I'm only 10 days into my barefoot training schedule and I already deviated from the plan. Oops. Most barefoot running sites recommend walking barefoot for the first 2-3 weeks. This includes walking around your house, in the grass in your backyard, and eventually on the sidewalk. At first I was like "you're kidding me right? walk for 2-3 weeks? but I want to run!" An overwhelming number of sites recommended walking first, leading me to believe that there had to be some logic for this suggestion. So I obliged... for 10 days. Looking back, not that I'm an expert, I recommend their advice.
They are correct that walking barefoot before running barefoot helps you focus on strengthening unused muscles - namely your achilles and calves - gives your feet time to reconnect with Mother Earth and start firing those underutilized, shoe-protected nerves, and increases your attention to any hazards that may be in your path (e.g., glass, dog poop, small rocks). Why look out for small rocks instead of large rocks? Large ones are obvious and you subconsciously move out of their way, while the small ones lay waiting out of sight with a greater chance of impact. Hence the reason to tread lightly!
I have also come to understand some hidden reasons for walking the first 2-3 weeks, or 10 days.
1. The suspense. If you are as excited about the possibility of running barefoot as I am, then waiting soooo long to try something raises anticipation and boosts your willingness to get out there. If I can get through this, then I get to run!
2. Knowing what the ground feels like. This may sound silly, but after wearing shoes for so long you begin to have preconceived notions about what the ground feels like. I can now describe what the sidewalks and streets feel like in my neighborhoods. The newer, smooth, white squares are so smooth you feel like you are gliding over chalk. The older, pebbly squares feel like a pumice stone. The street can be a little warmer, since it is blacktop, and this is where you have to watch out most for hazards. To my surprise, people in my neighborhood keep their sidewalks clear of hazards - so much so that I don't look down anymore.
3. Build your self-esteem. It's unusual to see a grown adult walking barefoot - I have yet to see one myself. As a result, I get a lot of stares. Usually I am out walking barefoot while walking the dog, so it's not as "weird". But sometimes I go running in my shoes and then walk the last 1/2 - 1 mile home while carrying my shoes and socks in my hands. I knew the day would come - and it did last week - when I was asked if I needed a ride home!
All 10 days of barefoot walking prepared me for today, when I took off my shoes and just went for it. I had just completed 2.5 miles in my shoes with on and off knee pain - and the imaginary sandbags were weighing heavily on my feet. Websites recommend a 1/2 mile for your first barefoot run, so I went about that or maybe a little more. It was.... AWKWARD! I felt so clumsy. People were staring. I felt like I couldn't find my stride. I started over-analyzing everything my body was doing. Again, people were staring. It felt like I had never run before.
And then it was amazing! My stride found me. My feet started auto-correcting themselves on the different surfaces. My legs felt like they were moving without me. My breathing was so relaxed I liked to think that the people staring were thinking "wow, she makes it look easy." And amazingly my knees didn't hurt! I saw a dog doing his business in the grass and thought "someday I may step in that hazard", but that's fine by me because today I felt like I was flying!