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!

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3 thoughts on “Reader Experience: From Barefoot Running to Nike Free”

  1. Hi Katie,
    Most likely culprit (imho) is that the heel of that shoe is raised instead of flat. Basically you are now standing with more weight on your forefoot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a flat shoe would be better for you.
    Did you experience the same problems with shin splint with the Vibram FiveFingers or the beach socks? (I realise you did not like those, for other reasons; just trying to figure out what may cause the shin splint)
    I can’t recommend another flat shoe for you than the ones you’ve already tried (so ask others that have experience with a flat barefoot running shoe.

    Good luck finding something that works for you, and if all else fails, know that I envy you for that beach 😉

  2. Dear Katie,

    barefoot running on pavement is actually a transition you have to make gradually. GRADUALLY. …As in, over a couple of months. The mistake most people make is that they don’t make the transition properly. It is recommended that people begin with NO MORE THAN 1 km three times a week for the FIRST week only! You can increase gently after that. It took me about 2 months to work my way up to 12 km, and now I run regularly in both my Nike Frees and my Vibram FiveFingers.

    Running barefoot on sand, though it is barefoot, is very different from running on pavement. Though running on sand allows your feet to go through the natural full range of motion, the impact is drastically lessened. Sand is deceptive and because of the shift of grains under the foot, your weight is displaced differently than on pavement.

    I urge you to try again, but with a MUCH slower transition. A couple of months is a LONG time to get running to where you are and can be discouraging, but your patience will pay off. And… you are DEFINITELY NOT too heavy! 😉

  3. I have a couple of thoughts, but I am just speculating.

    First, I think that Alexa is right about slow transitioning onto pavement because of the difference in impact and weight displacement differences. Secondly, are you certain that you are landing with a midfoot or forefoot strike? Running in the sand allows for a heel-strike form to be comfortable and safe because there’s not the same kind of impact as running on pavement.

    I know it may not be worth it for you to work to running on pavement because the sand is so close, but if you do I would say gradually work into it and be careful of your form. If you’re doin those two things then I have no idea what the problem is, but maybe someone wiser than me will chime in.

    Good luck!


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