A barefoot running experience

Posted in running on January 17, 2013

Alice Gartland, journalist, friend of upmysport and one time running enthusiast, tells us how she re-connected with the sport through a barefoot running training session with Rollo Mahon.

I used to love running. I did cross country at school and even the London marathon once upon a time. Unfortunately I spent most of my twenties in suits and heels which destroyed my feet and also means that my leg muscles pull in all the wrong directions. After straining my foot in a half marathon, I was told I shouldn’t run any more. I was gutted.

However, in the last year I have started to get back into things with the hope that with the right trainers, stretches and expert advice I could start enjoying running again. I certainly didn’t think that I would be able to run barefoot on a treadmill and feel lighter and run with more technique than I think I ever had, but that’s exactly what I did the other day with the help of barefoot running coach Rollo Mahon.

Plantar fascia stretch

What is barefoot running?

It’s running without trainers!

Quite a daunting prospect when you are as injury prone as me.

Barefoot is not a standard approach and is the subject of some debate. However, regardless of whether you are a believer or not, for me, this introductory session has provided a gateway to understanding strong and more efficient running technique and helped me rediscover my love of running. I’m pretty happy about that!

Running – Before

Rollo got me running on the treadmill to analyse my technique.

What’s quite obvious from this clip is that my running is very uneven. I put almost all my impact on my left foot and not my right. The right side is where I have sustained all my injuries – I have been convinced my right leg might snap in half where my fracture was for some years now and in the summer pulled my plantar fascia  – so I guess no surprise that I have developed a running ‘style’ that puts more impact on the left side.  It also explains how noisy my running had become on the treadmill, with a loud thud of my left foot whilst my right barely touches the ground!

Whilst I was not running heel to toe (a common mistake to make, the barefoot approach suggests the best thing is for your foot to impact first on the ball of the foot at the front), I’m a bit more in the middle, so there was certainly room for adjustment there too.

Stretches, exercises and enthusiasm!

After the running analysis, Rollo took me through a variety of stretches and exercises all designed to better align my body for running and to strengthen my feet (in particular help with my over pronation, prevent further straining of my plantar fascia, strengthen my legs and improve my posture). Please contact Rollo for more details on these stretches.

1) Barefoot deep squat with bar on shoulders.

2) Thoracic spine extension

3) Internal rotation hip mobiliser

4) Hip mobilisation

Running – Take Two!

After going through those exercises, it was back to the treadmill first with, and then without, trainers.  We went through a couple of exercises including running to a metronome to help improve cadence and also to help create a lighter movement. Here are the results…

As you can see my posture was instantly better (shoulders back, head up and so on), my body more aligned and running much more towards the ball of my foot. You can hear the difference – I am a lot lighter on the treadmill!

To be honest it was all a bit of a revelation. Feeling for the first time in years that whilst running my body was well aligned, that I was light footed and had somehow let go of the burden of fear of further injury was fantastic. I instantly felt stronger and more efficient. It felt a bit like skiing or swimming– when everything is all lined up and working strong and efficiently – it feels almost effortless – but of course it’s not!

After just 1.5 hours with Rollo, there was a massive improvement. He has changed the way I look at running – it had become something that I feared and no longer enjoyed. Now as long as I put the work in, running is finally an option for me again – Thank you!

You can book a personal training session like this with Rollo here.