Ok, now that I'm running again, and I know my injury wasn't caused by my being barefoot (I was beginning to wonder), I can get back up on my high horse about it. My horse isn't really that high. I don't tell other people how to do things...much. I've had a cathartic experience with barefoot running, it has changed the way I relate to the activity, and the habit of running itself has had some pretty significant repercussions in my life.
When I'm running regularly I am energized and my mind is clear. When I need to run I go to bed early, eat well, take care of myself. When I do these things I'm more patient with my kids and with challenges and I have better perspective. These statements broadly apply to exercise for most people but I think that running is unique because it doesn't require any equipment or preparation. Barefoot running feels like an immersive step further in the direction of simplification, stripping away the things that separate me from the experience.
Dictionary dot come definition of immersive: (of a computer display or system) Generating a three-dimensional image that appears to surround the user
The less I have on me the more I am enveloped in the activity. It's funny that in a media overdosed world I'm using 3D display lingo to describe taking clothes off and running around mostly naked, but it's apt because I seek a more complete experience, and total lack of distraction from the things my body is doing to keep me moving. Rather than distracting myself from it because it's effort, I'm going for total commitment to find pleasure. This is the only way for me to keep it up. I try this with everything I do because I'm not able to keep doing things I don't like. Call it lazy but there's an easier way to do anything, and a way to enjoy it.
A great Kinesiology concept to bring to bear here is one I used for movement analysis. When running, your body is moving forward in what's called the saggital plane (the 2D geometric plane that divides your body into left and right portions, and includes motion from front to back). In order to use your energy effectively all motion of your body should take place in this plane. Nothing should be going side to side or up and down. There will be some twisting going on and that's necessary. Arms are a great example. They can be bent at the elbow tight to your body and moving quickly forward and back, or they can be wide open at the elbow out to your sides and swinging all over the place.
Stand up and try the two. If you just open your arms up and try to swing them back and forth, they create twisting in your trunk and require more work from the shoulders to control. Tight at the elbow, forward and back, you can be almost completely relaxed and move them this way. Good running form is the process of finding every inefficiency like that and eliminating it.
1. Loose loose loose:
Most common areas of tightness, wasted energy, and eventual pain while or after running: shoulders, jaw, hands, feet. A track and field guy once told me to pretend I was holding a potato chip between finger and thumb to keep from clenching. I'd go a step further and say that the only muscles that should be tight at any time are the ones that are working at that moment. Everything else should be flapping around as loose as possible.
-While you're running take an inventory of your body one part at a time. Start from the head and make sure that as you travel down, nothing is tense when it's not working to move you forward. Jaw loose, shoulders relaxed, etc. When you get to the bottom start over, then have a look around.
2. Lean forward:
Stand up, lean forward from your ankles, lean back, then lean forward again until you start to fall forward. This is running. It's not pushing with your quads, jumping, springing off your toes, it's falling forward and catching yourself. Gravity will help you run if you let it. Keep your spine nice and straight and lean from the ankles. Don't fight the ground to move forward.
3. Don't bounce!
Your head should remain level while you're running. If it's going up and down you are wasting your energy. Bend your knees a bit more, see tips 1 and 2, and stop that bobbing. Move forward.
Good running and good living!