The following article was written by Mary Gorski to the UltraList. Somebody was asking what gains can be made from barefooting on the treadmill, and how this can be translated into better performance on the roads or trails. Here is Mary’s response (reprinted with permission):
I’m just commenting from personal experience — I have no expertise in physiology. I started shoeless (I keep my socks on) running on the treadmill two years ago. For years I have had off and on frustrations with my lower left leg — a snowball of issues related to repeated ankle sprains.
Two years ago on a snowy winter day I was doing a run on the treadmill at the Y. About a mile into it my achilles started to act up. I got irritated since I had been doing all the things that I thought that I was supposed to do keep that cranky lower leg happy, including the use of expensive prescription orthotics and proprioceptive exercises. I thought that I was prudent in my mileage.
When the achilles whined I thought of either moving to the eliptical or the bike. But then I remembered some casual discussions about barefoot running.
Advocates promoted it as a way to strengthen your lower legs and feet. Thinking I had nothing to lose and knowing that I could stop at any moment while on the treadmill, I took off my shoes and tentatively gave it a try. It seemed so counter-intuitive but surprisingly, my feet felt great. Everything felt fine. My achilles was fine.
That first day I only did a very slow mile. I then put my shoes back on and ran again. After a mile barefoot, the shoes felt like little stiff tanks on my feet.
I added a shoeless running session one to two days a week, doing it on the treadmill because it was cold outside. I built up my shoeless mileage very slowly.
I have no empirical evidence, but my feet and lower legs felt stronger after a few weeks. Wear patterns on my shoes now indicate that I have more of a forefoot touch than a total heel smash as I did before. I slowly stopped using my prescription orthotics and have not touched them in probably a year. I moved to less structured over the counter orthotics but now rarely use those.
My taste in shoes has changed. I used to look for a lot of structure and control, thinking it best for my pancake flat feet, and now I am most comfortable in lightweight, less structured shoes.
My ankle is still as loose as a wet noodle (after months of accident-free running I tripped on an easy ski trail last week and did a minor sprain) but I seem to twist it less often than before. I feel more confident in my foot plant with the less structured shoes and without orthotics. I generally don’t have the shin, calf and achilles hassles that I used to.
Coincidence? Perhaps. My lower leg concerns may have finally begun to heal on their own. But I attribute much of my success to the shoeless running. I think of it as a strength workout. I don’t do much shoeless running, but do it frequently enough to maintain the lower leg strength that I believe it developed.
So, that’s why I run shoeless on a treadmill.
– Mary Gorski
Have any barefoot treadmill running experiences of your own? Did you get the same results as Mary? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.