As I've mentioned, I started running barefoot this past spring. I took some time off, and have just really started running again. After my first run back, I had some thoughts about what I learned this spring and why this time will be different:
1. When they say start small, yes, they are talking to YOU. And they mean it.
After I went for my first 1/4 mile barefoot run, I had so much fun, I decided I was going to go out and be a barefoot runner. Pretty quick I was up to 3-4 miles barefoot or in my huaraches (more on shoes to come in the near future). Subsequently, I ended up with feet that looked like they had been through a meat grinder, and 10 days in a boot to heal up tendonitis. Your feet are weaker than you think, after years in regular shoes. I've been either barefoot or in minimalist shoes all the time since, but not running. Just walking, going around my daily routine, and my feet are MUCH stronger than they were.
2. If it hurts, STOP.
This was probably my most important lesson, and the one that was the hardest for me to learn. I've run a bunch of marathons (albeit not recently), and am used to pushing through pain and discomfort. "My feet hurt" was not a valid reason for me to cut a perfectly good run short. Hence, the 10 days in a boot, hobbling around and unable to run. It's a different kind of "listen to your body" than marathoning is. I know when I'm running a marathon it's all "ignore the pain, push through those last few miles". Barefooting, it's more like "oh crap, I'm a block in and my feet are cramping, time to stop." And that does NOT make me a wuss. That makes me a smart runner. Accepting that stopping early is not a sign of weakness has been really tough for me.
3. Blisters suck, but they'll tell you a lot.
I blistered. I blistered like crazy. But those blisters taught me important things... like the fact that I was pushing off, rather than quickly lifting my feet off the ground. Take care of your blisters, learn from them, and most importantly, don't run your feet raw. You'll be out of commission for several days and you WON'T be happy.
So, I guess, mainly what I've learned is "go slow, have fun, and listen to your body". Pretty much exactly what experienced barefooters had been telling me. :) My feet are stronger now, and my last run went well and was a blast. As I move forward, I'm hoping to learn new things that I can share with you to make your barefoot experiences better.
You may be asking "If you got hurt, had pain, and blistered your feet, why are you trying again?". Here's the interesting part... I have degenerative arthritis in my knees. Pretty bad. Kills me after a long enough run in my cushioned trainers. I hobble on stairs on a regular basis. I have NOT experienced knee pain during or after any of my barefoot runs. None. It's pretty amazing. And if barefooting will keep me on the roads and extend my running life, well heck, I'm willing to give it a hell of a go. I don't know if it will work, if it was coincidence or truly that the barefoot mechanics work that much better with my knees, but I intend to find out.