‘Run like you’re on clouds and don’t want to fall through,’ says Caballo Blanco (real name Micah True) as I pound on a treadmill. ‘Lean slightly forward and let gravity pull you forward. Take smaller steps and land on your forefeet rather than hitting with your heels. It’s like how you’d run as a kid.’
When Blanco speaks, runners listen. He
is the hero of best-selling running book Born To Run by Christopher
McDougall, who eschewed Western values and headed into Mexico’s Copper
Canyon to learn the secrets of the little-known Tarahumara tribe – the
most gifted natural runners in the world. Whenever they’ve come across
traditionally trained athletes, they’ve beaten or matched the best every
Even stranger, the members of this elusive tribe train on a
diet fuelled by tesgüino, a corn-based beer, and run in ceremonial
costume with nothing but sandals on their feet. Their exploits are one
of the reasons for the current trend for barefoot and minimal running.
runners were told to take long strides, impacting on their heels as
they landed, turning their feet through the curve of mid-foot to
forefoot. Minimal runners tend to take shorter strides, land on their
mid or forefoot and claim that running with little between them and the
ground improves their ‘feel’ for the terrain.
To a point, science
backs them up. Running slams six to eight times your weight through your
body with each stride – for an 80kg runner, that’s around 500kg per
step – so it makes sense to use a quick turnover of strides and land on
the fleshiest part of the foot.
Running coach Nick Anderson
(www.runningwithus.com) is a fan of the forefoot strike and minimal
running. As Blanco gives me advice at my ‘introduction
to minimalism’ session, Anderson cocks his head towards the treadmill.
‘Key in training is to listen to your body,’ he says. ‘Listen now, you
can hardly hear your feet touching the treadmill, whereas before you
were making quite a noise.’
The minimal craze has inspired shoe
manufacturers to produce footwear a million miles from the structured,
supportive trainers many of us wear. Check out someone with Vibram Five
Fingers on their feet and you can bet they’ll have a dog-eared copy of
Born To Run somewhere.
Shoe specialist Saucony has gone further by
introducing a range of shoes from a structured shoe to a minimal one,
allowing those wishing to make the change the chance to step down
gradually. ‘We produce different shoes with different degrees of
minimalism,’ says Spencer White, of Saucony’s Human Performance and
Innovation Lab. ‘The key difference in any minimal shoe is in the amount
of “drop” between the heel and the forefoot. On a traditional shoe it’s
12-14mm, whereas minimal shoes have 4mm or less.’
although runners could make the step down to minimalism by wearing each
shoe until they wear out and then buying the next ‘level’ down, White
says this should be done with some caution.
Massage therapist and
fitness trainer Lillian Lartey (www.healthdestination.co.uk) is less
convinced by the clamour for forefoot striking and minimal running. She
says: ‘When you forefoot strike, pressure goes through the front of the
calf muscle and into your shin bone. If your calf muscles are weak, it
will increase the chance of getting minor fractures.’
wishing to make a switch to minimalism, she suggests a programme with
lots of cross-training and strength work such as lunges and calf raises.
White admits the running community remains divided over the best way to run.
are elite athletes who forefront strike and others who are heel
strikers,’ he says. ‘What they have in common is that their centre of
mass moves quickly over their foot and their leg shank is nearly
vertical when it hits the ground. Effectively, impact is minimal as they
move very quickly and that reduces the load on their legs.