiety, and in addition to being very unpleasant such a stretch is unlikely to do anything for you. You should do Feldenkrais lessons instead, they will be more effective in any case and help you learn how to let your hip flexors lengthen in the context of a whole-body coordination. I just looked for some resources for you regarding that and didn’t find what I was looking for, but you could find a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement class near where you live or get audio lessons online. One place you might start is with the free short lessons released by the UK Feldenkrais Guild every May for Feldenkrais Awareness Week. You’ll find them here:http://www.feldenkrais.co.uk/awareness/index.html Expect your movement to change slowly but meaningfully.

        Reply
          Rebecca September 2, 2014

          Thanks for all the advice Jae, funnily enough I’ve just arranged a private Feldenkrais lesson toady, so hopefully I’ll be able to figure things out over time! I’m glad I was right about the stretches, they just didn’t feel right.

          Reply
          Jae Gruenke September 7, 2014

          My pleasure. Good luck to you.

          Reply
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