Why Don't More Hot Chicks Run Naked?

Badass Barbie?
If I passed you on the trail at my last race you may have heard me singing this song out loud. I feel strong when I'm running the trails these days. And I totally feel empowered at the gym even while I'm in the darkest depths of my pain cave. Well, especially, when I'm in the darkest depths of my pain cave. As a woman I think its important to feel strong, empowered, and maybe a little badass. I look back on my life and wonder why I waited this long to embrace power and strength. Sad thing is, it was there the whole time and I just never really tapped into it like I have recently. Sometimes I wish I could have the last ten years of my life back to do it all over again.

I've been perusing the blogosphere lately and noticing discussions pertaining to women in barefoot/minimalist running. I have to throw my two cents in. But be warned, my two cents has been in a sweaty gym shorts pocket for the duration of my last workover. Yeah. That's right. My two cents will not be sweet and clean. I'm going to be honest here, guys, and some of you will probably flame me for it. I'm OK with that.

The fact that, statistically, women are in the minority in the barefoot and minimal running communities surprises me. Frankly, I had no idea this was the case until I had my interview with Caity McCardell over at Runbarefootgirl.com. Most barefoot and minimal runners I know are female. So my view of numbers is partially skewed. And most of the women I know I met online. The blogs and facebook. That's my sphere. It seems well stocked with women who run barefoot, minimal or both. But, in reality, when I watch the runners coming through the finish line at most of my races (or running on the streets like the heel-striking VFF wearer I saw the other day... ow!) I would have to agree that there are more male minimal runners than female and only a few at that.

Minimal and barefoot running is starting to catch fire, though. The embers are glowing. People actually know and understand what a minimal shoe is when I talk to them, but unfortunately, their knowledge seems to be more limited to the least minimal of shoes. You know? The ones they call minimal but are still cushy, supportive and with an elevated heel. The people I talk to don't get zero-drop yet, especially the women. And when you say "barefoot" I still notice some cringing from my fellow female runners.

So why aren't more women running barefoot or minimal? That seems to be the big question these days. There's been some great discussion about this lack of "womenalism" online and I wanted to share my thoughts.

But, before I launch into my opinion I think its important to understand why women run.

According to the 2010 National Runner Survey about 25% of female runners start running for exercise and about 75% of them keep running to "stay in shape." These are just the "core" runners who train year round, reporting running or jogging an average of 224 days and logging 1,357 miles per year. I would venture to say that the percentage of women trying to stay in shape by running is in reality a lot higher if you include the "average jane" fitness runner who doesn't run as much as the hardcore one. Yeah. I think I qualify for the "slacker runner" category if there is one.

And of those women who run to stay in shape, less than half of them are content with their body weight. Which means the majority of those women are running to maintain body image.

Ladies, as much as we like to think we have moved into an era of acceptance of our own bodies we haven't. Barbie is still bending our body image. We still feel the pressure to be thin, chesty and Victoria Secret beautiful. Some women will go to great lengths to achieve the perfect body and running happens to be the cheapest and most easily accessible form of exercise out there. Women who are on a mission to attain their dream weight will not let anything stand in their way. Not even a minimal shoe or their own bare feet.

Lets be honest. Running barefoot or minimal is not without perceived risk. If women do their homework (and trust me, we are savvy researchers) they learn that they need to ramp up slowly and take it easy. We have to reduce our mileage and speed and take more days off. We realize that we will pretty much have to "start over" with our running and most likely our fitness. Most women aren't willing to risk putting on a few pounds while they transition to a new form of running. And they certainly aren't willing to put themselves at perceived risk of injury that could make them lose grasp on their ultimate goal for an indefinite amount of time.

And what do these women benefit by going minimal or barefoot? Unless they're perpetually injured, like myself, there really is no perceived benefit to switching over. Women tend to be early adopters of technology, but only if it clearly improves their quality of life. I would say the same motivator is there when it comes to running minimally or even running barefoot. First off, running in a minimal shoe or barefoot doesn't make women feel safe from injury and secondly, it puts a tall barrier between them and their fitness goal. That's a double whammy in the wrong direction for the minimal argument in my opinion.

So how do you get women to run barefoot or minimal?

Fuck if I know. But it seems there's work to be done in educating women about minimal and barefoot running. You really have to do a 180 on the entrenched current mindset that big, blocky shoes are best. Once women are educated they need exposure. No. Not the flash-your-titties-and-ass type of exposure. I mean you need to expose women to the idea of minimal or barefoot running by somehow getting them to try it. Just once.


. . . . .
That being said there are a few things that are key with women. 

Women talk. We love to share information. We like to gossip about everything from the  latest lesbian affairs our neighbors are having to the deal we got on jeans. If you can get women talking about something chances are they will become more open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. 

Women are social. We get together. A LOT. Usually to talk about whatever is on our minds. We enjoy the company of other women and look to other women to support us and encourage us. We are our own role models. Throw in a happy hour and we will pretty much open up about anything. I'm just sayin'. 

Women are smart. In general, we are savvy researchers and decision makers. We know how to weigh pros and cons. We generally won't make decisions that could put our health and well-being at risk. 

Women are more apt to try new things if another woman has tried them.  Maybe there's an inherent distrust in men's opinions... well... because they're men. OK. That sounded really sexist. But, lets be honest. Men have different skills, abilities, and a whole different way of thinking. If a woman has tried it, there's more credibility there. Its an apples to apples kind of thing.
. . . . .


So why should women try running barefoot or minimal?

If you ask me, its about empowerment. When you give women a tool and teach them how to use it it makes them stronger. They may choose to use the tool to further their goals or they may decide its not for them and chuck it. And that's perfectly OK because you've empowered women with knowledge, given them a choice and allowed them to make an informed decision. That's power.

What I see happening within the context of barefoot and minimal running is women view the tool itself as a barrier when its really something entirely different. Yeah. That's right. Its not the shoe or running barefoot. Its themselves.

And what's the biggest thing standing in the way of women and this minimal/barefoot empowerment? Body image. As long as we see ourselves as weak and imperfect our goals will reflect that (and trust me, just because you're thin doesn't mean you don't have body image issues.) We will be thinking we need to go to the gym and run for two hours on a treadmill with the cushiest shoes on the market. We won't even give a ten minute barefoot run a chance let alone a ten minute high intensity interval workout with weights. Oh no. That might hurt. And ten minutes will never be enough to get us to our goal. And don't forget we might get injured. And then where will we be? Still ten pounds heavier and back at square one.

Women who run to stay in shape need to let go of the "body image as goal" ideal and just run. Run for fun. Run to explore. Run just for a minute or for an hour. Run 50 meters or 50 miles. Run barefoot. Run in shoes. When we run we can empower ourselves. Running allows us to find little challenges that make us stronger. And we don't have to achieve anything. Just try. Try that hill by your house, or five feet of gravel road barefoot. Or the asphalt bike path, or the single-track trail, or that sandy beach. Just trying makes us stronger.

Once we liberate ourselves from ourselves and stop blocking our own path maybe, just maybe, we can be strong enough to achieve the goals we originally set out to achieve. My suspicion is that by then our goals will have transformed into something much bigger than just looking good in a bikini.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Comments

  1. Wow!! This is so awesome. I just blogged today that I was upset about my major drop in mileage but that I was ok with it because at least I was losing weight. Yikes!! Thanks for being so honest. I think you are right on. I have even tried to go back to my marshmallow shoes just so that I could get in a longer run. Couldn't do it, now that I've been running barefoot and in vibrams it felt totally off. I think that this shift in my footwear is going to be a shift in my thinking about myself as well. I compare it to having my babies. I have had midwife attended births and unassisted births and I felt strong and powerful. I didn't need anything to help I just needed to trust my body to do it. Running without shoes is like that to me. I don't need anything but me to get out and be strong and powerful. Thanks for helping me see this. Again what a great post.

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  2. great post Krista! I think a lot of women are way too worried about how they look when they run and what other people will think! Also a lot of women I know,just don't believe it is better. But impatience is a huge factor--the transitioning

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  3. Love the post. For me, its not about body image or weight increase. The darn vibrams don't fit my feet. I have a bunion on one foot, and stubby little short toes. The vibrams that fit my feet don't fit my toes--i have these long extra flaps of fabric at the end of the toes of any vibrams i've tried. I would LOVE to switch but the product unfortunately, doesn't fit my weird feet. :)

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  4. K - I hear ya! I bought vibrams and I have no idea why since my webbed toes made it painful to wear. Duh. I even modified them hoping they would work which they did... sorta, but I knew they wouldn't be an option for me for some of my longer runs so I gave up on them. I have a bunion as well as Morton's Neuroma. I wear huaraches and Merrell Pace Gloves now which work MUCH better for my feet.

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  5. That is good to know. Which of the two shoes do you like better? I've never heard of huaraches. Do you get them online, at Fleet Feet Roseville? I live very very very close to Rocklin BTW. Only one exit away!

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  6. Oh wow!! You are so close to me!! That's so cool!

    I'm afraid Fleet Feet doesn't sell most minimal footwear (at least not zero drop that I know of yet) I have Invisible Shoe Huaraches. You can buy them online at http://www.invisibleshoe.com/ You can send in a tracing of your foot and they will custom make them for you.

    You could also do a search online for Huaraches. There's a ton of different companies and styles. Luna's are very popular but there's other lesser known companies out there as well.

    When I'm training, if I'm doing any sprinting or hard running I will normally wear my Merrell Pace Gloves. I also wear those for my races. I bought those at REI.

    If I'm doing longer training runs or running for fun (normally 2 miles or more) I often will go completely barefoot or wear the huaraches. Often times I go barefoot and then bring my huaraches with me in case I need them. I run out at Granite Bay a lot and on the western states trails so sometimes those trails can get a little gnarly and I need a little protection if I want to get a solid run in.

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  7. I am sure we've passed each other sometime recently. I'm often out at granite bay. I live only a few miles from Cavitt/Beal's point.

    I think if I was to get some minimal running it would have to be the Merrell's. I've heard good things about them from more than one person. Hmm... I need to make a trip to REI this weekend anyway. :)

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  8. Glad I'm not the only one who thought that women dominated the barefoot running community until I started reading otherwise. Run Smiley is how I've met all my barefoot friends, and that skewed towards the female side of the equation -- you, Katie, Vanessa, Shelly, etc. Even having read the articles, I still don't actually get it. I don't see barefoot running as "masculine" (and neither does my former-marine brother-in-law, who teases me about my 'hippy running'). I see it as sensual, a connection to nature and your body, two concepts I think of as things that women are generally more open to.

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  9. I am not a barefoot runner but I don't mind those that do it as long as they have followed the proper technique to get there. Too many of my friends just went out and ran barefoot and became injured and didn't know why. Doh! :)

    And BTW - we run on the same trails (or did when I was trail running more). I wonder how many times we've passed each other! I live in EDH ... but run over near GB often ... and up in Auburn.

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  10. Oh and not to mention how many times we've must have been at Prairie City the same time. :)

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  11. You know what's interesting about this? I used to run to keep in shape or whatever. It wasn't that much fun and I didn't love it. Then I discovered natural running and I started running for completely different reasons. I may have gained some weight since I started my BF/minimal running adventure (proud member of the perpetually injured club), but now I LOVE running. I do it for fun, for experience, for social reasons and to be a badass. THAT's empowerment.

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  12. barefootmonologues - THAT's what I'm talking about!!! Nice to hear you are empowered by the joy of running now and how its opened so many more experiences up for you!

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