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Episode 8 : Q & A with Phil aka @Barehumantribe

Updated: Jul 21, 2020

Good Morning Phil, Thank you for being on board 

Hey Alex, thanks for having me. I’m doing well thanks, I’ve just had my coffee and feeling even better now!

To introduce myself, I’m Phil, I’m a barefoot runner and a shoe maker. I’m also director of domestic affairs at Bare Humans Tribe aka work/stay at home Dad. I moved to Australia last year from the UK where I ran an online retail business selling barefoot shoes (called Bear-Foot).

How are you today, and can you tell us what the usual day is like for you?

A typically day here starts around 5:30-6:00am. I start every day with a cup of hot water, salt, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar and a good chunk of ginger and I always eat the ginger! Then it’s coffee.

I have practiced intermittent fasting for about 4 years now so typically don’t eat until well into the morning or just wait for lunch. If I do take breakfast it’s eggs of some sort with either spinach or avocado. Morning workouts and Parkruns etc are always done fasted. Yes - I try to start my day before my kids! This gives me an hour or two to work before before they wake.

I homeschool my kids, I’ve got 3 of them, so I’ve got to fit my work in around them. Our schedule is pretty flexible, I encourage them to play lots, kids seems to thrive and learn more through play. Typically I like to get something done before they wake, catch up on menial tasks during the day whilst running things here, then put an hour or two of deeper work in the evening. It’s pretty full-on but I like it that way. At the weekends my wife helps out so I can catch up then too.

In terms of exercise, I still consider myself a runner at heart, though in more recent years I’ve incorporated a wider range of exercise and movement. I’m running less but focus on higher quality runs these days. I’ve just turned 40 and I feel I need to be mindful to not hammer it every workout! Since moving to Australia I’ve been working on my swimming! You guys are awesome swimmers. The general standard for swimming here is higher than in the UK. My kids all swim really well now. We are lucky enough to have a pool in the garden so I consider this skill essential.

My approach for workouts has to be creative in order to workout around parental responsibilities. For example yesterday, I had an intense session on our local grass athletics oval, barefoot of course, doing half mile, or 0.8km should I say!……so 800m intervals, with 400m recovery, plus a warm up and cool down made for a 40 minute session. If you’re going to do that kind of workout you’ve got to be in the mood to work hard, it’s pretty stressful on the body so I recommend to allow 7-10 days in-between these interval sessions. Typically 7 days for me - because I love them and that feeling of going all out fast! 

My aim is to maintain the same 10K time in minutes as my age in years from 40 onwards. Might be a bit ambitious but we’ll see, saying that, a 60 minute 10K aged 60 seems totally doable, I’m just not sure if the demise in my times will have such a linear relationship to my age though! Oh yes, and the cool thing about the athletics oval near my house is that there is a great skate park right beside it. So I can let the kids skate and scooter whilst I run. Each lap I cast my eye over to check on them - works well for me.

Today we have to miss our martial arts, so I’ll miss doing my lifting session. Instead I’ve put in some ‘micro-workouts’ - to use the latest buzz word - for upper body maintenance this morning, then this evening I’ll mow the grass. I have a push mower and a massive garden, it takes about 1.5 hours and involves about 2 miles of pushing the mower all in. I probably then jump in the pool.

Another example of getting the workouts in around the kids are my lifting sessions. My kids train karate and muay thai on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, the club have weights there, so as I watch them train I lift. This has worked really well as my wife is often away with work. 

My weekly exercise goes something like, Sunday long run typically 1-1.5 hours, Monday rest or something light, Tuesday lifting, Wednesday intervals or sprints, Thursday lifting, Friday swimming, Saturday family Muay Thai HIIT . I do the odd beep test too.

What inspired you to make shoes, and how is that going for you?

Shoe making is a new venture for me. I used to sell kids barefoot shoes in the UK amongst other things, however I sold the stock when we left last year. 

My background is in science, I have a PhD in Chemistry and was a Research Fellow at Salford University near Manchester in the UK. I then worked in the glass industry as consultant helping integrate and transfer knowledge from the University into industry. I’ve also done a good bit of property renovation over the past 20 years too, so shoe making clearly seemed an obvious choice!

I have a new collaboration with Way of Konea that’ll hopefully get underway in the next few months, we’re just ironing things out and I’m also working on my sandal design to release soon. Everything at the moment is handcrafted. I have bigger plans for the future, but for now baby steps and patience are the order of the day.

How did you come across barefoot footwear?

I was a broken runner. For over 10 years I battled IT band issues. I’d temporarily fix it only to go back through the cycle again. I tried all the modern technologies, ever type of shoes recommended, gait analysis, orthotics and physio. Nothing ever truly worked. 

Then I read about running efficiently and foot strike. 

I remember the first time I purposely attempted a forefoot strike run, I was still in some Adidas pronation something-or-others back then but I ran with a forefoot strike. My achilles and calves screamed but my IT band was happy requested another serving. 

So over the next 6 months I transferred toward a forefoot strike. Things were going well, mileage was up then BOOM, IT band blowout again. 

In the intervening time I’d researched more about running technique and form and come across barefoot running. During my moment of frustration I took off the shoes and ran home barefoot. The IT band felt different. This planted the seed. I then bought some Vibram Five Fingers and started to transition. True to form, it felt good so I over did it! And developed some calf niggles, but importantly no IT band issues!

I studied and implemented Chi and Pose running techniques. I used a metronome to really dial in a quicker cadence. All in all it took about 2 years to transition. During this time I would remove my shoes and run truly barefoot for the final part of my runs. Eventually I increased the barefoot so that I was able to comfortably run 3 to 4 miles without any footwear. I began a bit of a laughingstock/taking point in my village in the UK. My window cleaner called me Zola! (as in Zola Budd the SA runner - in case you’re too young to remember her!).

Have you faced any injuries, and what advice could you offer for people coping with an injury?

I honestly think you have to address the route cause of the injury. We are conditioned to think we can buy a solution to our problems. There’s no shortage of people willing to take your cash and prey on despair. My advice is to take a holistic approach and examine how what you do in your broader life is effecting your activity to cause injury. I have complete faith in the human body. It’s amazing. We often fail to see the associations and limitations we inflict upon ourselves. 

Do you have any tips/recommendations for people transitioning to  barefoot?

Patience and common sense! There’s plenty of information out there. Transition slowly. By simply freeing your feet you will massively increase your sensory feedback. Listen to your body. Pain is a signal something is wrong. I’m 11 years in and I’m still learning. Embrace and enjoy the journey then there is no need for a destination. 

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I don’t really have much of that! I make sure I get my workouts in. Beyond that reading, podcasts and audio books are my thing. I love learning especially in the health/science space.

What shoes do you wear most often?

I sometimes don’t wear shoes for days but when I do, at the moment it’s either my own sandals or my Kūkini Koa sandals from Way of Konea. In the past 3 years I would say I’ve spent most time in Luna Monos with the leather top. I also wore Vivos, when I worked in a more formal setting my preference was Gobi boots. I do my sprints and some races in Vibram Five Fingers. I do the school runs, shopping….life mostly barefoot. Australia is a very favourable place to that for various reasons.

What are your plans/goals for the future?

I’m currently working with Braxton at Way of Konea to make his Kūkini sandals in Australia. I’m working with him to pioneer his vision for a Slow Shoe Making Initiative. 

I’m also developing my own sandal designs based on my experiences over 11 years running barefoot and selling barefoot shoes in the UK.

These shoe making ventures coupled with the homeschooling will keep me busy for now. In the mid to long term I’d like to look at ways to give back and contribute to the world. I’m creating a brand and company that will be based upon real ethical practices with a view to sharing with those less fortunate the privilege and opportunities I was immediately endowed by simply being born in a country like the UK.


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