Part 2 on Running: Going back to school

One athlete’s quest to return to the essence of running – going barefoot

Derek Shaw has been training for the last year to transition from running in shoes to becoming a barefoot runner. He started his training on the Cedar Hill Golf Course trail.

Derek Shaw has been training for the last year to transition from running in shoes to becoming a barefoot runner. He started his training on the Cedar Hill Golf Course trail.

When Derek Shaw was visiting his family in Scarborough, Ont. earlier this month, he attracted more attention than he had anticipated during his daily run.

“Way to go man,” yelled a passerby. “You’re going old school.”

The residents of the Toronto suburb were a little more impressed with the long-distance runner’s choice in footwear – or lack thereof – than the avid running community in Victoria. But even amidst the mild climate and the free spirits of the West Coast, Shaw is a bit of an anomaly amongst his peers.

He’s a barefoot runner.

“It’s a cool feeling,” said Shaw, who began running in his late 40s after he had to give up his morning bicycle commute. “It’s a whole different dimension to running, feeling the ground beneath your feet.”

Now the information technology consultant visits his clients barefoot to keep his feet trained on the midfoot strike – a hallmark of the style, allowing the calf, instead of the heel, to absorb the bulk of the shock.

“It’s like having a really good golf game, feeling everything in your swing, then halfway through putting on the biggest, thickest mittens and playing the rest of the game. That’s the difference between running barefoot and running with shoes on,” Shaw said.

Seated inside the coffee shop at Cedar Hill Golf Course, Shaw doesn’t appear much different than any other middle-aged runner in town. He dons a technical T-shirt and baseball cap over his silver hair, a hydration belt and timing watch. But when he stands up and walks across the café toward the trail outside, his bare feet tell a different story.

It was here just more than a year ago that the 55-year-old Saanich resident first took off his shoes and ran 100 metres along the wood chip, grass and dirt trail.

But Shaw, amidst a plan to log six half-marathons in a year, was running 35 to 40 kilometres each week in shoes and wasn’t willing to risk falling behind on his schedule by adding barefoot to his regime.

Between those small jaunts out to the chip trail, Shaw walked barefoot everywhere: to Mount Doug and Thetis Lake with his wife and dog – and, of course, to work.

“What you learn is that your feet change really quickly when you change the demands on them, so going out of shoes and walking in those environments is like going to the gym and doing perfect weight training,” he said. ”Your tendons and ligaments all get stronger. Your feet change shape.”

Equipped only with minimalist shoes when the cold was too much to handle, Shaw systematically worked up his running base (after completing those six runs in traditional footwear) and this month took on the McNeill Bay Half-Marathon in Oak Bay as a pace bunny sans shoes.

“The most efficient and fastest runners have excellent biomechanics and they don’t need to run barefoot to have them, but it’s a lot easier to learn them barefoot,” Shaw said.

“I have 50 years of bad habits to overcome and that’s not something that’s easy to do consciously. Taking your shoes off forces you to do everything differently.”

Barefoot running, or natural running, may offer benefits to runners such as Shaw, who was willing to take his shoes off and add mileage incrementally, but even with the proper precautions, it poses risks.

“We know biomechanically, that people who run with a midfoot strike get less injuries because they’re not running into the ground, they’re running over the ground, which means there’s less breaking forces at the knees or the ankle or even the hips,” said Dr. Jamie Grimes, a chiropractor at Synergy Health and a former Olympic sprint coach. “It forces us to go back to a more natural, improved biomechanical way of running.”

But despite the efficiency and the lessened impact of training the foot to run as we did as kids, said Grimes who has used running on sand as a training tool, the lack of structure provided by a shoe can wreak havoc on a runner should they suffer from poor mechanics of laxity, hyper mobilities, pronation or a disparity in leg length.

Grimes warns of the corkscrew effect that can begin in the unsupported arches and continue through the shins and knees, eventually changing hip angle and external rotators of the hip and alignment through the back.

“It is true that if you run barefoot often enough, you do build callouses up and it protects the skin, but the problem is people going out there and thinking that running without shoes on is good for you, is just silly,” added Victoria-based podiatrist Dr. William Mirchoff. “For most people, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. You’re not protecting the foot.”

Yet for Shaw and a growing number of barefoot runners born with good biomechanics, going old school makes much more sense.

“After a few times doing it, probably after a couple of weeks, I was lying in bed and my feet were just – alive,” Shaw said. “Have you ever been to a concert where you clapped so much your hands had a tingly feeling afterward? They were just alive.”

nnorth@saanichnews.com

See previous story in series: New marathoners have reason to run

Just Posted

Steve Mann and Tim Hackett consider Marigold Lands their finest development. (Rendering courtesy Marigold Lands)
Marigold residences grow more townhouses and condos in Central Saanich

50 condos, 14 townhouses up next for project adjacent to Pat Bay Highway

Norman Mogensen sets up strings for his beans in his plot in the Oak Bay community gardens. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)
Oak Bay gardener spends decades cultivating, improving daddy’s beans

85-year-old vegan part of the community gardens scene

The Pool at the Esquimalt Rec Centre. (Courtesy of theTownship of Esquimalt/ Facebook)
Esquimalt Rec Centre restarting everyone welcome swim times later this month

The 90-minute sessions will be on select evenings and weekends

Diana Durrand and Arlene Nesbitt celebrate the new artist space in 2014. Gage Gallery moves this summer from Oak Bay to Bastion Square in Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)
Gage Gallery moving to Bastion Square

Vivid Connections, a showcase by Laura Feeleus and Elizabeth Carefoot, opens new venue June 29

Theatre SKAM is offering mobile, pop-up performances to Greater Victoria residents once again this summer. They’ll feature emerging artists Yasmin D’Oshun, Courtney Crawford, Kaelan Bain and Kendra Bidwell (left to right). (Courtesy of Theatre SKAM)
Theatre performances can be ordered to Greater Victoria front yards this summer

Theatre SKAM offering mobile, pop-up performances once again

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Most Read