Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Barefoot Running in the Star-Telegram

It seems like barefoot running is popping up everywhere.  The Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran this article yesterday, discussing not only barefoot running but also Chi running.  Aside from the dorky headline, it's a pretty good article.

Bare-foot runners rock with a ride on sole train

Posted Monday, Feb. 15, 2010
Special to the Star-Telegram

If your bare feet have ever been punctured by a small piece of glass, jabbed by a jagged pebble or carried you across ice-cold pavement or blazing hot concrete, then you know what it's like for Rick Roeber.

You might have braved those conditions to retrieve the mail; Roeber, however, was putting one bare foot in front of the other during a marathon.

Since he ditched his shoes for the comfort of pavement in 2003, Roeber has completed 51 marathons and two ultramarathons of more than 40 miles. Today he's known as "Barefoot Rick" across the nation.

"There is more of a freedom. I just feel it was the way we were designed to run," Roeber said. "It was like an epiphany when I first started running barefoot. You can feel the ground and get instant feedback. Of course, if you step on something wrong you get instant feedback that way too."

Roeber was one of the pioneers of a now-growing trend of barefoot runners taking part in distance races; a trend that has especially caught on since last year's release of Chris McDougall's New York Times bestseller, Born To Run, which is about the minimalist running style of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico.

Roeber kicked his kicks to the curb after his 18th marathon because his shoes left him constantly injured. He discovered that running barefoot encourages proper foot strike, which, alleviated knee problems because he was no longer over-striding.

"I was a chronic heel striker," said Roeber, 54, who attended Arlington Sam Houston High School and now lives in Lee's Summit, Mo. "I would over-stride."

So Roeber researched the art of running barefoot and has run that way for close to 930 consecutive days. He averages between 45 to 50 miles a week regardless of weather. His first barefoot marathon was Boston in April 2004. Street temperatures reached 110 as the temperature reached into the 80s.

"They thought I was a little whacked out, a little nuts," Roeber said of others when he first began. "The last few years, especially since Chris McDougall's book, it's getting more recognized. It's gaining more credibility. But it will always be a little weird for people."

A study released Jan. 27 by Daniel E. Lieberman, a professor in Harvard University's Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, suggests barefoot running is not as far-fetched as one might imagine. Lieberman found that barefoot runners often land on the forefoot before bringing down the heel, and also with a mid-foot strike. And shod runners mostly rear-foot strike, "facilitated by the elevated and cushioned heel of the modern running shoe."

Lieberman's study found that more than 75 percent of runners wearing shoes land on their heels first, which can cause an initial impact of two or three times their body weight.

"The reason barefoot running is catching on is because a lot of scientific studies are saying that barefoot running lowers the impact on your feet much more than running shoes," said Danny Dreyer, the founder of ChiRunning, which teaches runners to run using a natural running form with or without shoes. "This flies right into the face that running shoe companies have been promoting since 1970. It's a huge revelation for a lot of people."

ChiRunning has been teaching runners to run with a mid-foot strike since 1999, when Dreyer discovered a way to run efficiently and without injury during his days as a competitive ultramarathoner.

"So I combined what I learned from all my training with what I have learned in my practice of Tai Chi, which is all about learning how to move from your center, to use your core and not use your peripherals as much," Dreyer said.

The result: faster times and injury-free legs. People have taken notice. His book, ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running was released in 2004 and has since sold more than 250,000 copies and been translated into seven languages. There are 115 certified instructors teaching ChiRunning across the nation, including one in Dallas.

As the trend of barefoot running continues to grow, so do the amount of marathons with "Barefoot Running" divisions. The Waco Miracle Match Marathon on Jan. 31 was the latest.

Race directors for The Cowtown Marathon won't have a division for this year's race on Feb. 27. But they said as it becomes more popular it is possible that at some point they would add the division to their award categories.

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