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Good content but a some drawbacks
on November 28, 2011
At the outset, let me say that my review is not meant as a critique of the authors or the content on running. For those things, I think the book is very good. But I had three issues with the book.
First, a lot of the book is devoted to Barefoot Ken Bob's personal story, his journey into barefoot running, and his exploration and learning on the topic. If you enjoy this, you will like this aspect of the book. If not, you will find yourself flipping pages to find the content.
Second, there is basically the same information available for free on the internet. While the authors here do a good job of covering the major points of barefoot running, there is so much out there for free that its hard to justify spending money to get the same thing. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with buying the book to support or reward Ken Bob for maintaining a great website. But between the various gurus out there on this subject, it would be hard to find something unique that justifies buying this book. Look up Lee Saxby, Chris McDougall, Mark Cucuzella and you will find massive amounts of online information about barefoot running, including great drills, tutorials, the works. This is an area where books were just too late to the scene.
Third, well, its a book! Its not an easy thing to explain how to change their running stride and give them the tools to make the changes and stick them out using text and two dimensional images. Even though I enjoyed and learned from the book, I found myself time and again checking out the videos in websites from the above mentioned individuals, including Ken Bob, for a better picture of what this looked like. Stride mechanics are not easily conveyed in two dimensional images and I would highly recommend viewing lots of videos and even having someone take video of you while you run in order to help you diagnose and improve your form. Think of all the tools you would use to retrain/improve your golf swing. This is very similar.
Finally, its worth a word about the transition. That has to be one of the biggest issues. How to move from the classic big running shoe - heel strike method to the barefoot/minimal footwear/forefoot landing method.
Ken Bob is pretty adamant that the best way to do it is to take off the shoes and start with short distances. Be a baby runner again. Even if you can zip through 10 mile runs, he would have you start with 5 minute runs totally barefoot and build up from there and build slowly! This lets the skin of your feet, ankles, Achilles, and calves learn how to operate again and also serve as a feedback system on your form and fitness.
I completely agree with this (with a caveat in a minute). If you take off your shoes and get out on the concrete and run 200 yards, it feels different. In those short little runs, and as you build, you quickly "feel" how well you are doing and that is key in changing your form. You don't want to hide bad form but expose it and correct it in as few steps as possible.
What I think sounds impossible is trying to mix and match heel strike and forefoot running. The idea of running a little bit barefoot and then putting back on classic running shoes and logging more miles the "old way" seems nuts. I should also add that its actually a lot harder to run forefoot style on with traditional running shoes because the heel is so thick.
But where my personal experience differed a little was that I found that the skin of my feet was my biggest hold back. Even when I felt like I was running well barefoot, the skin on my feet hurt so much after a certain amount of distance that I stopped even though everything else felt good. I found some minimalist running shoes (merrell trail glove for me) provided me with cushion from the sharp ground that let me work on and focus on other parts of my form, not just how much that last little pebble hurt my skin. I was actually able to relax more with minimal shoes because I wasn't hesitant about the pain in the sole of my feet. To make a safe transition, I still rigorously control the amount of my "barefoot style" running and am building up very slowly. I still plan on running completely barefoot for short distances because I think total barefoot is the best way to retrain form.
One final note, at the end of the book, Ken Bob includes some comments from other notable barefooters, some of whom are at odds with his approach in some respects. I really applaud that, an author who is not so dogmatic that he cannot accommodate alternative approaches.