Book Review: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Barefoot Running

Welcome to Part II of Review Week! Since my actual running has been greatly reduced through the combined forces of summer heat and stay-at-home-daddom (mainly the latter), I figured that since I don’t have a lot of runs to write about, I could take advantage of that fact and review a bunch of running stuff that’s I’ve acquired lately. The other day I gave my impressions of my Invisible Shoes. Today, I’m reviewing The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Barefoot Running.

First, a quick shout-out to Vanessa Runs for providing my copy of the book. She needed to farm out some reviews, and I volunteered to take one off her hands – free book for me, free review for her, good deal all around. Okay, on to the review.

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I should start by saying I’m generally prejudiced against these sort of book: Complete Idiots Guide To Macramé and other Out of Date Folk Art, Sword Swallowing For Dummies, Slack-lining While Blindfold for the Utterly Moronic and Socially Hopeless, et cetera. I dislike their condescending (and unfunny) cartoons, their inane icons to “help guide” you through the book, and the endless parade of poitless asides (“Did you know? The term ‘slack-lining’ comes from the terms ‘slack’ and ‘line’ and refer to the fact that the line you balance on isn’t taut, but slack.”)

So I didn’t exactly get into the book with high hopes, but since I’m sort of in the midst of my bare-foot running obsession, I thought I’d give it a shot. My first impressions wasn’t exactly favorable, since the cover photo has a picture of a man running in the sand, and he appears to be heel striking with a stiff, unbent lead leg. Which, if you’ve spent 30 seconds googling “barefoot running form,” is a horrible way to run, and one of the reasons everyone tells you NOT to start barefoot running in sand, as it promotes poor form. A minor detail, since its just the cover, but that seems a bit sloppy and careless, since it is, well, the cover.

Overall, however, the book wasn’t bad, and had quite a bit of useful information. There were some good barefoot drills, some great stretching exercises, and some useful advice on running uphill and downhill without shoes. However, that took up a grand total of 95 of the books 335 pages.

That’s one of my problems with the Utterly Incompetent Moron style of books – there is always a LOT of padding, and I admit I skimmed like crazy. 32 pages on “Why Barefoot Running is Good and Won’t Kill You,” 11 pages on the “Evolution of Evil Shoes,” 13 pages Shooting Down Perceived Barriers to Barefoot Running,” 22 pages on “Minimal Footwear,” and other things that weren’t bad per se, bur sort of pointless, and adds up to a lot of wasted space. Does it really take over 50 pages to discuss creating a barefoot training plan and running your first race?

While some of the material was pure space-filler, I skimmed so much because none of it was new to me. And that brings up my biggest question with this book: who is its audience? Barefoot running might be a bit of a fad right now, but its still limited to a pretty devoted, fringe audience, and one that seems to do quite a bit of self-education. I guess if you’ve just seen one News 7 special on “Barefoot Running: Is it Just for Crazy Hippy Nut Jobs?” and that’s the first time you’ve heard of barefoot running and your intrigued (and you don’t have access to the internet), this book would be perfect for you – after all, all the information in it seems good. But if you’ve done even a little poking around the internet to read about barefoot running, natural running form, or running in minimalist shoes, you’ve probably come across everything this book has to offer. Warm-ups? Check. Stretching exercises? Check. Nutrition for running? Check, and is that any different for a barefoot runner? None of it was new to me, and I’d mainly cobbled together my knowledge from various message boards, web-sites, and videos. Go to the Vivobarefoot Training Clinic site, watch their videos, and download their handbook, “Proprioception – Making Sense of Barefood Running.” Then head over to the Natural Running Store’s channel on YouTube for some of the clearest, easiest to follow videos on barefoot running and drills for natural running form.  If you want an actual guide, go to Barefoot Running University and download Jason Robillard’s excellent “The Barefoot Running Book.” It’s about half as long as this, and really gets to the things you need to know.

If you need a physical book to hold in your hand, and need to check it out of your local library or buy it from your local Barns & Noble, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Barefoot Running is a perfectly fine way to go. I just see barefoot and minimal running as being about sweeping away the inessentials, and for me that would include this book.

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About Chris Van Dyke

I am a 33 year-old high school English teacher and long-distance runner. I live in Brooklyn with my partner, our 3 year-old son and 1 year-old daughter and a growing collection of muppets and trains. Besides running and teaching I like to draw, read, write, cook, and play the harmonica. While I didn't get to run my first ultra-marathon on my birthday, I've got a few more I've set my sights on. You can follow my (seldom updated) twitter feed @aboutrunning. I also blog as part of the Run Smiley Collective.
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