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Scottish Barefoot Running Conference

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I heard of the Scottish Barefoot Running Conference through Andrew Burton from Inov8, of course! Inov8 would be there with test shoes and free Inov8 Wraps. I needed to find out more.

Colin McPhaill from Footworks had orgainsed a conference the year before and it looked like this year might be more numbers. They had around 80 folk turn up last year, so were hoping for more barefoot nutters to appear. I had to go, as I classify as a Barefoot Nutter and so it seemed like the place Mountain Run should be for the weekend was Edinburgh.

I headed up with Guy Russell, who is the agent for Altra Zero Drop shoes, from the States, that are being imported in to the UK in November. You'll be able to find them at www.mountain-lite.co.uk and I'lll be testing a pair of the Superiors soon & writing a review on them. Anyway, Guy and I shared a lift, chewed the morning fat and got to Edinburgh with the promise of a good day ahead.

Colin had organised a BF run up onto Authur's Seat and back down to the shop, about a 5 mile circuit apparently. The there were to be seminars by Jae Gruenke & Joe Warne, with a star/guest speaker as no other than Barefoot Ted McDonald. The day would finish with some food and wine with Colin, Ted and crew... it looked like it would be a good day.

As the small amount of stalls set up, Inov8, Merrell, Altra Zerop and Jae Gruenke, I watched and waited to see who would turn up. True to any niche/fringe pastime/sport, a real mixture of people began to arrive at the SBC. People of all ages, I think the youngest being around 10 and the oldest around 70+. BF Ted was to be found in the Footworks shop, talking about and selling his wonderful Luna Sandals, of which if you wear a pair, you get dubbed as a Lunatic.

So the BF folk got together and everybody had a happy time ;-) BF Ted wandered around talking with folk about... Lunatics... The representative for the running shoe companies talked shop with prospective customers, Inov8 got shoes on peoples feet, unless they were BF purists and I talked with Joe Warne about his talk in the afternoon. Joe is a very interesting character. He has completed a degree in sports science and is now doing a PHD in natural running & foot strike. He has written 3 papers on footwear and BF running and is specialising in the relationship between the foot-strike, posture and footwear. Joe is also one of Irelands top track runners, who has competed at a world class level. He is now trying to push himself to get a 4 minute mile. His time as it stands is 4:02, so he only needs to improve by 2 seconds, but apparently this is a massive hurdle to get past. I didn't realise how privileged this time was... Joe explained there are maybe less than 1000 people in the world to have beaten a 4 minute mile since Roger Bannister did so in 1953. Joe is completely independent in his view point.

With everybody milling around it was time for Colin to do his safety bit and get us all ready for the run. Some were BF, some were Lunatics and others got into Inov8 Bare XF 210's or Bare Grip 200's, everybody was ready, the sun was shining and so a group of Barefoot lunatics with minimal footwear on set of running across the park and up to Arthurs Seat through the streets of Edinburgh feeling foot loose and fancy free. Colin took video, BF Ted ran in cut off jeans, rebelling against the typical british stiff upper lip and Joe and I padded along, discussing the merits of BF & Minimal Footwear.

The seminars:

Jae Gruenke is a Feldenkrais practitioner, she runs a company called the Balanced Runner and teaches people form for running through Feldenkrais Method of Movement Education®. Jae gave a talk on running form, based on her understand through the method she teaches. There were some interesting points and I understood what she was trying to achieve and took away a couple of self found facts, that Jae touched on and solidified for me. Running is a skill as we should all know and understanding how the body works whilst running is also a skill. There are many methods out there and its hard ot single one out as being correct. What Jae highlighted to me was the core. This is our abdominal region and its sometime miss placed as to what your core should do. Many people think it should be tight, and this can be correct to a degree, but what we don't want to happen is the body become rigid. She explained how the core must rotate in order to keep the rest of the body in check and this must be done with soft movement and that also the hips must be flexible and allow rotation through the running cycle in order for us to run efficiently and smoothly.

She then had everyone out of their seats and got us all to run through a 5-10 minute awakening of our bodies and how they move. Although I didn't like the Auto Suggestion that went along with this workshop, I did like the fact it was trying to get people to think about what they're bodies were doing, separating the moveable areas and allowing the brain to sense their function and becoming more aware of their specific part in the movement and running cycle.

Lets move to Joe Warne's talk....

His findings are pretty interesting, but not all are proven. The studies he is involved in are only acute studies, meaning the results have only been gathered over a small amount of time and by Joe's own admission, this is not enough. What he is looking for are studies done on the barefoot running cycle over a period of time, so that we can see how the BF running cycle impacts on the human body.

Yes we all know that there are Mexican Indians, Bushmen from the plains of Africa and Monks in the Mountains who have been running BF for centuries, if not longer, but nobody has studied the effects of long distance running on these populaces. We all know of the running greats from these areas, but what Joe was driving at, was that all peoples will produce some amazing BF runners, but it won't work for everyone. The meaning behind this is not tainted, as Joe works for no-one, except himself. He has no axe to grind, no sponsor to please. This makes him quite a credible source to listen too and after looking into Pose, completing a VivoBarefoot Course and investigating the BF style for myself, plus teaching it to others, it has become apparent to me, that there is a certain style that works for most, but its not a quick fix and it won't be every bodies cup of tea. There is really only an ideal, not a fixed way to run. We are all different shapes and sizes, we have slightly different postures and we are all ergonomically different, therefore to put us all in one box is a little myopic in my humble opinion. What I did find out from Joe, was that certain factors were definitely a help. Posture being upright was good, foot striking under the centre of gravity was also desired to make the running cycle as efficient as possible and the cadence of your foot strike on the ground was also important and that's what we teach on our natural running courses at Mountain Run.

What Joe did say was; there is no substantiated evidence that heel striking, if the posture, cadence and stride length are good, is actually that bad. But this must be taken in context. If you are wearing a heeled shoe, then this can start to change everything. He stated that BF running incorporated into your running program was a good thing and all people should train like this if they want the best from their running (the actual need to run completely BF is essential here, but only for small parts of your routine, not all of it). And that the ideal shoes to be running in should be minimal footwear, meaning minimum heel to toe drop, less cushioning is better than more, and getting as close to the ground as possible is an important factor.

Joe went on to crush the myth of injury free running. He suggested that this was not possible and that no style of running would be injury free. I found this very positive, as how could there be a style of running that would guarantee it to be INJURY FREE. This is an extrememly bold statement to make. He went on to suggest that some people's bodies were good for running and others weren't, that some folk would take to running 100 miles and excel at this, whilst others would be plagued by shin splints, plantar problems and more. And although I think it is possible for us to find an efficient and relatvely injury free running style, it is ridiculous to suggest that if you run like this you will be injury free. As if I train for 100 miles per week, I have to accept that my body is going to have to absorb how ever many thousands of steps I make through my running cycle and that I am sending low frequency vibrations, that damages muscles, tendons and ligaments, through my body and I am also sending high frequency vibrations in to my bone structure and that my bone structure might be good at absorbing these high frequency vibrations or the density of my bone structure just might not be made right for this application. But we must remember that so many other factors come into play, like diet, life style, up-bringing and what it entailed to us, the volume of water we drink, whether we take in too much calcium or not enough and so the list goes on...

I will finish by saying I learnt a hell of a lot listening to Joe's seminar, probably as much as I did listening to Lee Saxby on the course I took with Vivo. Joe was very knowledgeable, like Lee, but I would put neither as knowing the whole and its great to listen to these people who obviously have an immense control of their chosen subject, but certainly don't know it all.

Unfortunately for me, thats where my experience of the Scottish BF Running Conference stopped. Guy Russell, who was showing the Altra Zero's at the venues, and also my lift, needed to get back to the Lakes, so as the others headed back to the small marquee in the park, Guy & myself jumped in the car and drove back to the Lakes as we discussed the validity of the discussions we had been part of.

I have to take my hat off to Colin from Footworks for organising an excellent event. Had I known of it sooner, then I would have had Mountain Run there as a stall, but there's always next year. It was a great pleasure to meet Ted McDonald, famed from Born to Run and a Lunatic of his very own, plus immensly interesting to listen to Jae Gruenke ands Joe Warne.

I haven't seen Colin's film of the run yet, but look forward to it and it was great to be surrounded by lots of like minded people who get excited when they think about walking and running around BareFoot...

Next year Mountain Run plan on being involved and getting to grips with getting more folk into the mindset of running and training minimal and barefoot. 

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