The Grass Illusion

Discussion in 'Barefoot & Minimalist Running' started by George Bucheimer, Feb 26, 2015.

  1. George Bucheimer

    George Bucheimer
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters
    1. Maryland

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2013
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    36
    Hi everybody, long time no talk.

    I've been planning on writing this piece for a while, but I absolutely hate writing, so it's tough for me to dedicate the amount of time that it takes to organize my thoughts properly and write out everything I want to say.

    There are a lot of things that I want to touch on, so hopefully I remember them all as I am writing this out, but I apologize in advance if this becomes a bit long winded.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------

    I'll just jump right in. Ever since running without shoes gained more attention, a big topic of discussion has been "what kind of surface should we run on"?...There are those who say that we should run on "natural" surfaces like grass (usually people who don't run barefoot), and those on the other end of the spectrum who run on asphalt/concrete daily and say that it gives them no problems. They even say things like "rock is just as natural as grass". I'm sure you have all heard the claim many times, "the harder the surface the softer you land", justifying our capability to run on concrete sidewalks and asphalt roads.

    I'm gonna go ahead and put my thoughts on this topic out there. I have come to the conclusion that our bodies' ability to run smoothly/softly/gracefully (without shoes) depends on if the ground that we are running on is what I like to call a clearly defined surface. When our brains can see exactly what we are running on and where exactly our feet are going to land step after step, it allows us to run much more smoothly and with more grace.

    This is a primary problem when it comes to running on "grass". In fact, we are never actually running on the grass, our feet make contact and our weight is supported by the ground that is underneath the grass. I don't know about you all, but when I am running in a field that hasn't been mowed in a while with longer grass, my running feels very awkward, not smooth at all, and I definitely don't feel like I am landing "softly". We have to pick our feet up higher and our bodies aren't exactly sure where our next step is going to land because the exact landing surface underneath the grass is hidden.

    When we run on asphalt or concrete sidewalks, the surface is very clearly defined and there is no guesswork. We don't have to pick our feet up as high and our bodies know exactly where our next step is going to land. I myself have run for quite a while with great success on asphalt and concrete. I was running 15-25 miles a week, by far much more than I had ever run with shoes on, and I was doing it all pain free.

    I know that there are many people out there who have done a very substantial amount of running without shoes primarily on sidewalks and roads. However, I also know that there are a considerable amount of people who have developed stress fractures in their feet from doing too much mileage right from the beginning on these hard surfaces, and I am one of them. I think that people who suggest running on "natural" surfaces are on to something. Just as our bodies developed in a perfect way for running (without shoes), with appropriate tendons, muscles, bones, and ligaments, I also think that our bodies developed (evolved?) in a way to accommodate repeated running on the natural ground that is underneath us.

    I'm sure you all have also heard the argument that "rock is just as natural as grass". Where on Earth is there a place that is inhabited by a significant number of people that has miles upon miles of "natural" rock path. Also, thorn bushes are natural and we clearly aren't meant to run on those...I will agree that the "natural" argument is a pretty stupid one, but like I said, there is something to it.

    Now, I'm hoping that everyone agrees with me that having a clearly defined surface to run on is important for smooth, graceful running. But now, this leads me to another consideration that should be made when it comes to running without shoes, and that is the density of the surface. In reality, the density of a surface directly affects to what degree that surface is clearly defined, but I just wanted to be clear that a surface that we believe to be clearly defined (wet sand for example) is not as defined as we think...(our weight is not being supported until the sand is compressed enough to allow us to push off for our next step, we're not running on the surface that we see before our foot lands, but actually on the level at which the sand is compressed and we can push back off).

    Ok, I want to make it clear that I am not saying "sidewalks and roads are bad to run on barefoot because you will get stress fractures!" I understand that I most definitely did too much running (without shoes) volume for my current body to handle.

    -Would I still have gotten those stress fractures, had I done that same amount of running on dirt instead (which is less dense)? Maybe, nobody knows for sure.

    -If humans grow up running and walking on these extremely dense surfaces, would there bones adapt to be able to handle the load? Would there be virtually no stress fractures if people grew up that way their entire lives? Maybe, nobody really knows.

    The point I'm trying to make is that, the more I think about it, people justifying running on concrete and asphalt sounds more and more like people justifying running with shoes...sure there are plenty of people who do it and don't get hurt, but there are also a lot of people who repeatedly get hurt doing it.

    Maybe if we all grew up walking and running barefoot on sidewalks and parking lots we would be fine and nobody would get hurt, but I don't know if that's true and I don't think anybody else really knows either. But EVEN IF that was the case, why not just run on less dense surfaces (hard packed dirt) to avoid any potential problems altogether?

    I think people forget that sidewalks were created IN RESPONSE to shoes!! People weren't walking around barefoot and then decided "I want to walk on an extremely hard surface everyday"...we started putting pillows on our feet, then decided that we needed a very hard surface to walk those pillows on...which MESSED EVERYTHING UP. Whereas if you remove both the foot pillows and the artificial rock hard ground you're back to square one and the way that it should be.

    If you have never ran on a smooth dirt path then I can understand why you are not convinced yet. There is absolutely no comparison between the feeling of running on nicely packed dirt and rock hard uncomfortable asphalt. When I start running on a nice dirt path it truly takes my breath away and it is one of the best feelings in the world.

    The earth underneath the grass truly feels like the ideal density to run on, and when you remove the grass from on top, it is a very clearly defined surface as well and what seems to be the perfect compromise between a clearly defined surface for smooth running and also having a little bit of "give" to it (lack of rock hard density).

    I truly think that our bodies were built for our planet's ground, and it is a beautiful thing to think about.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Alright, this has gone on for a while now, so I'm going to wrap it up. I hope that everyone gives me feedback with their thoughts on all of this, because I honestly think recognition of everything that I have wrote here is the next important step for creating a mindset in people that will allow themselves and others to develop healthy running habits.

    The last thing that I want to say is that it is a life goal of mine to open up a dirt track (like 400 meter running track) where I can start a barefoot track club for younger people (kids mostly). Not only do I want as many people to develop there bodies properly and in a healthy way, but I think that PERFORMANCE is the key to convincing others in the world that running without shoes is the best way to do that. I want to start a competitive track club with young kids who are athletic and enthusiastic about running so that they can compete and show others how much healthier and effective running without shoes can be (they will be able to train longer and harder than shod athletes because of lack of injuries, leading to better performance).

    No offense to most of the community on this website, but nobody is going to be convinced that barefoot is better by seeing a bunch of 30-50 year olds running around the neighborhood barefoot haha. I mean I'm only 23 and people just look at me like I'm a weirdo and don't take me seriously when they see me running barefoot...because I'm an adult. What people WILL be convinced by is a 15 year old running a sub 50 second 400 barefoot and crushing shod runners...that's what it's going to take to get people to understand.

    Looking forward to hearing people's opinions.

    George
     
    Collapse Signature Expand Signature
  2. Sid

    Sid
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2011
    Messages:
    2,800
    Likes Received:
    3,426
    Research indicates that the habitually barefoot have feet that are pliable and exhibit lower pressures on landing.
    http://www.thebarefootrunners.org/index.php?posts/143956

    This would seem to suggest that:

    The habitually barefoot have feet that are flexible like grass.
    The recently unshod have feet that are as delicate as glass.
     
  3. Bootstrap

    Bootstrap
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2012
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    43
    Clearly defined surfaces are easy, and allow you to run gracefully without a lot of thought. But I really like single track paths through the woods, where I have to concentrate and my eyes and feet and mind are all working together, tuning out the conscious mind and just letting them figure it out. That's a very different kind of grace, nimbly picking my way in and out of a creek bed, over logs, around sharp bends ...

    I don't need to convince the world to run barefoot, and I don't care about performance. I like the mindful grace and beauty of it all, and I just feel a lot better when I run like that.
     

    Gordon, Blister, JosephTree and 6 others like this.
  4. happysongbird

    happysongbird
    Expand Collapse
    Chapter Presidents
    1. Idaho

    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2011
    Messages:
    2,161
    Likes Received:
    5,384
    Where I live, rough surfaces are the norm whether man-made or natural. High dessert - dry and rocky. Country living - lots of rough asphalt and chip seal. So I try to work with it, finding smoother paths when I can, but also working on (hopefully gradually) toughening up so that I'm not so limited with where I can run. I like your concept of a clearly defined surface. I have had one bad smash-cut in a foot from running on a dirt surface where a smooth rock was hidden below a shallow layer of dirt, so it seems there is no guaranteed perfect scenario. The blood stained a nearby sidewalk for almost a year... As for the age of the runners being that important in "advertising" barefoot running, I, at the age of 53, have seen people of all ages be positively influenced by my barefoot running and lifestyle. I think it depends on more factors than age, including the observer's attitude. A lot of people are inspired because when they see me it seems so normal after all, not something just for elite runners or weirdos; and when I talk to them one on one the explanations make sense. :)
     
    Collapse Signature Expand Signature
  5. Kyrrinstoch

    Kyrrinstoch
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters
    1. Minnesota

    Joined:
    May 20, 2014
    Messages:
    218
    Likes Received:
    271
    No offense taken (at least not by me). I don't run barefoot to prove anything to anyone else or to convince anyone that it's better than running with shoes. I continue to run barefoot because running barefoot has significantly reduced my rate and types of injuries and dramatically increased the amount of enjoyment I get from running. If people think I'm "weird" for doing something that works well for me, well, I can live with that. :cool:

    I think you may want to Fact-Check statements like these. o_O
    Sidewalks were created to give people a place to walk where they wouldn't have to step through the mud, dirt and horse/oxen/mule droppings in the roads. Also, "early" shoes (pre-20th century) didn't have much of any padding in them. Cushioned, padded shoes (the "pillows" you referred to) are only a relatively recent development in the time scale of human footwear.
     
    happysongbird and paulbeales like this.
  6. paulbeales

    paulbeales
    Expand Collapse
    Administrator
    1. United Kingdom

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2013
    Messages:
    1,758
    Likes Received:
    1,535
    Build it and they will come George
    .
     
    Collapse Signature Expand Signature
  7. JosephTree

    JosephTree
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters
    1. Pennsylvania

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2010
    Messages:
    2,524
    Likes Received:
    1,864
    I hate running on grass and hurt myself worse running across a field than I ever have hitting rocks. (Ripped an ankle on a hidden horse's hoof print.)

    I'm nothing like a performance runner, nor am I particularly political sort. I think BFR will always be at best a peripheral enterprise. We're always going to be the special exceptions who know in our hearts that we're doing ourselves right and setting the example, perhaps, but don't expect the world to beat a path to our doors.

    Good on you, George, for overcoming your aversion to writing, and sharing your thoughts with us. Thank you!
     
    Collapse Signature Expand Signature
    happysongbird likes this.
  8. George Bucheimer

    George Bucheimer
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters
    1. Maryland

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2013
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    36
    I have no doubt that most of us here don't care much about what others think about us when they see us running barefoot, and believe me, I absolutely run barefoot for my own benefit (lack of injuries, more enjoyment) first and foremost.

    But I also want to help others. I want to help them before the onset of injury and to just live healthier lives in general.

    All I'm saying is that it is easiest to fix the problem before it ever happens. In my eyes we should be helping-if we want to help others-the younger generations to avoid the problem altogether, so that they don't have to fully develop and then have to work to overcome the problems and setbacks that we all have had to overcome.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with running for enjoyment or just a little exercise once you get older, but competition is where my heart has always been at. I ran track in high school and college and I know the pain of having setbacks at such a goddamn young age. Missing months of running/training because of knee and hip pain at 19 years old? Who gets joint pain from fucking running before they're even in their 20s? And now I'm constantly seeing high school age kids running around town wearing all kinds of patellar tendon straps and knee braces...sometimes on both knees.

    It just makes me so sad that people, especially kids, who should be in their prime, have to deal with that stuff. And then there's nobody there to lead them in the right direction and help them out, and even if there is, they won't take you seriously because of the associations people make with barefoot running.

    It's just the pure denial of everybody else that pisses me off, and it's not even just barefoot running, but a lot of things in life. Answers and solutions are right in front of them but they just refuse to see it and search for any justification they can to get around it.
     
    Collapse Signature Expand Signature
  9. Christian Lemburg

    Christian Lemburg
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters
    1. Germany &...

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2014
    Messages:
    198
    Likes Received:
    261
    After some thinking about this, I don't agree. Have you ever run barefoot in the dark, when you can not really see what is on the ground?

    Ken Bob Saxton has some advice on this in his book (p. 120, "Drill 8: Enter the dark side"), and I tried it this winter. When you are used to it, it is much more relaxing, since you stop to worry about all those small obstacles, and just run over them. Of course, it is dangerous, especially if you don't know the conditions, but I have run often in the dark, no headlamp, this winter, and it works. Ken Bob explains: "Running at night is beneficial because you can't see the rocks. Here's why: beginner barefooters are often afraid of stepping on unseen objects, so they are initially preoccupied with looking at the ground. This isn't good, as it causes them to tense up and run with an unbalanced, unnatural forward hunch. ... The tension caused by fear is often as bad as striking the rock itself - maybe worse. That's because when you tense up, it is that tension that causes pain. To absorb the rock and flow around it, your foot muscles need to be relaxed and flexible. One way to keep them loose is to not see the rock."

    In summary, while visual input is certainly beneficial to running barefoot, I think it is more important to have a fine-tuned feedback loop relying on the touch sense of the feet. "Clearly defined surfaces" are easier to run, but gracefulness relies much more on touch sense and relaxation than on the visual characteristic of the surface.
     
    Gordon, happysongbird and DNEchris like this.
  10. George Bucheimer

    George Bucheimer
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters
    1. Maryland

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2013
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    36
    I completely agree that relaxation is key, and it is a lot easier to relax when you know you are running on a clearly defined surface and your body knows what to expect with each step.

    When I said "our brains can see exactly what we are running on and where exactly our feet are going to land step after step..." I wasn't just referring to visual eyesight. I meant things like proprioception or "touch sense" as you called it, and we get more 'concrete' feedback about what to expect for our senses when we are running on smooth, clearly defined surfaces.
     
    Collapse Signature Expand Signature
  11. George Bucheimer

    George Bucheimer
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters
    1. Maryland

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2013
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    36
    [QUOTEBuild it and they will come George ][/QUOTE]

    Haha, I'm gonna try man...
     
    Collapse Signature Expand Signature
  12. Sid

    Sid
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2011
    Messages:
    2,800
    Likes Received:
    3,426
    I think that barefoot running and racing are related but not the same, similar to Tai Chi meditative exercises vs Tai Chi martial arts.

    Most barefoot runners do so for health reasons. Professional runners do so for shoe sponsorship and race money.

    This is not to say that people without shoes cannot run fast.

    Good luck with your dirt track!
     
  13. kozz

    kozz
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters
    1. Oregon

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2011
    Messages:
    201
    Likes Received:
    132
    Have you ever run with your eyes closed? On, say, an open field where there's nothing to crash into, for a few seconds.

    If you try it (at your own liability, don't blame me if you knock someone over or run into a goalpost) you might be surprised how off kilter your awareness of the ground and proprioception are due to reliance on visual cues.

    Footstrike, balance, takeoff, all are fundamentally controlled by nervous reflex. The brain's reaction to visual cues is slower than the reflexes and proprioception involved, and serves mainly to modify or adjust movements that have already been started by reflex. If you have inefficient reflexes that are corrected by visual cues, you may never notice the inefficiency.

    I discovered this years ago when I tried a simple task: run blindfolded for 10 seconds (about 50 meters) in a straight line. After the first attempt, I was astounded to find I had turned a full 90 degrees to the left. It was also eerily difficult to predict where the ground would be, or even tell exactly what direction gravity was. But after half an hour of repeated attempts, I had the "feel" for the surface, even at a swift tempo pace, and was consistently within about 10 degrees of the target.

    I did this on grass. Since then I've developed a method of closing my eyes for a few seconds to get the sense of a surface, to make sure my eyes aren't fighting my reflexes, or doing their job for them. Pretty much any surface is good to run on, as long as it's not full of sharp things or too many rocks.

    There aren't really any "natural" surfaces for smooth, graceful running other than dirt. Nature is mostly hills and rocks and thorns and impassable marshland and crevasse-filled glaciers and sandy beaches and other such places where the best you can manage is a slow, clumsy jog.
     
    Ahcuah and DNEchris like this.
  14. JosephTree

    JosephTree
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters
    1. Pennsylvania

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2010
    Messages:
    2,524
    Likes Received:
    1,864
    ...where the best you can manage is a slow, clumsy jog.

    Speak for yourself!

    I can usually pull off a slow, moderately graceful jog. It's taken years, though. My fallback pace is walking, at which I can manage actual grace occasionally.
     
    Collapse Signature Expand Signature
  15. Scottie

    Scottie
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters
    1. Washington

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2013
    Messages:
    25
    Likes Received:
    48
    This is just my own opinion from my limited experience, but I think if you take away the "imperfections" in the running surface you will find people don't learn good running form. I have trouble with running form, but have worked a lot in the past few months on learning to run on gravel and it really helps. I get nervous on the predictable surfaces, because I tend to fall into old bad habits. Gravel is a great teacher for learning to run lightly! Also, once you have learned how to run on the rough stuff you can go barefoot in a whole lot more situations.

    Build your track, get kids running barefoot, but I encourage you to include gravel and other challenging terrain for kids to train on.

    All the best,
    Scott
     
  16. skedaddle

    skedaddle
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters
    1. United Kingdom

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2011
    Messages:
    1,244
    Likes Received:
    2,064
    I'd take a natural trail over man made surfaces any day. There is little lateral foot movement on asphalt, which i think is important for strong feet and to avoid repetitive movement.
     
    scedastic and DNEchris like this.
  17. scedastic

    scedastic
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters
    1. Michigan
    2. Minnesota

    Joined:
    Oct 7, 2011
    Messages:
    2,023
    Likes Received:
    4,179
    I find that I do best when I am on a variety of terrain, barefoot or not.
    Hilly trails with mud, snow, rocks, etc., challenge my brain and my footing, exerting stress in different ways than the monotony of flat, hard surfaces. I don't do those barefoot. Even in sandals, I'm unhappy about branches getting stuck between my toes. The way I land is way different. In fact, I did a few groomed cx ski trails in zero traction soft stars this spring, and that was sooo interesting on my form, especially on the hills.
    Yet there is something fun (and conveniently outside my door) about going forward on nice hard asphalt or concrete or brick, straight ahead, no obstacles.

    Too many days in a row too soon of any surface and little tendons start to bother me in different places.
    A little bit of everything seems to work pretty well.

    But Grass? HATE it, especially recently, when many a crude dog walker has left their furry friends' feces for months in the snow, and now that everything has melted, litters even the fanciest suburban grass in this area. Yick.

    I tried reading your entire post, but it was TLDR.
    What is your basic premise?
     
  18. Barefoot Gentile

    Barefoot Gentile
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters
    1. Connecticut

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2010
    Messages:
    1,954
    Likes Received:
    1,224
    My advice to anyone who wants to start running barefoot is run on hard surfaces first. You become more aware of form issues, and it's a perfect learning tool. The awesome thing about barefoot running is you adapt to all surfaces.
     
    scedastic and DNEchris like this.
  19. paraganek

    paraganek
    Expand Collapse
    Barefooters
    1. Oregon

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    818
    Likes Received:
    1,009
    So true. Well said Gentile :)
     
    Barefoot Gentile likes this.

Share This Page