Friday, June 18, 2010

The Barefoot Running Book: A Review

The Barefoot Running Book: a practical guide to the art & science of barefoot & minimalist shoe running
by Jason Robillard
61 pages
ISBN 978-0-615-35444

When I started reading Jason Robillard's The Barefoot Running Book, I wished I could have had it last year when I started running barefoot. It's not that I couldn't, and didn't, find most of the information contained in the book elsewhere, but it was all haphazard, primarily through discussions on Barefoot Ken Bob's Yahoo! Barefoot Running Forum. This book puts all that information together, in an orderly manner, and with some humor!

The Barefoot Running Book walks a potential beginner through the basics, including, in the opening essay, why to run barefoot, but also the basic terminology, and philosophy, of barefoot running. In addition, and breaking with barefoot running purists, he includes some recommendations about minimalist shoe running, and shoes. Someone like me, who tends to be a little stubborn and more willing to jump right into things, might skip his “Pre-running” section. All I needed to know was that barefoot running was possible, then I just started going out and trying it, with initial success, but I have had my TMFS (too much too soon) injury troubles. Curious folks might appreciate Robillard's more careful advice, to build confidence and foot strength.

Robillard makes sure to emphasize experimentation, and the principle that “there is no single right answer” to barefoot running, and he does include advice from different perspectives. For example, in discussing proper running posture, he describes both the “Fall Forward” and “Keep Feet Under Body” methods. Since I've recently been working through a minor pain in my left heel, this section in particular made me re-think my own posture. I've been in the latter camp, but now I've been experimenting with the former. So, even after a year of running barefoot, I find things in this book that keep me experimenting.

Two quibbles: One, the $15 price, which seems a bit much for a 60 page handbook. Two, there is no real discussion of the difference between barefoot running and minimalist shoe running. Robillard recommends going primarily barefoot, but suggests minimalist shoes for extreme temperatures. Maybe I'm betraying my purist leanings, but there really does seem to be a difference between running barefoot and running in minimalist shoes. My Vibram Five Fingers served me well when I first started, but as I grew more used to running barefoot, I started noticing that my feet tended to hurt when I used them, so I just stopped wearing them altogether. My VFFs, and moccasins, felt almost too protective, causing me to strike harder with my feet, though his may just be a personal idiosyncrasy. I would like to see more 'science' about the differences between barefoot and minimalist running styles, which is perhaps too far out of Robillard's range of expertise. Still, he does discuss the VFFs in more detail on his blog. In the next edition of the book, maybe he could include a separate section or chapter on minimalist running.

A nice personal touch in the book is Robillard's encouragement of barefoot runners to be “ambassadors” out in the shod running world, arguing that, if we barefoot runners agree that running barefoot is good for us, we're helping other people by encouraging their curiosity. In his “Other topics” section he gives some humorous examples of people's responses to seeing someone running barefoot, many of which I've heard myself, but he urges that we barefoot runners always be polite and, if possible, funny, in talking with people, with the hope that they'll 'take the plunge' and try barefoot running themselves.

For someone who is curious about barefoot running, I would recommend this book as a handy guide to start with, saving much time navigating online discussion groups. As an intermediate to advanced barefoot runner (I've run two half-marathons and two full marathons in the past year), with nagging minor injury, I found the book a good review, and source of reflection. For all levels of barefoot runners, going with Robillard's 'ambassador' idea, this book would make a great gift to someone you know who's expressed interest in the lifestyle. Might be nice to have a copy handy nearby so that when (and not if) someone asks about barefoot running, you can immediately hand it to them and say, “Here, read this!”

Order this book through here.

For more info on Jason Robillard, visit:
his website, The Barefoot Running University
his blog, The Barefoot Chronicles

Also, you might run into Jason, and me, at the Runner's World Barefoot Running Forum