Tag Archives: mileage

Barefoot Running: Why, Where, and How

I have started running barefoot again.  For the last few days, I have run at least 1 mile each day with no shoes or socks on my feet.

Why am I running barefoot?  Because I want to improve my form.  The logic is this:

    1. We were created to run.
    2. We were not born wearing shoes.  We added that later.
    3. Hence, our natural running style will emerge if we run in bare feet.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not giving up shoes.  Shoes were created to protect our feet from a variety of things that can cause pain.  Shoes are good.  The problem is that it has been so long since I ran without shoes, that my feet and legs have adapted to running in them.  Too much support and protection has allowed my naturally active foot and calf muscles to relax and take it easy.  My form has suffered.  Eventually, I became less efficient.

This was not always the case.  When I was 8 years old, I would play outside for hours with no shoes.  I specifically remember sprinting down a hot blacktop street in the middle of summer.  I could make it as far as Johnny Williams’ house before my feet were too hot to continue on the pavement.  I clearly remember the relief of stepping into the cool grass and eventually into the shade under the big tree in John’s yard.

How is this relevant to my current goal of running a marathon under 3 hours?  Simple.  When I sprinted down the street at 8 years old, my form was natural.  I leaned at the ankles, not the hips.  I didn’t put my foot too far in front of me.  My strides were short and efficient.  I landed near the forefoot.  None of these things were true of my form when I turned 44 a few months ago.

After decades of running in shoes, I knew that I needed to get back.  For the last few months I have studied books, web sites, videos, and anything else to find out what the best form for running would look like.  I tried to emulate the best ideas that were consistently in the most trustworthy resources.  Nothing felt natural.  It all felt forced.  I ended up pulling muscles trying to force myself into an efficient stride and footstrike.

How can I return to my natural, efficient running stride?  As I studied, one of the themes that emerged was that the most efficient stride is our natural barefoot stride.  Once I gave up the fight and accepted that I needed to try barefoot running, I stepped out on to the hot blacktop.  That is when my memory was triggered.  I could see that bright summer sun back in my old neighborhood.  I could feel the heat coming up from the driveway of my old home in St. Louis County.  I could feel myself start into a sprint, driven by the intense heat as I stepped onto the blacktop surface of Fairmeadows Lane.  I remembered the thrill of accelerating to a full sprint and being in wonder at how fast I was passing the mailboxes that lined the path to Johnny’s house.

At that moment, as this memory overwhelmed me, all of that running research made a lot more sense.  Run like a barefoot kid on hot pavement.  Don’t worry about form.  Just take your shoes off and run.  I realized that I do not need to work on my form.  I need to run barefoot and allow my form to emerge.

How do you run barefoot without pain?  I don’t.

Skin:  My eyes guide me around big rocks and other dangers, but I can’t avoid the tiny rocks that scrape my feet.  Over time, my feet are getting acclimated.  There is less pain every day.

Joints/Muscles:  As for the support that shoes provided, I am a pronator and always enjoyed soft cushioned shoes with motion control.  Barefoot allows for none of those things.  What pains have I experienced because of that?  Very little.  That is the point.  Shoes actually caused the need for all of that support.  My natural stride and footstrike have emerged as I run barefoot and try to avoid these pains.  My muscles are getting stronger.  I do not pronate because I have no shoe to lean on.  I have to stand up on my own.  If I run barefoot with poor form, a pain will start to emerge.  I naturally begin to tweak my form based on the feedback from my body.

In short, better form means less pain and more gain.  This is the reason to adopt barefoot running as a part of your training regiment.  I am not forcing myself into good form, I just listen to my body and naturally move towards good form.

My transition was made much easier because I have been running in Vibram Five-Fingers shoes.  I started using these for the same reason that I run barefoot.  Vibrams are very thin and have no support, so training in them has moved me towards good form.  I am adding barefoot runs to keep me moving in that direction.

It is worth repeating:  Better form means less pain and more gain.

I am using barefoot running to move me that direction.  If you can manage to improve your form without going barefoot, then do it.  If you are struggling to find that good form, then think about trying some barefoot running.

Important guidelines for Barefoot and Minimalist running:

  1. Start slowly.  VERY slowly.  Many experts suggest going barefoot 3 times a week to start.
  2. Start short. VERY short.  Your first few weeks should go from 50 yards gradually up to a quarter-mile.
  3. Build lower leg & foot strength.  Exercise your feet by picking things up with your toes.  Do calf raises.  Stretch your calves and feet regularly.

I have worked on  these three things on and off for months before I worked up to doing a daily mile in bare feet.

I have not decided how far I will end up running in bare feet.  I may build up to doing a few 5k races, but I have no intention of doing my long runs in bare feet.  My goal is better form, and that is starting to work.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  :)

Happy Running!


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Tips for Your First Marathon

There will never be enough advice in the world to prepare you for what is coming.  Running your first marathon is an adventure in the truest sense of the word.   It is both exhilarating and exhausting beyond your wildest imagination.  Lots of people will have tons of advice, but I would like to focus mine around one basic idea:

Do all of your experimenting in training. 

There should be exactly one thing that is different on marathon day: the distance. Beyond that, every little thing you do during your first marathon should be something that you have done many times before.  Anything that you do, wear, eat, or drink for the first time on marathon day can ruin your race and possibly hurt you.  26.2 miles is a very long way.  I know that you are aware of this, but you need to think about what that means.   If you make a mistake, you may have to live with while running for the next 3 to 7 hours!

Now that I have scared you enough, let’s begin our talk about experimenting!  If you do all of your experimenting ahead of time, then you have little to worry about.  On marathon day, you can simply go out and do what you did in practice.  No big deal, just a little farther than usual.

Training Runs

You do not need to run a marathon in order to train for one.  It is smart, however, to run 16 miles at least two different times during your training.  It will take many weeks of training to build up to that distance slowly and carefully.  The last 16 mile run should be about 3 weeks before the race.  That will give your legs plenty of time to recover.  Thankfully, at the end of that three weeks the rest of your body will still remember your 16 mile runs and the lessons about efficiency that it learned during them.

Clothing & Shoes

What works for a 5K or even a 10K may not work in a marathon.  Make sure that as you are gradually building up mileage, that you are paying attention to what you are wearing.  You are not just training, you are road-testing different outfits and shoes to see which are the best for the really long runs.  Clothes that give you mild chaffing on a 13 mile run will cause bleeding on a 16 or longer.  Lots of marathoners cross their first finish line with blood stained shirts and/or shoes.

In addition to good clothing, it is smart to get some extra help against chaffing.  Body Glide and other products exist to protect parts that seem to chafe no matter what you do.  There are other things like nipple guards, although a band-aid often works just as well.  With all of these clothing-related issues, practice and routine is the key.  If you find what works in your longest training runs, you are much more likely to avoid this dilemma during the marathon.

Food & Drink

Most of us have no interest in going 3-7 hours without a snack and something to drink.  Now figure in the calories burned running and liquid lost sweating.  Thankfully, you do not need to consume as many calories as you burn.  You do, however, need to prepare to consume anywhere from 400 to 1,000 calories on the run.  It varies by your weight, conditioning, and how much time you will take.  Here again, you must experiment on your long runs.  Most runners consume packets of energy gel or some gummy equivalent.  Go to a running store and ask what choices they have.  Try several early in your training program.  Make sure you find the one that best suits you before your 20-milers.  You will want to practice that one source of fuel for all of your long runs in the last 6 to 8 weeks of your training program.

Always start fueling early in the race, specifically before you have gone two miles!  If you don’t start by then, you are very likely to have low blood sugar late in the race.

Drinks are even more critical!  Dehydration can be a huge problem with rookie marathoners.  The current wisdom being shared by running experts is “drink to thirst.”  That means drink when you are thirsty and not when you are not.  Personally, I have to drink a little more than that to be okay.  Guess how I found that out?  Through experimenting, of course.

On the marathon course, plenty of water and sports drinks will be available.  On your training runs, however, you will need to think carefully about how to get your drinks!  Will you carry enough drink to last you 20 miles?  Not me.  I carry enough for ten miles and make sure my running route circles back so I can get refills for the next 10 miles.


Electrolytes are the minerals that keep your nervous system and your muscles running.  You lose electrolytes through sweat.  You sweat a lot in a marathon.  I know that I have run out of electrolytes when my muscle start threatening to twitch. The next stage is full cramping. It often starts in the hamstrings, but can begin anywhere.

While sports drinks offer some electrolytes, many runners find that they run out of electrolytes on a long run.  There are electrolytes in some energy gels, but I have to supplement beyond that.  I live in Knoxville, and I have to take electrolyte supplements throughout the sweating season (April through October).  It IS possible to get too many electrolytes, so find a source and use them sparingly.  Figure out how much you need through experimenting.

Routine, Routine, Routine

Routine is important.  Warm up for a marathon like you warm up for anything else.  Do your stretches and any other part of your running routine the same on marathon day as any other day.  Drink what & how you drank in training.  Wear what you wore in training.


On marathon day, you will still be human.  Plan your potty break before the race, but also be prepared to go during the race.  No body should have to go four, five, or even eight hours without a bathroom break.  There are bathrooms along the route, I promise.

Going the Distance

You may need to walk.  You may have gone out too fast, you may just be legitimately tired.  It is okay to walk part of the way.  Walking will not exclude you from the rank of marathoner.  In fact, there is at least one major marathon expert that touts walking as an important part of his marathon racing strategy.  Personally, I walk through the aid stations.  The Powerade goes down much more smoothly.  :)

The first twenty miles should be just like in practice.  The last 6.2 miles are tough, but you can do this.  If you have taken care of all of the above details, then you can do this last 6.2 miles.  There is no question about it.  You will be pushing longer, but you have been replenishing your supplies of energy, liquid, and electrolytes.  It works the same as the previous 20 miles.  Just put one foot in front of the other.  Do not think about how far you have to go or how far you have gone.  Instead, remember your training runs.  Remember how you pushed yourself to go just a little farther each week.  You know what it is like to challenge yourself and succeed.  Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and the finish line will find you.

You can do this.  Experiment, practice, and follow your routine all the way to the finish line.


“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor


Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:


The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup


Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

Feel the Heat! Staying Healthy in Hot Weather

Summer is known for fun times with family and friends, but it has another side to it…the dog days of summer. These are the longest, hottest days of the year. For people that only work out inside, it is not much of a bother. For the runners and other patrons of the great outdoors, however, there is no escaping it for very long. With a heat index over 100 degrees, how can you get in a good workout AND stay healthy? Here are a few pointers:

Staying on Course

The right course for running on in the heat is shady. Even among shady areas, some paths are naturally cooler than others. A low-lying path next to a cool stream will be much cooler than your average route. Find a cool, shady course and it will be much easier to stay on course with your workout.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!

Water and sports drinks are your friends. Staying well hydrated before, during, and after a run in the heat is absolutely critical. You should be drinking water all day. Not all liquids are good for hydration. Stay away from diuretics such as caffeine, as these can dry you out and set you up for disaster.

A hydrated body functions better. If you want health and performance, you will keep your body topped off with liquids as you go. So, on a hot day, drink about a cup of water or watered down sports drink every 15 minutes. If you put it in as fast as you sweat it out, your body will thank you by staying healthy and performing as best as it can.

You should still be careful after the run! Most of us continue sweating long after the last step of the run. Hence, it is important to keep your tank topped off! There are now quite a few choices for sports drinks to recover after the workout. The top choice remains the same as it has always been… good old water!

Ease into It

Imagine you are about to get into a really hot tub of water. Do you jump in as quickly as possible or do you ease into it slowly and get used to it. If you are smart, you choose plan B and ease into it slowly. The same idea applies to running in extreme heat. If you have been running just about every day for moths, then it is likely that you gradually acclimated to the rising temperature as summer approached. Now that it is oppressively hot, it is only a little different than what you have been doing. That is easing into it. You still have to be careful, but the heat is just not a big deal. If you have been on a treadmill every day in an air conditioned gym, however, switching to running outside can be deadly if you choose to make the switch on an oppressively hot day. Don’t even think about it!

The Alternative: Heat Stroke

What if you were not careful? What if you ran in direct sun and failed to stay hydrated while you run outside in the heat for the first time in a long time. What would that be like?

Cause:   Extreme exertion and dehydration impair your body’s ability to maintain an optimal temperature

Symptoms:  Core body temp of 104 or above, headache, nausea, vomiting, rapid pulse, disorientation

Treatment:  Emergency medical treatment is necessary for immediate ice-water immersion and IV-fluids


Play it safe!   Stay hydrated and go easy so you can stay healthy and survive to run hard on a cooler day.


Train hard, race easy, & enjoy the run!