Sometimes people give you brilliant advice. They know what they're talking about because they've had the same experience and they know what the results of your actions will be. They know that if you suck spaghetti up really fast, you will get tomato sauce splats all over your face. In the same way, when I read about running barefoot, people told me to strengthen my leg muscles up first because otherwise I would get injuries. They told me to take it slowly, to work up from one mile runs, to be really careful, really really careful.
In light of this fabulous advice from people with experience of barefoot running, I (who had never done it) took off my shoes and ran home from work. I did not spend days doing calf strengthening exercises first. I didn't do a short distance and work my way up. I went straight in for a five mile run with a backpack on the streets of London.
My decision doesn't make much sense, I'll admit, and it's not something I'd advise anyone else to do but I felt that my body was craving a simpler version of running, a Me And My Legs vs The World type of thing. A few months ago, I stopped using any tracking or mapping devices. Instead of seeing running as an activity to do when I have free time, I have woven it into the make-up of my daily life. To get to work, I run there. On my lunchbreaks, if we're getting low or tea or biscuits, I run to the shop. To get to Project Awesome, I bus/train halfway then run the remaining miles. Rather than working toward marathon distance, I'm adding half an hour onto my long runs each week so that, come October, I should be able to go further than marathon distance quite easily.
For me, running is not about working toward a goal, carb-loading the night before and killing myself to do a good time.
Running is about being part of the world.
It's not about changing my diet to leave out carbs for a week, then include them for a week, then do a handstand, then drink a weird protein-powder shake thing, then stretch my gluteus maximus, or whatever it's called. It's about being in my most natural state. To run well all the time, I must eat well all the time. To run far, my body must be in a state of constant readiness. I must be able to perform without relying on external trinkets - GPS watches, music, camelpaks, phone-arm-strap things, processed sugary hits.... Cushioned shoes....?
You see how my running mentality lead me to want to try barefoot running?
People run for many reasons and lots of people run to get a good time, a PB I think the cool kids call it. (I love it when people talk about PBs because, although I don't really understand what they're saying, it makes me think of peanut butter and that makes me happy.) That's great. The competitive edge makes people push harder and do better.
One of the secrets to why I think my first five mile barefoot run had no adverse effects on my body is because I'm not that competitive when it comes to running. My favourite thing to do is wait until everyone has passed me by then take last spot and stay there. I'm a comfortable runner. I've never done speed work in my life. I can't cope with the panting sweating aftermath. I keep up a steady forward motion and imagine I have nothing else to do but run on this path until I reach the ends of the earth. I never spend all my energy on one burst. I always keep some back for emergencies. Therefore, I didn't go crazy on my first barefoot run. I went comfortable.
The problems people have with barefoot running, I think, is that they are not actually running barefoot. When I run barefoot, the fear of standing on stones makes me lift my arches up and land lightly on my feet. My legs feel strong and my arms pump away and I could go forever and ever. Wearing shoes (even 'barefoot' shoes) makes my feet sloppy so I land flat-footed, which causes my ankles and calves to ache and tighten up. For me, barefoot needs to mean barefoot otherwise my body isn't doing what it was designed to do.
I'm not saying I've scored it in one and will never have any barefoot running issues or injuries ever, only that I felt my body was telling me what it wanted and it was louder than everything else - and now I am a barefoot runner.
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