Barefoot Running: The Bare Facts


Vibram 5-fingers
The Vibram Five Fingers is perhaps the most minimalist of the minimalist shoes.

Catalyst (ABC TV 6th September) ran a story on barefoot running with some interesting analysis of barefoot and shod strides. When a runner shifts from running in shoes to barefoot running, the gait pattern changes from landing on the heel to landing on the whole foot or mid-fore foot. There is greater ground reaction force when wearing a running shoe, and the calf muscles work very hard with barefoot running. The metabolic cost of running increases with barefoot running.


There is some great analysis in the Catalyst piece, of the way different muscles work when running barefoot compared to running in shoes, which serves to highlight the fact that you can’t just throw away your shoes one day and start running barefoot, and expect not to get injured. Like anything new, you should ease into it slowly. And by slowly, we mean gradually increase your barefoot mileage over a period of six months or so, and don’t do all of your running in bare feet or in minimilist shoes.


The increased demand on your calf muscles means it would make sense to include calf raises in your strenth training for at least 6 weeks prior to starting to run barefoot, along with some good calf stretching and strengthening when you start to leave the shoes behind.


Is barefoot running for you? Not necessarily. It really depends on the structure of your foot and your biomechanics, and your willingness to make gains little by little. It certainly does feel great running in barefeet or with minimal footwear every now and again!



Go to the Catalyst article, and also take a look at some of the links provided at the end of the transcript. It makes for interesting reading regardless of whether you are an devotee of the barefoot or minimalist approach.


Tell us your experiences with barefoot running and minimalist running shoes. Do you love it? Do you hate it? If you think you’d like to try it, ask us for advice.

Fun Runs: Be Prepared and Avoid Disasters


Being prepared is the key to doing your best in any fun run. A lack of preparation can easily wipe out all those months of hard training. Here are a few common mistakes runners live to regret, and how to avoid them.


Mistake Number One: Setting your sites too high.

Yes, it’s great to be confident, but if you set yourself a target time for your fun run which his not in keeping with what you’ve been doing in training, then you’re bound to be disappointed, at the least. Worse still, you could be wiped out by the time you get to the halfway point if you set off too fast.

If you’ve done any recent races or time trials, you can use this race time predictor to get a reasonable idea of the sort of time you could aim for. Alternatively, you could put in any recent 2km (+) interval times if you haven’t raced or done a time trial recently. Remember, use this as a guide only. Your pace is not cast in stone.


Mistake Number Two: Getting Carried Away

It is very easy to get carried away with the hype of a big fun run event, especially if it’s one you’ve been looking forward to for a while. Lots of people around you will be going out more quickly than you, so you just need to develop a strategy which will allow you to chill out and enjoy the ride. Listen to your own breathing, count your own strides, sing yourself a nursery rhyme. Anything that will stop you from tuning into the footsteps of those around you will help you to maintain your own pace. Look at your watch, and make sure you are not running faster than your planned pace. Those first few kilometres often feel very easy, even if you’ve gone out too fast. Any those very same kilometres are vital in setting you up for a great fun run.


Mistake Number Three: Disregarding the Conditions

Be aware that you may need to revise down your race time goal if the weather conditions are a lot different to what you’ve been training in. Hot weather is a killer on race day, but cold weather can also have an adverse effect if you are not used to it. Strong headwinds can also slow you down considerably.

Don’t doggedly keep on running to your set time splits if the weather doesn’t allow for it.  Run on perceived exertion, and know what you are capable of beforehand. It takes a lot of practice to be able to judge the pace you can keep up over a set distance, so you may want to be more conservative until you think you’ve nailed that one.


Mistake Number Four: Being Ill Prepared for Hot Weather

If the mercury’s rising (as has been the case in the last two Sydney Marathons which they insist on starting at 7:30am), it’s important to take some precautions. Make sure you are well hydrated before the race. Drink plenty of water on the two or three days leading into the race. How much is hard to say, as it depends on your size, how much water you are taking in with your food, and how much fibre you are taking in with your food. Just try to drink before you are thirsty, but not so much that you feel bloated and uncomfortable. On the morning of the race, down some sports drink prior to the start – again, not so much that you feel uncomfortable-to make sure you have a good store of electrolytes. During the race, drink 200-300mls of sports drink every 20-30 minutes.

Wear cool clothing and a white visor. The white will reflect heat, and a visor rather than a hat will allow heat to escape from your head.

Don’t be a hero. If you feel dizziness, shortness of breath, or nausea, seek shade and assistance. These are all signs of heat stress. If you stop sweating, you have most likely gone into heat stroke and should seek help immediately.


Mistake Number Four: Being Ill Prepared for Cold Weather

If the weather’s cold, gloves are invaluable. Bring lots of layers of old clothes which you are happy to throw away prior to or during the race. Make sure you have warm dry clothes to change into at the end of the race, including undies. There’s nothing like cold sweaty underwear to keep you from warming up quickly!


Other things that can go wrong

Eyes stinging from sunscreen. Don’t put sunscreen on your forehead above your eyes. Wear a visor to protect your forehead from the sun

Late arrival. Leave plenty of time for things to go wrong. There’s likely to be lots of traffic and little parking at most of the fun runs you go to.

Wardrobe malfunction. Make sure your shoes are tied tightly enough, and loosely enough, and tied with a double knot. Be sure to have a spare hair elastic. Make sure your bra clips are in good working order. One of my clients did have a bra mishap, not once, but twice in a race (BD, you know who you are). If this happens to you, use one of the safety pins from your race number to do some running repairs.

It’s just not your day. It happens, sometimes you know from the first step you take in your warm up, or even before you get to your warm up, that today will probably not produce a fun run PB. Accept it, chill out, and enjoy the scenery!
Do you have any special rituals you perform as part of your race day preparation? Tell us about them below.

Downhill Running


Fall gracefully. That’s about it really, but hard to achieve when you fear you might fall flat on your face at any moment. Firstly, before you do any significant amounts of downhill running, you need to prepare your body for running downhill.

Downhills are often preceded by uphills, so first thing to remember is to leave something in the tank for what’s coming after the uphill part of your run. If you get to the top of the hill so spent you can hardly stand up, your downhill form will be somewhat less than perfect, and you won’t be able to reap the benefits to be gained from running downhill well. See our article for more on uphill running technique.


And now for the downhills.

Gently lean your body into the hill. Relax and it’ll gently pull you down. Don’t lean back and try to brake yourself. Fight it and you’ll end up with sore quads and frustration when you see people powering past you on the downhill-those very same people you just overtook on the uphill!

It’s tempting to take huge leaps when running downhill, but do try not to overstride. Keep your feet low to the ground, and stay light on your feet. Your leg turnover should pick up. Keep your steps quick. Your stride will naturally lengthen a little as the ground drops away beneath you, so to keep your steps quick, you may have to try to shorten your strides up a little. Each footstrike should be very light and very short. With shorter, more frequent steps you absorb less shock per stride.

Lean forward into the hill. The lean should come from the ankles, not the hips. Shoulders should be slightly in front of you. Land with your foot just a little bit behind your hips, not directly underneath you.


Practice makes perfect.

The more you practice running down hill, the more confident you will get, the more relaxed you will get, the better you will get at it, the more confident you will get……Take every opportunity to focus on your downhill form when you are out running, and include some specific downhill sessions each week. Start out with a short gradual slope perform 30 second downhill intervals at race pace. Gradually build up the length of your intervals and your speed down the hill, to about 20 secs faster than your goal race pace.

The most important aspect, as with any training plan, is to avoid overdoing it. It’s normal to be sore as you adapt to downhill training, but too much downhill running can be detrimental, leaving you overly fatigued and prone to injury.

Lastly, don’t expect to get the hang of downhill running on your first attempt. Like most thing, it’ll take a bit of practice before you have that light bulb moment. When you get it right, you’ll know.


View this video for more on hill running.

Watch the Video

Running Downhill: Prepare Yourself


Downhill running can be very taxing on the body due to the increased impact, but a few key strategies will reduce the impact forces on your knees and the rest of your body, and also help you to lose less energy whilst increasing your overall speed and efficiency. Leg and core strength is important for all running, but particularly before embarking on a training period which emphasises downhill running. The quadriceps muscles, or quads, the muscles at the front of your thigh, can take quite a hammering running downhill. You need to work on them, as well as the tendons and ligaments in ankles, knees, hips and lower back.


Prepare your body for downhill running.

As with any new exercise regime, start out slowly, with one set of 12-15 repetitions per exercise, and progress over to 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions over a few weeks.

Lunges. Strengthen quads, hamstrings and hips. Stationary lunges are safer for your knees, especially if you are just starting out. As you get stronger, hold hand weights whilst you are doing them, or progress to alternating legs or walking lunges. If you already have knee or balance issues, you might be better to give the walking lunges a miss.

Stationary lunge

Start with feet hips’ width apart. Take a step forward with one leg. This is your stating position. Bend the front knee to 90 degrees, or until your knee just taps the floor. You need to keep your knee in good alignment, making sure the knee is over the ankle, not beyond the toes. Aim to keep your knee in line with your second toe, not your big toe. If you are too unstable to begin with, place a chair beside you to use for balance. Try not to lean on the chair though.  Its best to perform this one in front of a mirror so you can check your knee out. Pause at the bottom, and push through your front heel to return to starting position.



Great for strengthening core. Start by doing 3 times sets to exhaustion, and increase the length of time you hold the plank as you get stronger.


Lie face down with your forearms on the floor. Push up so your elbows are under your shoulders and arms bent at 90 degrees. Be sure your elbows are under your shoulders, or even slightly under your body, to prevent shoulder injury.   Hold your body in a straight line from your head to your feet.

An easier version of the plank is to perform it on your knees. Just bend your knees and rest on them for support rather than your toes. Your body is then held in a straight line from your head to your knees. It’s called a plank, because your body should be like  plank of wood, not rubbery through the middle.

Keep your head in line with your body. Focus on squeezing your buttocks, draw in your navel to your spine, push up through your shoulders and breathe.


Step ups

These can be done on stairs or benches. Great for strengthening your quads, and also for activating your buttock muscles.

Step ups

Stand facing the bench, feet hips’ width apart. Step up on the bench with your left foot, and push off with your right foot. Squeeze the bum muscles in your left side as you do so.  While standing on the bench on your left foot, raise the right knee up to the height of your waist and pause. Keeping your posture tall, step down with the right foot. Perform the entire set on one leg and repeat on the other.

To make it more challenging, keep your right foot off the floor. Lower it close to the level of the floor and raise back up. Even harder, add a hop at the top of the bench (definitely not for beginners)

Keep your torso tall and avoid leaning to one side. Perform without weights to start off with, and on a low bench. If you find you are bending over rather than standing tall, or are pushing off with your hands on your thighs to help you up, drop down to a lower bench height. As with any exercise performed on one leg, these are great for developing balance and strengthening muscles in your lower leg and foot.

When your legs are strong enough you can includes some hopping and bounding drills so your muscles get used to the eccentric contractions which occur when running down hill. You’ll need a good couple of months of consistent leg strength training before any kind of plyometric work. When you do start plyometrics you MUST be very sure to ease into it gently, otherwise you’ll find yourself very sore and stiff, and possibly injured.


Go to our article on downhill running technique.

Good Recovery, Great Performance

Recovering well for a great performance

Training alone does not make you stronger, faster or fitter. The benefits of training only come after the hard work, during the recovery, when the body is adapting to the training you have put it through. The body reacts to the training loads imposed by increasing its ability to cope with these loads. This happens in the recovery time after the training session is complete. Imagine all the cells in your body saying to themselves, “Boy, if she’s going to keep doing this to me, I’d better get stronger in order to cope”.

Adequate recovery is one of the most important yet frequently neglected elements of any training programme. Rest days are critical to sports performance for a variety of reasons. Some are physiological and some are psychological. Rest is physically necessary so that the muscles can repair, rebuild and strengthen. For recreational athletes, building in rest days can help maintain a better balance between home, work and fitness goals.

What Happens During Recovery?

Exercise causes changes in the body such as muscle tissue breakdown and the depletion of energy stores (muscle glycogen), as well as fluid loss. Recovery time allows these stores to be replenished and allows tissue repair to occur. Without sufficient time to repair and replenish, the body will continue to breakdown from intensive exercise. Symptoms of overtraining often occur from a lack of recovery time

The training load which  you are able to cope with will be dependent on other factors – are you having a particularly stressful time at work for example, do you have a lot on your plate at the moment? moved house? Etc etc. Anything that puts your body under more stress may mean that you have to ease off on your training temporarily.

Short and Long-Term Recovery

There are two categories of recovery. There is immediate (short-term) recovery from a particularly intense training session or event, and there is the long-term recovery that needs to be built into a year-round training schedule. Both short and long-term recovery are important for optimal sports performance.

Short-term recovery occurs in the hours immediately after intense exercise. Short term active recovery refers to engaging in low-intensity exercise after workouts during the cool-down phase immediately after a hard effort or workout. as well as during the days following the workout. Both types of active recovery are linked to performance benefits. One form of active recovery is the recovery run.

Another major focus of recovery immediately following exercise has to do with replenishing energy stores and fluids lost during exercise, and optimizing protein synthesis (the process of increasing the protein content of muscle cells, preventing muscle breakdown and increasing muscle size) by eating the right foods in the post-exercise meal. Try sports drinks with a 4:1 or 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio such as Endurox R4, or the Science in Sport Rego Recovery drink. These should be taken immediately after exercise. You could also try a skim milk shake (no ice cream!)

Long-term recovery techniques refer to those that are built in to a seasonal training program. Active recovery is also an important part of long term recovery.  Most well-designed training schedules will include recovery days and or weeks that are built into an annual training schedule. This is also the reason athletes and coaches change their training program throughout the year, modify workouts types, and make changes in intensity, time, distance and all the other training variables.  Having a well planned training programme specific to your individual needs and circumstances is critical to getting the most out of your training.

How Do I Know If I Am Recovered?

The amount of recovery time you need will depend on how well you are adapting to training. A monitoring system can be useful to ensure that you spot any signs of excessive fatigue before you go too far down this road. A training diary is a valuable training tool. Our on-line coaching offers you the facility to log a number of training parameters. It also means you can track your training and performance over time and view it in an easily manged format , which is a great aid in planning your next training cycle.

Poor training recovery leads to:

  • Consistent drop in performance – endurance and speed suffers – you can spot this by keeping track of training and race times – anything more than an unexplained drop of 5% should sound alarm bells.
  • Lack of improvement over a period of time (depending a bit on your age-it’s unlikely you’ll keep posting outright better times when you’re in your 60’s)
  • Inability to concentrate properly
  • Increased resting heart rate
  • Altered heart rate during training – elevated or suppressed
  • Change in mood – grumpy!
  • Loss of interest in the sport
  • Recurring illnesses
  • Poor sleep
  • Feelings of fatigue despite rest
  • Weight and appetite changes – Likely to lose weight and lose interest in food

Consistently poor training recovery without reducing training load can lead to over training

Over training may be accompanied by one or more symptoms such as:

  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Increased incidence of injuries
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of motivation
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Feeling of general malaise

What should you do if you think you are over training?

  • The most important and immediate thing to do is rest. Whilst you are resting, you’ll have plenty of time too look at your training log  – has the volume or intensity of training increased significantly, have you had rest days? Are you suffering from a chronic lack of sleep? Your training diary should record as much about your training as possible-intensity, distance, speed, heart rate sleep
  • Consult a professional who can give you sound advice on a training program appropriate for you.  A training program designed with YOU in mind can be the difference between a great performance and an average performance.

10 Ways To Recover Quickly After Exercise

  • Cool Down. Cooling down simply means slowing down (not stopping completely) after exercise. Continuing to move around at a very low intensity for 5 to 10 minutes after a workout helps to flush metabolites out of your muscles, and may reduce muscles stiffness.
  • Replace Fluids. You can lose a lot of fluid during exercise. Filling up after exercise is an easy way to boost your recovery. Water supports every metabolic function and nutrient transfer in the body and having plenty of water will improve every bodily function. Adequate fluid replacement is even more important for endurance athletes who lose large amounts of water during hours of sweating. An electrolyte replacement drink particularly in the warmer months is recommended. For sessions longer than 1 hour, it is advisable to take fluid and electrolytes in during the session.
  • Eat Well. After depleting your energy stores with exercise, you need to refuel if you expect your body to recover, repair tissues, get stronger and be ready for the next challenge. Ideally, you should try to eat within 30 minutes of the end of your workout and make sure you include some high-quality protein and complex carbohydrate. You should then feed every two hours for the next 24 hours-or at least until you go to bed, keeping in mind you do not want to overeat. Small amounts frequently should do it. See above under “short term recovery” for information on recovery drinks.
  • Stretch. Whilst there’s not a lot of evidence that supports stretching as a recovery method that helps to prevent injury, lots or our runners feel that stretching helps to prevent muscles soreness.
  • Rest. Time is one of the best ways to recover (or heal) from just about any illness or injury and this also works after a hard workout. Your body has an amazing capacity to take care of itself if you allow it some time. Resting and waiting after a hard workout allows the repair and recovery process to happen at a natural pace.
  • Perform Active Recovery. Easy, gentle movement improves circulation which helps promote nutrient and waste product transport throughout the body. In theory, this helps the muscles repair and refuel faster.
  • Have a Massage. Massage feels good and improves circulation while allowing you to fully relax. You can also try self-massage and foam roller exercises for easing tight muscles. A good sports massage once a month in conjunction with self massage will definitely make a difference to those tired legs.
  • Take an Ice Bath, ice massage or contrast water therapy (alternating hot and cold showers). The theory behind this method is that  repeatedly constricting and dilating blood vessels helps remove (or flush out) waste products in the tissues. Ice baths should only be undertaken under certain circumstances.
  • Get Lots of Sleep. While you sleep, amazing things are taking place in your body. Optimal sleep is essential for anyone who exercises regularly. In general, one or two nights of poor or little sleep won’t have much impact on performance, but consistently getting inadequate sleep can result in subtle changes in hormone levels, particularly those related to stress, muscle recovery and mood. Some research indicates that sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), decreased activity of human growth hormone (which is active during tissue repair), and decreased glycogen synthesis. Other studies link sleep deprivation with decreased aerobic endurance and increased ratings of perceived exertion. If you are unable to sleep the night before a big event, don’t get too stressed about it. Research has shown that the penultimate night’s sleep is more important for performance than the one immediately prior to the event.
  • Avoid Overtraining. One simple way to recovery faster is by designing a smart workout routine in the first place. Excessive exercise, heavy training at every session or a lack of rest days will limit your fitness gains from exercise and undermine your recovery efforts.

How to use contrast water therapy: While taking your post-exercise shower, alternate 2 minutes of hot water with 30 seconds of cold water. Repeat four times with a minute of moderate temperatures between each hot-cold spray. If you happen to have a spa with hot and cold tubs available, you can take a plunge in each for the same time. Alternatively, make use of your backyard pool during winter and stand in it for up to 5 mins. You may find you have to work up to this.

Recovery prior to an event

The period in which you wind down your training in order to recover prior to an event is called your taper. The amount of time each person requires to taper is very individual, and can best be worked out by trial and error. Be sure to keep a good record of your training and how you feel for the couple of weeks prior to your event, and of course how you felt and performed on race day. It takes the body about two to three weeks to register the positive effect of training, so you’re not going to improve your performance by cramming in extra training at the last minute.  Volume and intensity should decrease markedly in the two weeks before our event.  It is best to rest, eat well and prepare mentally (dreaming of the chocolate cake to come!)


At Hooked on Running we help runners of all abilities through our online coaching programs, which are tailored to an individual’s lifestyle, current fitness levels and running goals.

When you’re ready to take your training to the next level, join us.