Reflections On Two Years of Barefoot Running - October 21, 2005
When I first started running barefoot a couple of years ago (10/21/03), I had several runners tell me that they doubted I could keep it up for any length of time. "Oh, it's just a phase you're going through" or "I doubt if you'll make it a year running barefoot before you put the shoes back on". There are always naysayer's when someone goes against the status quo and does something a little different. Those in the past who were thought to be crazy such as Christopher Columbus, the Wright brothers, Thomas Alva Edison, or any number of dreamers and inventors were considered a little "touched" in the head. They, along with countless others who dared to be different changed the world in their respective ways. Now, I don't even suggest that I am on the same plane with these I've mentioned. However, I merely use them for example of their passion concerning what they believed.
Today, I have a passion that has been reawakened by the sport of barefoot running. I believe that it is a sport singularly different from shod running. There are several different things to consider when running barefoot that aren't part of the equation when running with shoes. First of all, it is an endurance sport to even be able to get to the point of running daily barefoot, not to mention running several marathons a year sans shoes. When I first started running barefoot a couple of years ago, my feet would easily blister after just a few miles. Even though I was barefoot constantly as a child during the summer, my feet had become soft and not used to running on various surfaces such as asphalt, concrete, or even trails. I believe that what I went through for the first few months running barefoot was enough to discourage most from continuing on with this "experiment". However, I was committed to persevere because I knew others had successfully made the transition from shoes to barefoot running. I knew that it took a commitment that most runners could not or would not make. It literally meant starting over and re-learning how to run! How many runners would want to do that? Actually, let all their speed and weekly mileage diminish just to re-learn how to run? I knew this is what I had to do just a few short days or weeks into my barefoot running. I knew that I had to become a novice at running once again. I had to relinquish that I knew anything about running and be willing to let my body re-teach me how to run properly.
It became a test of my will and body. My barefoot running began in the fall and it quickly became cold here in the Midwest. However, I was undeterred. Even though it was below freezing many days when I ran, the feedback from my body told me that I was running "right". I felt a gratification after each run that I had not felt before. The blisters, the cold toes, the dry and cracking skin on my feet did not keep me from barefoot running. I would heal up and be right back at it, sometimes in the ice and snow.
In the beginning, rocks and pebbles would hurt when I stepped on them while running barefoot. The tendency of the body, when it feels pain, is to recoil from it. To be successful at barefoot running, one must embrace all feelings that the foot encounters, including the pain. When one accepts the pain of a rock or an acorn that causes discomfort then one is less likely to recoil from it. This causes a feeling of relaxation. When one does not accept the pain, then the body tenses up and rushes reaction to the pain area, which is really energy that need not be expended. If one relaxes, the foot accepts the pain and it becomes less and less when a barefoot runner continually steps on the same object.
Why did you put yourself through this, many have asked? Down deep, I knew I was doing something special. Something that not many people had done. Sure, my knees and my legs were feeling better since I learned how to minimize impact. But, my feet! They were still taking a beating! In a few months, however, a remarkable thing happened. The soles of my feet began to evolve. I could tell they were replacing skin cells at a faster rate than I was losing them. Plus, they were getting tougher and more adaptable to various surfaces. The body is an amazing mechanism. It will adapt and evolve if we tell it to do so! And, of course, the way we tell it to evolve is by forcing it to comply. This may not always be the most "comfortable" thing to do, but no one implied to me that learning to run barefoot would be easy.
I believe that it is possible to run for years and years barefoot, regardless of weather. I don't believe I will ever be incredibly fast at barefoot running, but for me, that's not the point. Longevity, that's what it's all about for me. I would like to, one day, know that I was one of the few who had kept at barefoot running and had set records in most barefoot miles run, most marathons, most 5Ks, or any number of things measurable in the endurance sport of barefoot running. The key is not giving up but continuing to persevere -- getting out there daily and running my mileage. I am not looking for "flash in the pan" status because of my barefoot running. I do believe, however, that if I stick with it, the mileage, marathons, endurance running in snow and inclement weather will speak for itself.
On barefootrunner.org, I state: "Do something remarkable everyday, and in time your life will become remarkable". If someone says, "I went for a barefoot run today", well, that doesn't really sound that remarkable. However, if one does it everyday, rain, snow, or sunshine, then in time it does become a very remarkable feat. If one continues for months and years, it will become a lifestyle -- a living testament regarding this person.
This kind of conviction and passion can only come when someone truly believes in what they are doing. For me, barefoot running is not only a test of physical endurance but part of a spiritual odyssey. It allows me to daily measure myself whether I am tough enough to handle it. True, the physical element is not like it was when I first started, but doubts do creep in sometimes why I do what I do. I sometimes hear the "old tapes" say you should be acting more like a 50 year old ... you're too old to be acting this way! Then, my spiritual logic kicks in and I know the reason why I continue. It is being a child once again and a warrior at the same time. Barefoot running makes me want to play but at the same time challenges me to fight and to win over preconceptions regarding what "proper attire" and "social acceptability" should be for runners.
In the two years that I have been running barefoot, I seldom see another barefoot runner. I have not seen one during thousands of miles of daily running here in the Kansas City area. That's not to say there aren't any ... I just haven't seen them. I have seen a couple of guys running barefoot at local races but from what I know these were the only and last times they ran barefoot. So, if I was REALLY out trying to convert others to barefoot running, I'm certainly not doing a very good job at it. Truth is, it is not necessary to have others around me to run barefoot to legitimize what I am doing. I know it is right for me, and that is all that really matters.
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