This interview was conducted by Reginald Myers, a public relations intern at the University.
In the sport of running, where a large majority of participants suffer from various injuries due to conventional but poor running technique, an old art is resurfacing. The popularity of minimalist or “barefoot running” is on the rise. This style helps runners achieve a quicker turnover since there is less time between strides because runners are running on their forefoot, which in turn leads to a lower rate of injury. Runners participating in barefoot running wear no shoes or low cushion shoes, causing the brain to instruct the feet to strike on the forefoot instead of the heel.
There are currently only 58 certified Vivobarefoot running coaches in the world, and one of them is USciences’ Karin Richards, interim chair of the Department of Kinesiology and program director of health sciences, as well as an American Council on Exercise (ACE) certified personal trainer and group exercise instructor. I caught up with Richards to learn more about the practice as well as to discuss her recent achievement and future plans.
1. How did you learn about barefoot running, and how does barefoot running differ from conventional running?
I knew about the concept of barefoot running, but I didn’t start seriously investigating it until the ACE, which has an educational partnership with the Department of Kinesiology, announced it was looking for candidates to be certified as Biomechanically Correct Running Coaches. Conventional running is performed with a cushioned shoe to decrease shock absorption. Most conventional “untrained” runners run with a heel strike, which slows the turnover rate and causes as many as 80% of runners to suffer injuries (van Gent et al, 2010). Cushioned shoes can also lead to Morton’s neuroma and bunions (Saxby, 2013). Barefoot or minimalist running offers a forefoot strike with shorter strides and quicker turnover of the feet.
2. What piqued your interest in barefoot running?
Aside from wanting to become a coach, I was ready to explore something new. Being a marathon runner myself, I have suffered many of the common running injuries including tight Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), runner’s knee, partial tear of the soleus, etc. I knew heel strikes are actually “breaking” motions, which are counterproductive when running. Barefoot running changes the posture and rhythm of the runner to improve the efficiency, relaxation and enjoyment of running.
3. How much research did you do before officially making the decision?
I did a significant amount of research. However, the intense, hands-on training and education I received in San Diego from Vivobarefoot backed by distinguished Harvard professors such as Dan Lieberman, professionals Lee Saxby, the “father” of barefoot running, and Ben Le Vesconte solidified my desire to pursue Barefoot Coaching. I knew I had to pursue it, especially since the data was backed by distinguished Harvard professors such as Dan Lieberman.
4. How long have you been certified?
I became certified on Saturday, Sept. 28 as a Master Trainer for the American Council on Exercise for Biomechanically Correct Running Technique, and then on Nov. 6 as a Vivobarefoot Coach.
5. What was the process to becoming a coach like?
The process involved five very intense, eight-hour days and hands-on educational and participatory sessions. Coaches “master the skill of barefoot running, learn proper techniques to diagnose and correct running form, and undergo extensive training in biomechanics to comprehend the physical and mental components” (Vivobarefoot Training Clinic, 2013). We learned everything about barefoot running including the correct running technique, kinetics and kinematics of running, jumping, squatting, and all of the other exercises involved in barefoot running. At the end, all of the participants have to pass a rigorous written and practical exam to get certified.
6. What do you plan to do now since you are certified? Do you plan to do anything at the University involving barefoot running?
I will be teaching at training clinics in the Northeast through ACE to educate other runners in the proper biomechanics of running. At the University, I will be conducting research with our students and sports teams.
7. Where do you see barefoot running in one year? Where do you see it in five?
Barefoot running will continue to increase in popularity as it is a simple and inexpensive activity. Starting with a 5K race to a marathon, running is a sport everyone can do. As Vivobarefoot coach Lee Saxby states, “Running is a skill…and humans were made for endurance running.”