Reader Experience: From Barefoot Running to Nike Free

This user experience review and images are from one of our reader’s Katie, we thought that she had a unique perspective of barefoot running since she started out her hobby of running on the beach barefoot then changed to Nike Frees (a personal favorite of mine):

“I live on the beach and run barefoot on the sand – two to three miles, about four to five times a week. I just started running a few years ago and started out barefoot on the sand so I’m not someone who went through the conversion from shoe/street to barefoot. The only other time I enjoyed running was as a kid when we lived in Africa and never wore shoes (except to school or for church). Even in school we could do Phys Ed barefoot. When my family moved to colder shoe-necessary climate I hated how running felt with shoes so I stopped.

Since I started beach running, I have done a bunch of 5K events. I haven’t found any that happen on sand so I need pavement-friendly shoes. The sand doesn’t toughen up my feet and I have no desire to risk cuts from the party-debris that usually litters our neighborhood streets– so training barefoot on streets is out. I also hate how shoes feel and do not want to have to do a lot of pavement re-training with whatever I wear for the races.

Before Nike Frees I tried two other barefoot-like products that did not work. First I tried the ones with distinct toes and they felt a bit like I was running with those toe separators for manicures. Ugh. Secondly, I tried the beach socks, figuring that I did not mind if I wrecked them after just a couple of pavement runs. The problem there was that the side seams connecting the footpad material with the sock’s sides ended up irritating the outer edges of the bottom of my foot. I tried a larger size the next time and same problem. Dumped those.

I am now using Nike Frees and so far they are the best, but still not great. When I first got them, to break them in I wore them as every day, walk around town shoes. They immediately felt comfy and my only “complaint” is that for everyday wear they are not very cool looking – kind of dorky. But, no rubbing or chafing anywhere, no blisters, so thumbs up out the gate.

Nike Free plusses: First, there is ample room for the toe and ball of the foot so the front of my feet do not feel constrained. Second, the material on the top of the shoe is a bit stretchy and so there is room for the front of my feet to flex like they do on the sand, without being pressed in or down. Third, the laces are offset to one side, which seemed odd at first, but then when I ran I discovered that the side-lacing means that nothing is pressing down on my arch – something completely unexpected (and that I had never noticed on any other shoe) and I really liked how it felt. Fourth, my heel fit perfectly and when laced up not too tightly the shoes stay on my feet comfortably. Finally I have not gotten any blisters or chaffing. Yay.

Now the BIG minus on the Nike Frees: I get shin splints – not terrible, but they are there and I NEVER have them on the sand. I have run three 5Ks with the Airs and the first time I had only done one practice run on pavement so I figured it was my fault for not gradually getting used to them. The second 5K I did three pavement-training runs with them: a one mile, then two mile, then three mile. On the third prep run I started feeling the beginning of splints – then full on splints after the race. Third 5K w/ the Airs I did two weeks of pavement training – going up half a mile at a time & same result – splints. Someone told me I was getting them because I’m too heavy: 5’4” & 120lbs doesn’t seem too heavy to me. Maybe there’s something weird about how I run. Not having any ankle or knee problems with the airs, just shin…

Am not sure what to try next. Or whether I should just give up on 5Ks until I find one on the beach…”

Thanks Katie!

For more information on Nike Free Shoes, click here.