I hope no-one minds, but I thought I'd post some tips for beginners to Natural Running which would have helped me if I'd known them 6 months ago. There seem to be quite a few newcomers posting with questions, so I hope the following is helpful. I'd be grateful for further suggestions and ideas.

Top Tips for Forefoot Strike Beginners

  • Take it slowly. Everyone says this, but it is hard to appreciate just how slowly is appropriate. Remember, you’re using muscles for running that you’ve never used for running below. Your calves and feet especially, all the muscles and tendons and fascia, have to get stronger, and it takes time. Your calves are going to hurt anyway, but if they hurt too much, or if you start getting referred pain in your feet, you’ll get discouraged and stop. Or you won’t be able to run and get frustrated and depressed. Take it slowly. 10 minutes a day if necessary. This is especially difficult if you’re already fairly fit and used to running 5 miles + at a go. And the bit in Born to Run where Chris says that after 2 days/weeks/months (can’t remember!) with Eric he’s already running further and faster than he ever has before can give you a misleading idea of how quick you might progress.
  • Expect it to be difficult. It will feel odd, difficult, counter-intuitive, sore, awkward, silly. You think everyone is laughing at this funny tip-toe-ing runner moving at 4 miles a fortnight. But that all means you’re doing something new – if it doesn’t feel odd, you’re doing it wrong. There’s a lot of new muscle memory to build. Eventually, it will feel natural and automatic and, yes, fantastic, but not for the first few months.
  • Stay off tarmac. Try to run off road – trails, grass, parks. It’ll reduce the impact on your calves and feet and they’ll be a bit less sore.
  • Run 10 minutes barefoot on grass 3 times a week. It feels wonderful, it really helps with form as your brain automatically takes over, and your feet will get stronger.
  • Sign up to a programme. Structure and variety and tips all help with the transition… but don’t stick to it religiously. You might be due for some steep hill repeats, but listen to your body – and take a rest day if you need to.
  • Research the subject. Eric is very good, but there are lots of other barefoot coaches out there with different ways of approaching the same thing, and it’s good to get a variety of ideas. Lee Saxby has this great clip on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L8Fl9t3FVis, and I really like Dr Mark Cucuzella who has made these 2 wonderful films http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSIDRHUWlVo and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpnhKcvbsMM, both of which have some really useful drills for improving form. I found these last 2 also really inspiring – just look at how fast he can run, barefoot. And look at how awesome his form is!
  • Film yourself. No, really, it’s the most useful thing you can do. You will have a mental image of how you run, and it almost certainly wildly inaccurate. You think you’re doing everything correctly, but how is your foot really landing? How much is your knee driving? How strong and tall is your body? When you see yourself, it’s much easier to make the necessary corrections. It’s standard practise for sports like rowing, so why not for running where form is so important?
  • Do the drills. You may hate the idea of drills. You just want to go running. But the drills are crucial for correcting form and developing muscle memory. When I can, I do them before a run, and it always feels better as a result.
  • Get someone (partner, friend, sports masseur) to massage your calves regularly. This saved me. After 5 weeks on Eric’s intro programme, I had to stop, My calves were improving but my left foot was really sore and getting worse. It took me ages to track down the problem, but it came down to an over-tight and under-strength calf muscle putting tension on the pereneal tendons. My wife has dutifully massaged the guilty calf every night for 3 months. That’s what I call love. And not only has it eased the tension and slowly got rid of the pain, but the improved blood flow has facilitated healing and repair, and it’s now stronger than my right calf.
  • Work on core strength. You can’t drive your knee forward strongly if you’ve got wibbly core muscles. Eric has some great strength exercise, but I don’t often have time for these, so a minute of plank, 2 or 3 times a day, is great. Just make sure you are straight so that the core muscles get a real work out.

Paul

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Thanks so much for this list!

I'm also wondering how many people get in their car and drive somewhere to go running. I wish I had unpaved trails and grassy areas right out my front door, but all I have is road.

Hi Janey,

So pleased that you found this helpful! I should have explained that I'm very much a beginner myself, with only 7 months of forefoot striking, so a long way to go.

To answer your question, I'm a teacher and we have a grassy sports field I can do my barefoot training on, and we live in the country with lots of farm trails/tracks to explore. But Eric has some fearsome hill repeats in his next programme and I'm going to have to drive/bike somewhere to find a big enough hill!

Paul

Thanks for all this Paul,

Really understand what you mean about taking it slowly- as a very wise man said to me once 'there's only one way to eat an elephant, and that is a little piece at a time.' I just want to ask you one thing. Do you think it's good to master the forefoot striking and the drills, etc before moving onto one of Eric's plans? Or would it be better to use a plan in conjunction with the drills? I guess basically what I'm asking is should one first learn how to run properly before taking on a training plan?

The reason I ask is that I'm thinking about starting the beginner program but think I should get the proper running form mastered first.

Cheers,

Luke.

I'd go straight into an Eric plan - the 6 week beginner one. He includes lots of tips and ideas on how to make the transition, and you modify the effort according to your fitness and progress. If you try to master the proper running form first, it'll be a year before you do anything else! Bear in mind it's a continual learning process - I'm still modifying and improving and learning and expect to do so for a long time to come. Maybe spend a week or so trying out the drills (Eric's and others) and doing a bit of barefoot running, but basically, just get going! Good luck!

Amen brother - from the point of view of someone who's only into around their 16th week of regular running, this is all true and good stuff that's nice to have re-affirmed by someone else, even if I had to start learning it the hard way :)

Thanks for the info Paul, I just started today and might pushed it a bit to much! I already work out 6 days a week and have been a runner already but was limited to about 6 miles until the knees would tell me to quit. I happen to run into Eric and was talking to me about running style and decided to look inti the fore foot running style. So today I started! Put in 3 miles and the calves are pretty sore from the new style of running but no pain in the knees. I was glad to find your post and now I see that I should have started slow. Tanks again for the post.

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