Why natural running?

My name is Tim. I am a runner. I am an orienteer. I prefer to run off road. This is my blog about my transition into natural running. This is where I explore and review the various barefoot, minimalist and natural running shoes on the ‘barefoot’ market, along with any other interesting running stuff I come across along the way.

BloggingJogging barefoot

Firstly, let me just clarify something. Jogging. I don’t jog. I run. It’s just unfortunate that running doesn’t rhyme with blogging.

I had always made the distinction between the two as jogging being a recreational leisure activity enjoyed by people who feel they ought to do a form of light exercise to justify an otherwise sedentary and indulgent lifestyle, whereas running is a more committed, competitive form of the same thing, for which one trains and takes seriously.
More recently I have come across a more scientific distinction. Running is what the human body in its current form evolved to do so that we as a species could survive. It involves making use of the body’s natural shock absorbing mechanism through the forefoot, ankles and legs, and it involves a light-footed, fast-paced, smooth and efficient running motion. Jogging didn’t exist until the last half-century when the advent of heavily cushioned running shoes allowed us to land on our heels. Those shoes have become the norm and we have inadvertently adapted our running style to one of jogging, in which we land on our heels, take longer strides, bounce up and down more, and consequently lose the efficiency of natural running.

Running is the real thing. Although very few of us these days run to survive, it remains in our nature and in our physiology. Most people just don’t know it or don’t want to know it because they’re perfectly happy not running in a modern world in which there is generally no actual need to run.

Yes of course I’ve read Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, and I find his message most compelling. I’m no sports scientist but I love running and have done for as long as I can remember. I’m no champion runner, but I’m fairly good at it. I’m no girl, but I like shoes. Running shoes.

BloggingJogging barefootAfter many years of running and competing (mostly off-road, I hasten to add) while tolerating a recurring pain in my calves, I was starting to get concerned about the lack of benefit I seemed to be getting from ‘specialist’ sports shops who analyse my gait to identify the most cushioned and supportive (and seemingly most expensive) shoe for my ailment. None of these expensive gimmicky shoes improved my pain. If anyone’s interested, the pain was in my soleus muscles (the soleus is the muscle in the calf that lies beneath the main gastrocnemius muscle), and would ache for several days after a long tempo run or after a hill race.

I’d heard about barefoot, or minimalist, or natural running but had never really considered it as an option in the modern built environment. However, I was drawn to the idea of it and I found several convincing accounts of how this is the way were designed to run, and that shoes with cushioning are a very modern, and perhaps even wrong, idea. Maybe my aching calves are due to them being weak after a lifetime of wearing deeply cushioned shoes. If I train myself to run barefooted maybe my calves will strengthen, as they have to do to permit the change in running style, and will become strong enough for the pain to stop.

That’s when I discovered the world of ‘barefoot shoes’ – shoes that enable you to run as if barefooted; with no cushioning underfoot, with your heels flat to the ground, landing on the forefoot, and generally being more efficient. These shoes promised to allow me to develop this natural running style to hopefully rid my calves of the aching, and would answer my concerns about running in my bare feet in a built-up environment. Maybe I might even get faster in the process.

My journey began with inov-8 because I liked them and was used to them. They had for a long time made minimalist off road shoes but by coincidence were at that time launching a new range of minimalist road shoes accompanied by a training programme to guide you through the transition from ‘normal’ running to natural or barefoot running.

After ‘transitioning’ for a couple of years through inov-8’s shoes and programme, and having left my old cushioned shoes for dust, I started to explore other brands of minimalist and barefoot footwear, each with their own approach to barefoot running.

This blog is about my journey through all of these shoes on and off the road to natural running. I hope it offers readers something of an insight into the transition period as well as some assistance by providing opinion on the various shoes that are available. A lot of the shoe reviews have featured in CompassSport, the national orienteering magazine for Great Britain.

All of the footwear I have reviewed has been given to me by their respective manufacturers for which I receive no reward or payment, apart from of course the vast number shoes that now outnumbers my wife’s collection. I am grateful to the following companies for their generous support: inov-8, Vivobarefoot, Merrell, Asics, Salomon, XeroShoes, Icebug, Freet.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment on the blog or write to me privately via the form below.

Tim Britton



12 thoughts on “Why natural running?

    • Hi Mike (or is it Ollie?), thanks for reading my blog. I’m probably about half way to your total – more shoes than my wife has! The F-lites are one of the inov-8 range that I haven’t tried, although I know a lot of people who do use them. I guess what’s ‘practical’ for your lovely dry, loose, sandy, rocky trails is quite different from what’s practical for our wet, muddy, slippery, sludgy, boggy British footpaths. Cheers, Tim

  1. For the entertainment of the barefoot running community, I thought some of you might like to see this wee blog on barefoot running and low carb / low salt diet, as practiced by a Scotsman in 1709! Some interesting things on trying to get him to wear shoes once found, but the comments on diet and his great condition obviously appealed to the captain of the ship. Enjoy : )

    A snippet: “When his powder failed he took them by speed of foot; for his way of living, and continued exercise of walking and running, cleared him of all gross humours, so that he run with wonderful swiftness through the woods, and up the rocks and hills, as we perceived when we employed him to catch goats for us. We had a bull dog, which we sent with several of our nimblest runners to help him catch goats; but he distanced and tired both the dog and men, catched the goats and brought ‘em to us on his back.”


  2. Tim, can you pass this to BOK members please?
    Endurance Event in the South of England.
    Wessex OC believe there is sufficient interest in Long Distance Challenge events (such as Mountain Marathons etc.) to justify staging such an event in the Autumn of 2015 (and annually thereafter if successful). But before we put a lot of effort in we need to know if it would be supported. The event would take place in the New Forest using suitable mapping. Date likely to be mid October (i.e. a couple of weeks before the OMM to give a perfect training opportunity). Course distances probably between 15k and 30 km to give a choice for all abilities but plenty of scope for those wanting a tough, long day on their feet.
    If you think this is something you would like to see happen please email your support to:
    mf.jason@gmail.com before the end of March this year. This does not commit you to entering but gives us an idea of whether or not it is worth putting in a lot of effort to stage this event

  3. i just started running last year, in a very nice pair of Merrell Pace Gloves. it works great, but now my feet get a more natural shape it is harder to find everyday shoes that are flat/thin soled en fit my natural foot shape. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Laura and thanks for writing. I too noticed my feet had adopted a new shape after about a year. They seem a little bit smaller, like a half size smaller, yet a bit wider.

      I can certainly suggest some natural/barefoot shoes for everyday wear, but I have only tried and tested men’s shoes. In no particular order, Vivobarefoot do a range of natural fitting shoes with wide toe boxes and totally flat thin soles. I wear the Men’s Gobi every day for work.

      Also Merrell do a range of everyday shoes in their barefoot range. I have reviewed the men’s Excursion Glove and love them. They’re nice and wide at the front and have a totally flat sole that, as the name suggests, fits like a glove.

  4. Hi I was searching for articles on Inov 8 and came across your blog. I like to know what shoes you are wearing in that picture up there? The rubbery blue ones with 5 toes? Thank you!

      • Thanks for the link and the name of the shoes. I read your review and some other reviews on them. I guess they aren’t so great performance wise. They look really fun though.
        Do you have any reviews written on the Inov-8 Lite 195 or Sockwa G models?
        Thank you.

      • I’ve not personally tested the Inov-8 F-lite 195s or any of that range, but I know a good number of people who get on well with them. Re the Sockwa, I’d not even heard of them before now so I can’t help you there either! They look interesting though, and probably similar to the Freet 4+1s that I recently reviewed.

  5. Hi Tim do you think Columbia conspiracy ii would be ok for trail running? The sort of places I run include Clevedon woods and recently a friend took me on a really muddy route there so I fancy something a bit more appropriate than standard trainers.

    • Hi Steve, I’m not overly familiar with Columbia footwear, but looking at their website I’d say they’ll be pretty good for general muddy conditions. Better than ‘standard’ trainers anyway. There are outdoor shops aplenty in the Lake District, especially Ambleside. All you need now is something like a special birthday as an excuse to get a new pair…

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