Interview With Caitlin Thayer: Trailblazer’s Sponsored “Barefoot Runner”

Caitlin Thayer is a barefoot runner with experience many of us haven’t come across yet with barefoot running. She made the switch to Vibrams last year and has gone through what I can only call, “The Process,” a bit sooner than I and so many of us. So, she took the time to explain how the transition was, how she came upon it, and her present day sessions with barefoot running. – Tony

What made you want to get into Barefoot running?

I started running in April of 2009 because I was training for my first 3-Day for the Cure event and after a while, I got tired of walking. I’ve never considered myself a runner, but I figured I’d give it a shot and see what happened. I did my first 5k in July 2009 and was completely hooked. So, for the rest of the year, I ran in my sneakers, and by October, when I walked in the 3-Day, I started having a lot of knee pain.

Last Spring (2010), I read Born to Run and was fascinated by the idea of running barefoot, or running in Vibram’s. He talked so much about how running barefoot would help absorb the shock created by running and had helped a lot of runners with their injuries and pain. It didn’t take long for me to want to try it out, so I looked on the Vibram website for places in Connecticut that carried them and came across, Trailblazer. I drove down one day and bought a pair of Classics, and the rest is history.

What barefoot shoes have you tried and do you think there are major differences in the styles?

At this point, I’ve only tried Vibrams. I’ve run in the Classics, the TrekSports and the Bikilas. Different styles of Vibrams definitely feel differently when you’re running in them. I’d be interested in try different brands of barefoot shoes, but so far I’ve loved the Vibrams, so I’ve stuck with them.

I gave the Merrell Training Glove’s a shot this week and they completely kicked my butt. I lasted 14.5 minutes on the treadmill until my lower legs caught on fire. Is this “The Process?”

Unfortunately, that is the process. When you’re getting started with barefoot running, you have to start EXTREMELY slowly. All of the barefoot running guides say that when you’re first getting started, you’ll jog 100 yards and then stop and try again the next day. You don’t think about the muscles that you’re not using when running in sneakers. Running barefoot really brings all of that to the forefront and makes you VERY aware of what muscles you haven’t been using. When I first got started, I ran my first barefoot 5k after a month and a half of training, and I still felt like my calves might explode afterward. So it’s a slow process.

How long did it take you to feel like you were making progress and getting stronger?

I felt like I was getting stronger almost immediately. It’s hard not to when your legs are so sore; you have to feel like you’re going through all that for something. It took a couple of months to be able to run a 5k without anything, but the usual soreness. Even now, if I don’t keep up with running then my calves will burn again, so you’ve got to keep up with it.

Has this helped with an injury? I remember you saying you had some previous issues…

Right, so my knees now rarely hurt. I’ll feel pain when I get lazy or tired and stop running correctly. Every once in a while, I’ll revert back to heel striking and immediately regret it. So long as I run correctly then I am pain free!

Because barefoot running shoes are so minimal, do you feel like you’re less protected from outside environments like toe stubbing, glass, or even rocks or cracks in the road?

Absolutely. Stubbing your toe is the WORST, especially in cold weather. Makes me feel like I’ve broken my toe, even through it’s just a minor scratch. I definitely have to pay attention to what I’m running on and try and avoid rocks. I do a race in the summer called the X-Treme Scramble in Hartford and part of the course is on a rocky/gravely trail. Whenever I hit that part I have to slow down and almost hop along trying to avoid the sharp rocks. Although when I got the TrekSports, I couldn’t feel those things anymore so it was nice not to worry about it as much.

What do you say to people who think barefoot running is just a fad?

I honestly haven’t had many people say that to me. Most people are just stunned by the kind of shoes I wear and ask a lot of questions about them. If someone did say that to me, I’d say that OK, maybe it is just a fad. But it works for me and it seems to be working for more and more people, so only time will tell if people will stick with it. I can honestly say that I can’t picture myself running in sneakers ever again.

Once you were used to the barefoot runners did it make you quit using your old regular running shoes?

Definitely. As soon as my legs were strong enough I threw my sneakers in the closet and haven’t taken them out since.

Are you now able to run as long as you used to in the barefoot runners?

Farther! I’m still a fairly new runner and for that first year I only did 5ks. I ran the Hartford Half Marathon last October in my Vibrams. Actually, eight miles in the Vibrams, and the last 5 miles, totally barefoot.

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