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The Pack / Barefoot / Piers Stockwell

Q&A with Merrell Pack Leader Piers Stockwell

What sparked your interest in barefoot running?
I first became interested in barefoot running to improve my efficiency for long distance events. I looked at efficiency in terms of biomechanics and realised that we run most biomechanically efficiently when we are bare foot. This is the way our bodies are designed to be as our bodies haven’t changed much since caveman days! For a long distance event, the more efficient you are, the more energy you will have at the end of the race where it matters most.

What are the benefits associated with barefoot running?

There are many! First of all it allows me to be more efficient so that I can travel further, faster. By encouraging our bodies to behave in the way we were designed, it helps to minimise injury. Modern living affects our posture detrimentally and bare foot running can help improve it.

How did you prepare your feet for barefoot running?

I was very careful how I increased my mileage to start with and ran on grass to get used to being barefoot. I then moved to pavements since grass allows you to get away with poor foot placement as it is a forgiving surface. By wearing minimalist shoes (Merrell Trail Gloves) in everyday life, I strengthened my feet to withstand the stresses of being barefoot.

Tell us about the Natural Running School and what it’s like to educate others about barefoot running.
It’s very interesting to see so many different types of runner from ultra distance athletes to beginner runners running their first 5K race and their motivations to improve their running. I particularly enjoy the ‘light bulb moments’ when my clients understand the movement pattern they are being taught and why it is relevant to them.  Often the motivations are due to recurring injury which physiotherapists ‘can’t seem to sort out’. Almost always these problems are due to the way they are running and, by improving their running gait, it allows them to pursue the sport they love, injury free.

You also regularly compete in ultra-distance running events. Have you participated in any races lately and do you have any favourites?

I particularly enjoyed the Might Contain Nuts Welsh Mountain Ultra Series for spectacular courses and well run events in the Welsh mountains. I was lucky to have won the series last year and I’m looking forward to this year’s events starting in March. There are a few very tough contenders this year which will certainly make it interesting.

How do running long distance events with minimalist footwear aid your performance?

By being more efficient in my running stride, it allows me to run further, faster as well as not having to take on board as much food and water through lower exertion levels. I tend to race in shoes with a little more cushioning on the heel as it allows me to run down hill faster though training is always in minimalist shoes.

Did you have to change your training in preparation for long distance events?

Long distance events are about time and patience. The difficulty is finding the time to get out for 5 Hr+ runs. In long distance events, the most important factor is maintaining a good average speed and running at a fairly moderate exertion level. If you push too hard, you will suffer later in the race. This being said, patience is needed to run for extended periods at this level of exertion as it can become taxing on the mind. I manage this by doing project runs where I will map out a route to run that I have not run before such as sections of the Cotswold Way (or all of it!). Project runs allow me to see new routes and keep it interesting. An iPod helps too!

Where / how do you train and what’s your favourite terrain to run on?
My favourite terrain is as mountainous as possible. Having lived in the mountains in various regions of the world, topography is important to me. Living in Bristol, I find myself in Wales regularly, particularly Brecon Beacons and the Quantocks in Somerset. For day to day running, loops of Leigh Woods up and down the Avon Gorge are great for training. The Cotswold Way and Mendip Way are also particular favourites. Further afield, the Lake District is fantastic!

What are your plans for the rest of 2013?

The rest of 2013 will involve pushing the distance and fitness boundaries and entering as many races as possible! I’m very active in the adventure racing circuit as well and am looking forward to putting together a fast (Merrell) team for 2013.


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