Sunday, June 13, 2010

Review of "The Barefoot Running Book"

Barefoot and minimalist runners around the world have not had much guidance on how to transition from "regular" shoe running to a more natural and minimalist approach.  There have been a few listservs that people could subscribe to and ask questions...and Ken Bob's web site has provided a fair amount of information and inspiration, but I've always wanted something more...something I could hold in my hands and use as a resource whenever I wanted...I longed for a barefoot running book!  Dreams do come true--there are now two books on barefoot and minimalist running.  I will review Jason Robillard's "The Barefoot Running Book: A Practical Guide to the Art & Science of Barefoot & Minimalist Shoe Running" today and Michael Sandler's new book later this week.

The author, Jason Robillard, is the man behind the Barefoot Running University.  He's a long-time barefoot runner who has run several ultramarathons in minimalist shoes (like the Vibram FiveFingers) and totally barefoot. Being an ultramarathon runner myself, this gave Jason immediate credibility...and respect. I run races from 5K to 100 miles...mostly on trails, but I have not completed any barefoot.  My most minimalist ultra run has been in lightweight trail shoes like the New Balance 790.  Someone that can run 100 miles on trails in Vibrams, or 50 miles barefoot, immediately gets my attention.  Plus, he's from the Michigan. I appreciate the advice of a fellow Midwesterner (I'm from Illinois).  It's one thing to run barefoot in the temperate climates of California...another to do the same in the harsh summers and winters of the Midwest. 

This book is small--both in page size (5.5 x 8.5 inches) and length (61 total pages).  The cost is fairly minimal as well: $14.95.  I guess a book on minimalist running should be minimal, eh?  The book's shortness is both a blessing and a curse.  If you are looking for an in-depth treatise on barefoot running, this is not your book.  If you want a quick primer on barefoot running, then this book will provide a great collection of advice from a trustworthy and experienced author.  For someone new to the minimalist landscape, Jason's book is an ideal entry point.  It provides a rationale for why barefoot running can be a healthy and robust alternative to shod running.  The book then takes the reader through a series of exercises and drills that should be done before going barefoot.  This "pre-work" is important for eventual success in transitioning from shod to barefoot running and walking.  After the "pre-running" information, Robillard advances through beginning, intermediate, and advanced barefoot running.  He provides two basic 4-stage training schedules that should help runners conceptualize the transition from shoes to bare soles.  The schedules do not provide any distance details (daily or weekly mileage) nor do they include types of runs (easy, tempo, speed, long).  I suppose other training books provide those detailed schedules (and the book does list several good web resources for training plans). 

Throughout the book, the author pairs "concepts" with "activities."  Concepts are the main ideas related to barefoot running (like quick cadence/stride rate), activities are exercises that reinforce the concept (metronome drill).  While presenting these concepts and activities, the author also brings up common issues that new (and experienced) runners will face while going barefoot--blisters, calf soreness, top-of-foot pain, etc. By reading the book, runners should have the knowledge and foresight to prevent common injuries. 

Based on my personal experiences running barefoot and in minimalist shoes, this book "rings true."  Considering the book's small size, it packs an amazing wealth of excellent information.  I highly recommend it for beginners.  I consider myself an intermediate "barefoot/minimalist" runner, but still found it useful and interesting.  Jason's writing style is straightforward and humorous.  While 90% of his book was a review for was a GOOD review and helped reinforce key concepts.  Plus, I still learned a few new things and now have a quick resource for many useful exercises and drills. I'm happy to have this book and expect to pull it out frequently as I progress further into barefoot running.

NOTE: This book is available from Amazon in both paper and Kindle format.


Norm Deplume said...

Nice review. :) I have a copy of his book from before it was published, and I agree that there's a ton of info packed in there.

On a related note, I am a member of the Beta-version of the Barefoot Runners Society (another one of Jason's projects), and if you'd like an invite, I'd be happy to send one along.

Chris said...

Thanks for the BRS offer, but I'm already a member. Hope it takes off quickly. It has lots of potential.

Norm Deplume said...

Derr, I should have thought to check the Illinois Chapter members-- I see you right there. :)