Barefoot running and minimalist running are growing in popularity. We caught up with barefoot running expert and founder of Natural Running Canada, Jeff Stapleton, to find out why he started and to get the low down on going au naturel!
1) How long have you been barefoot running and what made you start?
I have been barefoot running for 12 years. I used to go barefoot all summer up to age 15 at our summer cottage. It was simply the way all of us cottagers went in the summer.
As I aged, I remembered how good it felt to be barefoot. When I kept getting ‘itis’ injuries running in ‘coffins’ (running shoes), I said “enough”, threw away my coffins and transitioned immediately to barefoot running.
I have never suffered a running injury since!
2) What are the benefits of barefoot running?
Not getting what I call ‘avoidable itis’ running injuries. You automatically move at one with the earth AND learn how to brace the body against the downward pull of gravity – a runner’s worst enemy.
3) Does it hurt when you first start? If yes, how do you overcome this?
It only hurts if you don’t know how to run tight, light, compact and Forward. If you brace your WHOLE body against gravity, you will never hurt yourself running barefoot or otherwise.
About all I noticed was a few thin layers of skin on my feet gradually peeled off as my foot pads hardened to different surfaces. I built up gradually from a few kilometres to upwards of 30 kilometres per run.
4) What surfaces can I run on?
Basically, a true barefoot runner (ie. From Africa, Sri Lanka, India etc) who has been moving barefoot since birth can run over anything. This includes glass, hot coals, corn stocks, bush trails and so on.
In North America, most barefoot runners can only handle asphalt, concrete, grass, clay, sand etc. We’re not good on extreme surfaces BUT could get there if we worked on it. But, why bother unless we have to run over such surfaces.
The toughest for me is rock salt spread on roads during our winters. Brutally difficult…
5) What is the Squat-Scoot method of mid-foot running and how did you develop the technique?
It is my way of running tight, light, compact and forward. If you think of a jack-in-the-box and how it is braced inside the box, you get the idea of the squat of the squat-scoot.
The scoot component refers to my method of keeping the knees bent at all times, falling forward and catching oneself on the midfoot, landing quiet and immediately driving forward with a flicking action of the heels.
I refined the technique used by Gordon Puff Puff Pirie of England – one of the world’s best mid to long distance runners of the 1940s and early 1950s. He was the epitome of ‘perfect’ running form.
6) How do you handle hot/cold surfaces or debris?
I have never run on ultra- hot surfaces being from Canada but I have run on hot asphalt from time to time. The big challenge is to decrease contact time to less than a millisecond.
I usually end up looking for cooler surfaces (such as grassy boulevards) or the white lines on roadways – otherwise, there isn’t much you can do to prevent singeing of the skin other than regularly run for short distances (50 to 100 metres at a time) on hot surfaces till your foot soles adapt.
The same also applies for running on cold surfaces. This is more my world with the Canadian winters. My preparation involves going barefoot in one of our Great lakes (Ontario) every winter day to shock my feet into adapting to the cold. I also purposely run for 2-3 minutes at a time in snow & over ice to again adapt.
In addition, I will wear my Sockwas (minimalist slippers) for a few kilometres until my feet adapt to the cold then go barefoot. It’s a fine line to avoid severe frostbite. I have developed frostbite on the bottoms of my toes many times when I ignore the tingling then numbing warning signs. However, I DO NOT recommend going into THAT painful world. The good news is – I haven’t lost any toes & I can also still run barefoot on most winter days.
7) What is minimalist footwear?
I define this as any footwear that has virtually NO MATERIAL to it. No last, no heel, no foam. Minimalist footwear should be just that – NEXT TO NOTHING.
You should be able to roll it up into a ball, it should weigh a mere few ounces – if that – it should have NO insole & it should also have an ultra flexible tongue or NO tongue. Laces are optional and should not need to be tied up.
It’s still nothing like being barefoot BUT it’s a hell of a lot better than trying to run in what I call ‘coffins’ – shoes that basically encase and deaden your feet (thus, my word, ‘coffin’!)
8) Is it safe to barefoot run every day?
It’s the only SAFE way to run. If you want to consistently run injury free for years on end, you MUST go barefoot. I have yet to meet anyone who runs in ‘coffins’ who has done so injury free run after run and year after year. It simply hasn’t happened. On the other hand, I am living proof that running barefoot allows you to remain injury free – when it’s done as I have described above.
I also have never encountered a barefoot runner who has incurred an ‘avoidable itis’ running injury. It simply does NOT happen.
9) What is your top tip for racing barefoot?
Stay tight, light, compact and forward AT ALL COSTS! Remember – minimum contact time = maximum power and speed forward.
10) How do I get started in barefoot running?
Take your damn ‘coffins’ off, find the roughest surface in your neighbourhood, run 25 metres with perfect squat-scoot technique, stop, scrape the soles of your feet lightly and repeatedly over the rough surface and call it a day. Soak your feet in beet juice, Epsom salts, cool water mix for 20 minutes.
Repeat for the next 7 days, gradually adding distance every day (50 to 100 metres a day). In addition, you should vary the surface you run over BUT avoid soft, cushioned surfaces initially (sand, mud, soft grass etc.).
Gradually, you will NOT want to run in ‘coffins’. You will be stronger, healthier, more balanced and also injury free. What can be better than THAT???
About Jeff Stapleton
Jeff Stapleton is a barefoot running expert who has 10 years personal experience running barefoot and in minimalist footwear.
Jeff has extensive experience in coaching and has a special interest in injury prevention. He uses his Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and 35+ years experience competing in elite-level athletics and teaching sports specific conditioning, to help his clients achieve their goals.
During his 30 year coaching career he has successfully coached many of his clients to qualify for high profile events such as the Boston Marathon. He has also coached numerous elite level sports teams and individuals.
Jeff is the founder ofwho specialize in forming proper run technique, strengthening running-specific muscles, increasing speed and distance, and safely incorporating the transition to a more efficient, barefoot running style. Jeff develops programmes for multiple age groups and has trained children as young as age 5 in his popular Youth Training Programme, which covers how to move safely and efficiently barefoot.
To find out more about Jeff Stapleton, visit Natural Running CanadaRecommend0 recommendationsPublished in