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Ask an expert: Barefoot running

Is the barefoot running trend over–or are there real benefits to minimalist running? – Kevin

It’s been an interesting few decades in the running shoe industry. We started with a lower heel-to-toe drop (the difference between the height of the heel versus the toe in a shoe) in the 1970s where you could pretty much feel the ground as you ran over it. As time passed and running became more mainstream, running shoe drops grew beefier and beefier, adding more cushion with every stride. Remember the Nike Shox?  I do, they rivaled my high heels on a Saturday night!

When the best-selling book Born to Run was published, it changed the running shoe conversation by highlighting the benefits of running barefoot as well as running with less under foot. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it as it’s as entertaining as it is educational and definitely defines the biomechanics of running in a way that would make anyone want to shed their shoes and head out for a run.

The truth is, we are made to walk and run barefoot, and doing so provides proprioceptive benefits (muscle sense) with the land that we move across. A perfect example of this is when a young child learns to walk and stabilize. Many times they are barefoot and they can feel the ground they are trying to move across. When you add shoes to the mix, they almost have to relearn how to walk because it reduces the body’s connection to the ground and rather than their body stabilizing, the shoes do more of the work along the way.

(Authors note: The same is true for my dog Bear! When I put those cute little winter mittens on all four of his paws, it took him weeks to learn to walk normally in them because he couldn’t feel the ground underfoot.)

Does that mean we should all donate our running shoes and run barefoot? No.  It simply means, that if we wanted to invest the time to evolve back to living barefoot – we could. When I raced in Fiji, there was a native that helped us across a raging river and through a cut bamboo field. His feet looked liked shoes–large and wide–and moved without even as much as a scrape on his feet through the field.

My point: our feet are well protected and well supported–almost to a fault. The running shoe industry is righting itself now with a more balanced approach to shoes. They went from pushing shoes that looked like sandals to minimalist shoes that had a little extra protection to now, what I believe is a hybrid, between the beefier models and the minimalist (what Goldilocks would deem “just right”).

Although barefoot running was a craze, it led to a greater understanding of shoe technology and biomechanics. It is also fair to say that if the shoe works for you, don’t mess with it. I’ve heard from so many runners that went from running without issues to changing to barefoot or less shoe overnight to find Achilles and calf issues a month later.

It’s important to note that if you want to run in less shoe, you will need to allow time to adapt to running in less shoe and in some cases on a lower to the ground stride. When women wear high heels, all the muscles, tendons and joints have to adapt and shorten (tighten) to move safely. Over time, our body’s response is often tight, short calf muscles and Achilles. Like a higher drop running shoe, if you go from high to low to quickly, you’re putting 2-3 times your body weight with every stride putting the tight, short muscles under great pressure.

The key is to train your body just as you would for a marathon: a gradually progressive program that includes strengthening your feet, ankles and core, investing time simply wearing “less shoe” and including range of motion and flexibility exercises for your feet and ankles. Yoga is an effective way to do this because all of the exercises are done without shoes. If you’re like me, at first this led to cramping of the toes and feet, but over time, my feet adapted and allowed me to walk barefoot around the house without issue and eventually wear less shoe under foot.

The benefits of running in less shoe are a greater sense of the ground underfoot, better stabilization from within, improved balance and range of motion and form that encourages landing in the mid-foot, which can help reduce impact forces up the body as you land.

Finally, sometimes we can get so caught up in the details that we miss the truth. Many runners can make the transition safely to wearing a shoe that has less support and cushion and with a lower drop. But for many, it could mean the difference between running healthfully and not running at all due to pain.  It’s always best to be mindful of what works for you – and then go with it.

Happy Trails.
Coach Jenny Hadfield

Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.

Ask an expert: How often should I replace my running shoes?

I’m a relatively new runner (I only run about 10 miles per week). How often should I be changing out my running shoes? -Jared

Welcome to the wonderful world of running! Ten miles per week is a great running regimen and at that rate, the average running shoe will last about 40-50 weeks or close to a year. The general rule of thumb is to replace your running shoes every 350-500 miles but that can vary based on the following variables:

  • Style. Lighter weight shoes can break down more quickly.
  • Weight. A lighter runner may get more miles out of the shoes than a heavier runner.
  • Form. Someone who runs with a heavy foot strike will wear through shoes more readily than someone who lands lightly.
  • Variety. If you wear the shoes for other activities like kicking around, other sports, walking and site seeing, this will add on to the mileage.

The good news is you can develop a relationship with your shoes and along the way learn what works for you and your shoes. Here’s how:

  • Mark the date you purchased the shoes on the side of the shoe sole with a permanent marker to remind you of birth date and replacement date. You can also include this information if you use a paper or online log and keep track of the mileage on the shoes. There’s even an app called the Running Shoe Tracker – Shoedometer that tracks the mileage of your shoes.
  • Save your shoes for runs only and they’ll last longer.
  • Check the sides of the soles for wrinkling as this is often a sign that the shoes are breaking down.
  • Wash your shoes by removing the insole, wash with a mild soap (dishwashing detergent) and sponge or brush, stuff with newspaper or paper towel to dry.  Avoid putting your shoes in a washing machine or dryer as it will destroy the shoe’s materials.
  • If your shoes get wet on the run, simply stuff them with newspaper or paper towel to dry.
  • Avoid leaving your shoes in extreme elements like a car in the middle of summer or the dead of winter. Shoes can melt and freeze and it will break them down or even melt!

Overall, if your mileage starts adding up, you can purchase a second pair and alternate them run by run. You’ll get more time out of each pair and it will extend the overall running time.

Happy Trails.
Coach Jenny Hadfield

Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.

Shin splints: Causes, prevention and treatment

Shin splints are one of the most frustrating things a runner will ever encounter. And chances are, most runners will deal with them at one point or another. In fact, shin splints make up more than 13 percent of all injuries suffered by runners.

Since this condition is so common, it makes sense to prepare yourself for it by learning how to prevent, identify and treat shin splints.

Causes and Symptoms

Shin splints, known in the medical community as tibial stress syndrome, are not a condition in and of themselves but are generally just a symptom of some other underlying problem. Since, like all pains, shin splints can be a signal that something else is going on, it’s important to know whether or not what you’re dealing with is indeed shin splints.

The pain we call shin splints is a dull, throbbing ache in the front of the lower leg. This can manifest during or after exercise, either along the edges of the shin bone or deeper in the muscle. In some cases, the pain is constant but the area can also be more sensitive to touch. As with any persistent pain, you should get your doctor’s opinion on the best course of treatment.




A medical professional’s input is especially important in shin splints because they can be a symptom of stress fractures. These tiny, hairline breaks in the bone can happen without your knowledge and require medical attention so that your bone heals properly.

Over-pronation, an incorrect stride associated with flat feet, can also cause shin splints. In these cases, the natural arch in the soles of your feet are pressed flat when from the impact of each step. This stretches the muscles and tendons in an unhealthy and unnatural way that will lead to tibial stress. Many people have flexible flat feet and don’t realize it until they run on hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt.

The most common cause of shin splints, though, is overuse. Working your lower legs too hard or too often will cause the muscles to swell and become irritated. Of course, what is too hard or too often will depend on your fitness level and may take some experimentation at first.


An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and shin splints are no exception to this rule. Even when the pain is minor, shin splints can potentially keep you from running for weeks and slow you down even once you start your training again. Fortunately, preventing shin splints is pretty simple.

Before you even hit the road, the first thing you need to do is select your perfect running shoes. These shoes will have good padding and promote a healthy stride, with a mid-foot strike.

Be warned: too much padding is very possible. If the soles of your shoes are overly-thick, it will be more tempting for you to adopt a heel-strike and several other bad habits. You want to land on the middle of your foot and roll forward to the balls of your feet. Also, consider investing in arch-support inserts if you have flat feet. Even once you have your ideal shoes, avoid running on inflexible surfaces that can wreak havoc on your arches.

Once all your footwear is in order, you’re almost ready to run. First, don’t forget to stretch and warm-up. These are often neglected aspects of runners’ training, generally left out to save time. All it takes, though, is a 5 to 10 minute warm-up, including a few stretches before and after, to help prevent shin splints.

Finally, don’t overdo it. Runners, and athletes in general, have a habit of pushing through pain, but this could just cause more injury and keep you down for longer periods of time. If you feel pain during your workout, stop running.


If, despite your best efforts, you have shin splints, the best possible treatment, regardless of the underlying cause, is something terrifying to all athletes: Rest.

Your body will act to repair the damage on its own if you give it the chance. One of the most productive things you can do is work to lessen the inflammation. Ice your shins for 20 minutes every three hours until the pain goes away. Aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory painkillers can also help, but should only be taken regularly under a doctor’s direction.

Once the pain subsides and you decide to brave another run, start slowly. Don’t try to pick up your training right where you left off. Start with slow jogs and listen to your body for any signals. Your legs will tell you how much they can take.

For more serious and persistent cases, your doctor may recommend physical therapy and mobility exercises.

Have you struggled with and overcome shin splints? Please share your tips with us in the comments!


How to Train for Your First 5K

Ask Coach Jenny: Training For Your First 5K

Q: My friend started running last year and has really inspired me to start. I want to train for a 5K race but I have no idea where to get started. Running has always been such an impossible challenge that I typically throw in the towel after a few painful sessions. Do you have any tips for training for a 5K and actually sticking with it?  ~Julie

A: Hi Julie. There is no better way than to create a realistic carrot (goal 5K race) to keep you motivated, accountable and, most importantly, feeling rewarded. Here are a few tips for your journey to your first 5K finish line.

Start from where you are rather than where you want to be.

Step number one begins with getting real with yourself. In order to get where you want to go efficiently, you’ve got to start where you’re at now.  Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a runner. We all progress at different rates and the secret is being honest with yourself and taking that first step forward rather than fast-forwarding to step 10 or 20. When you do, you begin to build a foundation of fitness and running happiness that will last a lifetime.

Pick a plan and progress slowly.

Where you begin may not match where your buddy starts. For instance, if you’re overweight, coming off the couch and starting from scratch (good for you), then you could start with a walking plan. If you’re active and new to running, you could start with a run-walk program, which alternates running and walking intervals (Run 3 minutes, Walk 2 minutes) repeatedly throughout the program. This allows your body and mind time to adapt to the demands of the impact forces and the cardiovascular and respiratory challenges. If you’ve been running here and there, you might do best with a beginning running plan. You can find a variety of free 5K training plans here.


The two most vital pieces of gear needed for running are properly fitted shoes and a supportive sports bra. Buying shoes is almost as overwhelming as a visit to the cereal aisle in the grocery store. There are a ton of options and it can be hard to choose the right pair for you.

A great way to make this easy on yourself is to find a specialty running store in your neighborhood and get professionally fitted for running shoes. Shop later in the day when your feet are swollen, bring your running socks and make sure the sales people watch you run and walk in a variety of shoes. A good fitting running shoe should feel comfortable on your feet and support your type of foot (high arch, low arch, neutral).

When shopping for sports bras, select your style – compression (geared for A/B cup sizes) or encapsulated styles (good for C+ cup sizes) – and stick with high impact-rated bras.


Mix it up.

All running and no play makes Jack a dull athlete. Run every other day to give your body time to recover and adapt to the demands of running. Mix in lower impact activities that move you in a variety of patterns. Cycling, skating, Zumba, yoga and Pilates are just a few complementary cross-training activities you can incorporate into your new running recipe. Doing so will keep the program fresh, keep you running injury-free and keep you moving forward.

Listen to your body along the way.

Our body has a quicker communication system than Twitter! It will tell you when you’ve pushed too much, need to take it easy or adjust with a few days of cross-training to recover. Listening to your body and making training adjustments along the way will fend off the fatigue, aches and pains that lead to injuries.

Pace Yourself.

Pacing yourself is perhaps the hardest part of running, but there is an easy way to find the right pace every time and it involves three little steps. Tune into your body, listen to your breath and adjust your pace based on how your body is responding on the day.

Not every run will be the same. Some are hot, some cold, others will be so windy you’ll feel like you’re not moving forward at all! The secret to completing your run is in following those three steps. Also, keep the effort level and breathing easy – ideally at a level where you can talk. If you can’t recite the words to your favorite poem or the Pledge of Allegiance, you’re running too hard. A runner is built from a continuous series of “easy effort” running workouts over time. Let your performance simmer and evolve from there.

Keep track.

Whether you do this online or in a pretty journal – keeping track of your running sessions is an effective way to track your progress and develop your personal running recipe. Useful bits of information to track include: running time, run-walk ratio, terrain/course/treadmill, shoe model, mood, energy level, effort level and calories consumed versus expended.

Make it fun.

The secret to learning to run is to create forward momentum. In order to do this, aim to finish the workout feeling strong and accomplished – even on the tough days – rather than exhausted, crabby and hating life. If you enjoyed yesterday’s workout, guess what?  You’re going to want to repeat it again right? The more you repeat in happiness, the sooner you’ll become that running rock star.




Choosing the Right Pair of Sneakers

Socrates once said “When our feet hurt, we hurt all over.” As usual, he was on to something. Running and working out become that much easier when your feet feel good, and the right pair of sneakers can prevent leg, knee, hip and foot pain now, as well as down the road.

“Sneakers” may be a old-fashioned term, but that’s still how I think of them. These days there are so many choices: running shoes, walking shoes, tennis shoes… but whatever you choose to call them, the right footwear can make a big difference. Whether you’re going to a fitness class, running outside or using treadmills for walking, there are some dos and don’ts to follow when shopping for a new pair of sneakers.

First off, don’t get swayed by advertising and marketing that can lead you to believe that the more expensive the sneaker, the better it is for you. A 2007 Scottish study found that lower-priced running shoes cushioned feet just as well as higher priced ones, and sometimes better. Also, remember to get re-sized after pregnancy and other weight gain or loss, because it may affect your shoe size. I know my feet grew an entire size after having two kids!

Here are some tips given to me by Dr. Robin Ross, past president of the New York State Podiatric Medical Association, on how to go sneaker shopping:

·  Time it well. Shop for walking/running shoes in the afternoon, when feet are larger because they “naturally swell”.

· Go soft. Buy shoes made of materials that are soft, supple and breathable, like leather, canvas or a nylon mesh. Plastic doesn’t allow sweat to evaporate, and it may cut into the skin.

· Coordinate your socks. When trying on sneakers, wear the kind of socks that you will normally be wearing to work out. If the shoes do not make you feel like you are “walking on a cloud” right then and there in the store, try on a different pair or even a different brand. If they don’t feel great right away, then they will probably never feel great. You shouldn’t have to “break in” a pair of exercise shoes – that will cause avoidable blisters and pain, and it’s rarely worth it.

· Size matters. Since shoes are not all made by the same manufacturer, you may be a different size in different brands. Try a half to a full size larger in running shoes if your toes feel the tip of the shoe – as you run, or walk quickly, your foot may slide forward and you may need the extra room. If you are a woman with a very wide foot, proper sizing can be tough; try men’s walking or running shoes, which tend to be wider.

· Err on the side of caution. If you have pain when you run, contact your podiatrist. Foot pain is not normal, and nothing makes you feel better than peace of mind.

Also remember, when buying new sneakers, to take your old ones with you so that the salesperson can assess the wear pattern. Knowing what kind of feet you have (i.e. flat feet, high arch) will help you decide what type of shoe will work best for you. Finally, be sure to find out what the store’s return/exchange policy is in case your new purchase gives you blisters, or simply doesn’t feel right after your first run.

Bottom line: buy for comfort and fit before color and style (in other words, just the opposite of what many women do when buying shoes).

What has worked for you? What hasn’t? Share your tips for choosing the right pair of sneakers in the comments.