How I Transitioned to Barefoot Running

By: Ambassador Susanne Ulrich 
Co-author: Squad Team Member Rick Lablans

For years I’ve had trouble running.  I used to run with a heel strike pattern and a hollow back which caused a lot of lower back problems.  This made me hate running and I did a lot of different sports to have an excuse for not needing to run.


After breaking my ankle in July 2017 I even decided to quit OCR, after the OCR World Championships, and become a competitive bikini fitness athlete.

As you might have guessed, things went a little different   When I met my current boyfriend Rick, he explained to me that my running pattern might be the cause of the lower back issues.  That, combined with a relatively weak core.

My first 5k-
End of 2017, I started running on Vibram Fivefingers, and in January 2018 I ran my first continuous barefoot-style 5k in 34 min.  For beginners that’s usually an absolute no-no, since you have to work up to a 5k on barefoot shoes.  When you build it up too fast you can create bone/tendon issues in you feet, since they can easily become over-stressed.

In my case, however, I have a strong base due to all the strength training and cycling I did since last Summer that my muscles were strong enough to deal with the stress the running causes on my feet.

Since then I already ran over 200k on my Vibrams and I can safely say that I became addicted to them.  It feels so much better and my technique has improved a lot since I started.


Barefoot running and the transition-
‘Traditionally’, in this case meaning the 1970’s, runners got used to heel striking due to the development of the running shoe.  It developed from zero to no correction and cushioning, to fully cushioned and correcting soles and foot beds.  This encouraged (or even demanded) heel striking, which is also due to the drop in the sole of the shoe.  ‘Drop’ is the difference in height at the heel and the toe of the sole, measured from the ground up.

Barefoot running went ‘back’ to an ‘earlier’ form of running, without shock absorption and drop in the sole of the shoe.  This requires landing on the mid or front of the foot.  For example, the Tarahumara run this way, and so do a lot of native tribes who are used to running barefoot.
As a consequence, ground contact time is reduced, and ‘bouncing’ (using the anatomy of the foot as a spring, in stead of the sole of the shoe) is encouraged.  This also asks for a higher cadence.  All in all, the body is tilted forward more than with the ‘heel striking’ way of running.  This also means, with every step, you push the ground away when running, in stead of landing heavily on it when heel striking.
The following video’s are a great way of transitioning from heel striking to ‘barefoot’ running.
Be sure to follow Susanne and Rick on Instagram as @susanne_ocr and @rick_mit_ocr for all your barefoot running questions.
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