"Want to learn about the art and science of barefoot or minimalist shoe running?"
After getting home from an all-day conference and wrestling with my 3 & 5 year-old, I cracked open my computer while making waffles for dinner. I only had a short while before heading out for another training, so I made the best of it. Hours later found me scrolling to the final page of Jason Robillard's Barefoot and Ultramarathon Ramblings eBook. I had some answers I needed to experiment with.
Barefoot and Ultramarathon Ramblings: Tidbits of Advice from Barefoot Ultrarunner Jason Robillard is an 86 page ebook written and published by Jason Robillard, 1999-2010. My review is of the newly renamed version 1.20, previously known as The Barefoot Running Guide.
Although Jason Robillard is relatively new to Ultra Marathon racing, completing his first 50 miler in 2006, he began his barefoot journey in 1992 when he and a school-mate trained for wrestling by running without shoes. His sporadic recreational running continued until he started racing in 2004. It didn't take long for him to realize benefits in taking his over-engineered runners off and going barefoot. His running journey saw him through many race distances including a 100 miler in 2009. That same year, Jason founded the Barefoot University focused on "teaching the art and science of barefoot running." He continues to share his knowledge and experience of barefoot and minimalist shoe running with anyone who is interested.
Barefoot and Ultramarathon Ramblings was written to "help assist the new barefoot or minimalist shoe runner on their journey to adapting to a different form of running." It is a how-to guide, fueled by Jason's personal anecdotes and collected peer-reviewed research. Reading through the pages, a reader will learn why Jason and many others have chosen barefoot running as a viable, injury-free alternative to shod running. They will discover what it takes to transition into barefoot running, learn some general running tips, and find out what it took for Jason to become a barefoot ultra marathon runner. A primary presumption of this work is that "with the proper training, it is possible for any barefoot or minimalist shoe runner to advance to ultramarathon distances." Being that I fit into the category of 'new barefoot or minimalist shoe runner' and have my eyes set on a 50 miler in October, this book obviously had application for me.
Jason fills a few pages introducing barefoot running before jumping into his teaching role, "It is my sincere desire to provide information that enhances your running experience and allows you to reach your potential." He describes his guiding principles: 1) There is no single right answer; 2) You must experiment and learn from your success and failures; 3) Your body is your best teacher; 4) Patience is mandatory; 5) Relaxation is the secret to great form; and, 6) You must enjoy the process. Topics such as attitude, patience, barefoot walking, running form, training, resting, injuries, relaxation, and types of terrain are detailed under the section Learning to Run Barefoot. Jason even includes a "Lose the Shoes" plan specifying appropriate stages and directions in transitioning to being barefoot. Special considerations such as dealing with hecklers, developing speed and/or distance, weather, trails, cross training, and races are also included.
Even though Jason reports that the eBook is laid out in a 'blog-like' format, it flows logically, each point building off the last. Resources and research references follow the main body of the book. Question and answer sections clarify a few lingering points in a way that connects the reader more intimately with the author, i.e., "What about glass or dog poop?" He concludes his book with an entertaining, casually narrative race report of the Hallucination 100 Mile Run. Because of preparation for my own first 50-mile race, I found camaraderie in Jason's experiences. The book, however, is beneficial to anyone wanting to find the freedom in barefoot or minimalist shoe running, whether for fitness or competition, a goal of one mile per week or 100 miles.
The book's purpose suggests that the author assumes readers have some background to running before taking advantage of this book, i.e., general running techniques for hills were vague at best. I was hoping for more detail in this particular area as I am still struggling to find a downhill form that is satisfactory. Targeted audience exempts him from being entirely comprehensive in his overview of barefoot running, yet very little was left to the imagination.
I was both intrigued and frustrated by Jason's principle of form and style being individualistic. He proposes that there is not one right way to run but many right ways depending on the individual, a tough nugget to swallow for someone like me who wants to expedite the process. Unlike many techniques that textbook the process, Jason reminds that we are all different and need to find our own style based on some basic principles such as posture, foot-fall, foot-lift, cadence, and relaxation. After understanding the concept, the thought of letting my body teach me what was right seemed liberating. I guess I CAN live in a rural area without a running coach anywhere to be found and still learn to run effectively.
I found the book to be both an easy read and enlightening. Compelled to push through to the end, I finished the book during a particularly busy evening when a number of excuses could have dragged me away. Perhaps it is because I am starved for any helpful information on minimalist or barefoot running. I'm guessing that the real culprit is that Robillard has put together a fun and educational resource for his intended audience. I whole-heartedly recommend this eBook to anyone new to barefoot running.