My 90 Days of Natural Running

No, I am not planning to run naked for the next 90 days...

Something has to budge.  I refuse to acknowledge that the wear and tear of 105 ultramarathons is why my knees hurt.  It has to be my shoes.  It looks like the one extreme of running barefoot has moved far enough toward the other extreme of running in climbing boots for me to try something a bit different.

"Natural running" is the term that is gaining ground on "barefoot running".  This mostly because "natural running" accepts that shoes are not our enemies.  

I've got nothing against running barefoot.  It's just not practical.  I don't have a beach in my backyard, I have trails and roads.  Even if I did live on a beach, there would still be practical challenges like sharp shells and glass, so no point in adding lacerated feet to my list of athletic injuries.

Since reading Born to Run a few years ago, I've seen quite a few very solid runners adopt Vibram 5-Fingers.  These pals have gone from wearning bomber trail shoes like the Montrail Hardrocks (which are out there near hiking boots) to wearing their web feet all day, every day.  They have become zealots who preach about the way these things have changed their lives every time I see them.  So, when I heard of a seminar Dave Cressman at Distance Runware in Vancouver was putting on, a seminar where participants could try these funky hybrid shoe things, I figured, "Why not give them a try."  

This seminar was an eye opener.  I came away with two things in particular:

  • I should look at natural running as a different sport than the running I have come to know through 36 marathons, 7 Ironmans, 105 ultras and a lot of training.  Think:  "my" running is skiing and natural running is snowboarding.  Both are sliding snow sports, but they involve different tools and techniques
  • It's OK to do both ("my" running and natural running) at the same time.  Think:  Its not necessary to become a total convert in order to reap the benefits.  In fact, both "my" running and natural running should be practised in tandem

I recently had a birthday.  A pair of Vivo Barefoot shoes (above) came into my life.  Since I didn't pay for them, I figure its OK to kick the crap out of them.  So, for the next 90 days, I'm going to shape my life around them... and log my experience here, just in case you were wondering about natural running, as well.

Enjoy my journey! 



Ean Jackson's picture


I started this personal evaluation on 26 November 2012.  It's now 28 February 2013, so my 90 days are up.

Factoid:  my Achilles tendon is giving me grief.  It's not so bad that I can't run, but it's bad enought that I don't dare run much for fear of making it worse.

Do I find myself injured because of the natural running experiment?  

Not sure.  I mixed it up with my other running shoes (trail shoes, road shoes, old shoes, light shoes, bomber shoes).  Have done a lot of skiing.  Also, may simply be that I'm falling apart due to years of abuse?  (sigh...)

As my buddy Dave Cressman said when he got me all excited about natural running, it's different.  As soon as I get over this Achilles challenge, I plan to continue weaving natural running into my running.  

I hope my experiment helps you with your decision-making.  Good luck!

Ean Jackson 


kcongra's picture

Achilles and minimal

I found an awesome shoe for running on the road and when I saw the trail version I didn't hesitate to buy it and wear it and since it was gortex wear it a lot in the last few months. Back into my road shoes for a fun 5k and my Achilles was ready to kill me. I had noticed them getting a bit annoying but didn't pay attention (bad me). Put the two shoes side by side and the trail version looked like I was running in heels. @#$@ So after that and your experience - I'm getting something even flatter and working harder at stretching out all those tendons and muscles. Being short and female, I've worn high heels all my life so I'm used to having to stretch out that area but it never dawned on me how quickly it happens or how little difference it takes to cause problems. As I'm still doing shorter runs as I work back into it this is perfect timing. Thanks for sharing your fun


Ean Jackson's picture

High heels

Hey Kristie,

Can't say I have a lot of experience wearing high heels, but I was out again today for a short run in the "natural" runners even thought my Achilles is still giving me some grief.  I can't point to a particular type of shoe (support vs no support) as being the problem, so suspect it's just the change and swapping back and forth that's the issue.  We shall overcome!

Ean Jackson's picture

Day 15 - Friday 1 February

Took a little hyatus there...

40 minutes today.  Easy pace.  Right achilles tendon acting-up.  Don't think I can blame it on the shoes.  Shuffle-on!

Ean Jackson's picture

Day 14 - Friday 18 January

Fog burned-off by 12:30, so figured this might be the last time in a long time to work the tan.  45 minutes on the street.  Started on a steep uphill and felt the right achilles.  I get the feeling I'm running slower in these shoes.

Ean Jackson's picture

Day 12 - Thursday 17 January

Another lovely day... and I almost missed it because of meetings and phone calls.  It was 3:30 before I was able to get away.  Got 30 minutes in.   

Ean Jackson's picture

Day 11 - Sunday 13 January

Let the sunshine in (again!)  Faced with a major dilemma... do I go for a longer run in regular shoes or set a new personal best for consistency and go natural for the 5th day in a row?  A true runner would do both, but I have pine needles to clean up and other chores to do.  Ended up going 30 minutes in the ballet shoes.  No stiffness from the longer run yesterday.  I think I am getting the hang of it!

Ean Jackson's picture

Day 10 - Saturday 12 January

Another sunny day.  Thought I'd go for 30 minutes with the wifey and encourage her marathon training program.  Almost didn't get out the door because of Endomundo... but finally got it updated on my droid smartphone and figured I'd tray again after a 2 year hyatus. Paid no attention to Silicon Sally as she mumbled something about "lost signal" from my back pocket.  Marvelled at the palm trees along my route.   Slow run.  Didn't notice the time until I checked in with Endomundo at finish:  Just over an hour.  I think I am going to hurt tomorrow!

Ean Jackson's picture

Day 9 - Friday 11 January

The sun was out again, so I promised self I'd enjoy it for at least 30 minutes.  Meetings, telephone calls almost kyboshed my plans, but did get out for 30 minutes for a flat-footed jog around the neighbourhood streets.  Felt something in right Achilles, otherwise felt fine.

Ean Jackson's picture

Day 8 - Thursday 10 January

After weeks of gray and rain, the sun broke through today.  Snuck out for a short nooner in shorts, a t-shirt and the Vivo shoes for about 30 minutes on the road.  

Tried to focus on foot-plant (e.g. not hammering heel into pavement or landing too far on forefoot, thereby insuring I won't be able to walk tomorrow.)

Ean Jackson's picture

Day 7 - Wednesday 2 January

Took it easy at the Vancouver NY Day Fat Ass 50 yesterday and only did about 20K.  Wore regular road shoes, so figured it was OK to get back on the natural running program today.

25 minutes, mostly on sidewalks.  Felt "natural"!


Ean Jackson's picture

Day 6 - Saturday 29 December

Took me a while to get going again after Day 5 natural running debacle.   Some people just don't learn...

Intended to go for a short run with a few stops to wish friends a happy new year.  Everything went according to plan.  Total time in the shoes was just over an hour with only 25-30 minutes spent running.  

Why did it feel as if someone hit me in the lower legs with a baseball bat when I got home?  By the time I arrived at a party a couple of hours later, I could hardly walk!

Oddly enough, the stiffness went away after a glass of hearty Australian cabernet sauvignon and about 50 heel drops.  Didn't feel any residual stiffness today when running in regular shoes.

Happy new year!

Ean Jackson's picture

Day 5- Sunday 23 December


A break in the weather.  A pause between Christmas parties.  One must be opportunistic!  

With work, last minute shopping and social functions, running time was in short supply this week.  Had a fair few rich nibblies and fine craft ales at parties, so felt the need to run it off.  This, I believe, was the cause of my misfortune...

Today, walking is difficult.  My lower calf and upper Achilles tendons remind me that one pays the next day for natural running mistakes made the day before.

It felt so good just being out for a run, I forgot about the time.  In fact, I forgot to wear my watch, so I don't know how long I ran.  I suspect it was 45-50 minutes, though:  a least 15 minutes longer than I should have been out in these shoes.  It's not as if I wasn't warned!

Merry Christmas.

Ean Jackson's picture

Day 4 - Sunday 16 December

Yikes.  Got whacked by a cold.  It's been a week since I've done any running at all... and barely managed to get my sorry ass out of the door this morning.

Started my 20-minute jog on a fairly wide, well trodden trail.  Perhaps because I was cold and a bit miserable, I felt the stones underfoot a lot more than I did the last time on the same trail with these shoes.  Opted-out of the trail and continued on city sidewalk.  Took the better part of 10 minutes and a few bone-jarring heel plants before I could find my natural running shuffle.  

Felt great to be running again!

Ean Jackson's picture

Day 3 - Friday 7 December

The skies cleared this afternoon.  I pounced on the opportunity to go for a natural run, as it has been a while.  

Forgot my annual membership dues for the Capilano Eagles running club these past few weeks so figured I'd deliver the check personally.  Took the back roads up to my pal Dominic's place and back.  A snow-capped Grouse Mountain framed by a clear, deep blue sky kept me inspired.  Didn't even think about the fancy footware or my shuffle-like gait.  

Rick Arikado's picture

Did 7 days make one weak?

So, how did the first week end? I would think that as you build the miles (even slowly) you will feel it most at your weakest point, which for you I believe is your calf muscles. Considering your history of injuries in that specific location, I would advise even slower than the recommended transition.

My transition has been ongoing for about 5 years,  as is my continued support of many shoe companies. Listed are ONLY those with low heel, no space left under the bed for more shoes:

Late 2007 Newton Distance (road)

Late 2008 Newton Gravity (road)

2010 Vibram Five Finger KSOs (trail)

2011 Saucony Fastwitch 4's (road, higher heel but very thin)

2011 New Balance MT10 (trail)

2012 New Balance MT110 (trail)

2012 Saucony Kinvara 2 zero drop (road)

2012 La Sportiva Vertical K (trail) minimalist according to their website, 4mm drop with lots of protection, favorite so far

Ean Jackson's picture

Ha ha

I went skiing on the weekend and that took the stuffing out of me.  Did intervals tonite in road shoes, so haven't put my flat feet back on.  Hope to get out in them tomorrow.  Watch your back, bro!


teagirl's picture

shoesie shoes

Hey Jackson,

My $5 Sally Ann specials are finally biting the dust, so I've switched to some super-flat Pumas (purchased in Hong Kong about 10 years ago, been sitting in a closet since then) which are actually working really well for my 2x/week 12k road+trail run. At the moment I don't really get to run much more than that (due to baby duties... silly babies with their weak necks so you can't run with them on my kinda trails...!) so these are working just fine.

So, what's been going on since day 2 of your new adventure??

$5 Sally Ann shoes:

"New" Pumas (so fancy... bit flimsy though, the fabric prob won't last long, also what's with the super-long laces??):

I wouldn't mind trying some of the newer shoes meant for minimalist running, except when you've been running in $5 shoes for 2 years it's really hard to contemplate spending ~$100 on new shoes!! :)

Ean Jackson's picture

I think

you and I are what running shoe manufacturers fear.  

I'll bet we could start a cult that would soom rival barefoot running in popularity.  Call it "recycled running", for those who buy Sally Ann reruns, "long may she run" for those who insist on getting at least 7,500 kilometers out of a pair of shoes before retiring them to yardwork or just, "Sustainable running".  


Ean Jackson's picture

Day 2 - Tues 27 November


Tuesday evenings are an intervals workout with the Capilano Eagles running club.  Given that a typical run is about an hour, I opted out of using the new shoes.

I did use the shoes for running errands, though.  Since it is time-in-shoes, I'm going to count non-running activites as well.

So, I did several errands that involved getting in/out of car, walking short distances and wearing at meetings.  Found myself wanting to do toe raises at the bank machine and stretch-out the calves at a stand-up gettogether.

No stiffness at all from my workout yesterday.  So far, so good.

teagirl's picture

using both pairs

also wanted to mention: when I was working up to minimalist / natural running, I would often take both pairs with me & switch partway (start minimal, switch to "normal" if getting sore feet, switch back to minimal when tired b/c they force me to run more carefully thus less likely to injure myself!)

Sibylle's picture

...and sometimes leaving

...and sometimes leaving packs with shoes and clothes on the side of the trail to pick up on the return trip...only to scare unsuspecting friends into wondering what happened to the owner of the pack ;-)


pace vs distance

I've been moving towards minimal running for a years now. I was up to one 12k run/wk in vibrams and one track session/wk compeletely barefoot (in the grassy area). I was slowly ramping up my minimal/barefoot running so I wouldn't get injured. What I didn't realize was that the minimal training was changing my foot strike even when I was in my trail shoes (Brooks Cascadias). I came off a 3 hr trail run (short by my standards) with a calf injury that lasted nearly 8wks. The problem was I had become a forefoot runner, but my calves weren't ready for that much distance.

Another thing I noticed since I've started back training with my Fives recently, if I do a very easy 40min run in Fives, I don't feel anything the next day. If I go out and hammer a 40min run, my calves will be tight for the next week or longer.

Anyway, blah blah blah..... I believe part of natural running is really about listening to your body as you ramp up. If your calves start to tighten up during a run, don't suck it up and persist like you would during a race. Don't be afraid to walk home.

I look forward to hearing about your progress.


Ean Jackson's picture


The good thing about taking a seminar on the topic is that it helps set expectations better than the person at the point of sale (e.g. shoe salesperson.)  I was warned to *not* run more than 30 minutes or so initially, so will go slow.  

Molasses... as in "slow as..."

Great to see you going after this Ean. I'd keep it to 30 minutes for a while and remember your Cadence (45 right foot plants in 30 seconds). You are on track to another 105 ultras...


Ean Jackson's picture

Natural Running Video

This running doctor gives an overview of what "natural running" is all about.  It's about 8 minutes long:
Ean Jackson's picture

Day 1 - Monday 26 November

Went for a 35 minute loop around my neighborhood.  Moderate pace.  Some pavement, Mostly tame trails.  

Felt a bit weird not having a heel.  Tried to remember what Dave said in his seminar about using a more shuffle-like motion.  I felt every gravel-sized rock through the thin sole.  

In my run log, 35 minutes is a pitifully short jaunt.  I am heeding Dave's recommendation to take it slow, however.  My expectations are that it will take a lot of short runs in these shoes to allow my body and my run style to adapt... possibly as long as 3 months to get up to a 2 hour run. 

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