Reflections On Three Years Of Barefoot Running - October 21, 2006

Writer's Note: This year, versus the prior two years, has seemed to be a bit of a struggle to formulate a constant stream of thought concerning my annual reflections. So, I have determined to give in to my "ramblings" and announce up-front that there is not any particular flow to the following reflective writing. However, it is more like short volleys from a blunder-bust with no strategy other than to reveal some of my thoughts this past year. Some of these thoughts came to me while running, and others while writing or talking to others on the several discussion boards where I contribute.

It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows great enthusiasms, great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. - Theodore Roosevelt

As I mentioned in Reflections On Two Years Of Barefoot Running,  I can recall someone whose running I respected, a few months after I first started running barefoot state, "I rarely see a barefoot runner at any of the races I run and I've been doing this for 30 years. Odds are that you won't be running barefoot a year from now". Hmmmm. Well, it's been three years and what I am doing seems to be working so I think I will just keep at it. First and foremost, I have not had a  notable injury since my first barefoot run on that October day in 2003. (Before that day, I remember times when I ran with shoes that my knees hurt so bad, yet I would keep on keeping on. Lying on my bed at night, I would have to sleep on my side because any pressure that I might put on my knees if lying on my stomach would be excruciating.) Second, since I no longer have pain, it is a lot more fun when I am barefoot running. I don't have to be focused on the pain but I can let myself think about any number of things. I can enjoy those around me or the weather or whatever. In so doing, the happiness bubbles out and affects my face by creating a constant "grin". So often, when I pass other runners they look like they are not enjoying themselves whatsoever. If they are happy with what they are doing, they need to notify their face!

Not only do I get to enjoy barefoot running, but I also get to do something that most still think is worthy of remark. The way I know what I am doing is still remarkable, because people continue to remark on it everyday. Now, I didn't say that they were necessarily positive remarks, but remarks nonetheless. When I casually "run into" folks either at work or other places and the subject of barefoot running comes up, the remarks are usually positive once I explain why I run barefoot. However, when I am out running the vast majority of comments are not extremely negative or positive, but rather neutral and quizzical because there is generally not enough time to explain adequately what and why I am doing this odd thing in their eyes. What I find funny, is that often folks will process what's going on in their minds by speaking and saying such things as, "You're not wearing any shoes!" which, when you think about it, is stating the obvious. I think barefoot running is so foreign from some folks' point of reference that it just comes spilling out of their mouths.

I don't know of anyone that is doing what I am doing with barefoot running. I should clarify. I'm not sure there is anyone as NUTS as I must appear to some. Here in the Midwest, I enjoy running barefoot in all the seasons. Occasionally, I will run inside on the treadmill in the winter, but most days I am running outside. So, not only am I compelled to run daily but I love experiencing the various weather, temps, etc. that the Heartland offers year round. Is what I am doing better? No, I don't mean to imply that. What I am saying is that I don't know of anyone that is running barefoot 355-360 days a year and logging 50 to 60 miles a week consistently for three years. So what does this say about me? Not much, other than I love running barefoot and can't wait for my daily run. I long for it! It is my passion -- my daily release. I guess all it really says about me is that I love to run barefoot and look forward to it daily.

I know I am getting better at barefoot running. Better, meaning I am more relaxed than ever when running and my form is improving. It has to improve, because of all the practice I do. One will only get better if they continue to immerse themselves into any given thing on a daily basis.

The more I run, the more I know that running is far better than walking (for me). I am a barefoot runner, not a walker. The very idea of barefoot walking does not appeal to me (unless, of course, I'm mowing the lawn!). However, it is not my place to judge others in this regard. Who knows what is right for someone else? My experience with running (and walking when I HAD to resort to it on a couple of my early marathons) tells me that the sense of fulfillment is much stronger if I just keep going [running]! So, when I am coaching "newbies", I don't tout that running or walking is better. They need to decide what works best for them. Some swear by the run/walk method -- that their marathon times have actually improved. I'm still skeptical but "to each his own". What works for one may not work for another.

What fun I've had this year talking to school groups about barefoot running. It is so fun to answer their questions and have them blurt out that they like to go barefoot at home! Of course, I always tell them that they should not do something that their parents are telling them to do, or not to do. However, I do like to include a particular bible story in my talk. They seem to understand it's significance more so than a lot of grown ups. Here is the gist of it:

When young David went up to visit his brothers in the camp of the Israelites, the Philistines were taunting the army of Israel. David knew that God would deliver the giant Goliath into the hands of the Israelites if they would but believe. David was so confident, that he believed that even HE could bring down the giant. The king believed David and dressed the young boy in his own armor, but David did not wear it because he wasn't used to it. Instead, he went and selected some stones from the brook for his slingshot. David met the giant, Goliath, on the battle field, proclaiming that God was with him as he slung a stone into the Philistine's forehead. The giant fell dead and the Philistines were defeated that day as they ran in terror from the Israelites.

Just as David was but a boy, and the giant was an experienced warrior, sometimes those "equipped" with the latest technology can be humbled by someone with little or no equipment but wisdom on how to use what they possess. This is not only for something like barefoot running, where someone can run miles and miles successfully without injury. The lesson goes far beyond that into other areas of life. David's brothers told him that he was a silly boy for his braggadocio and that he should just go home and leave the fighting to men. Instead, David ignored them and did what he felt God was telling him. There are so many people in the world that will prepare you for defeat by their unbelief ... not only unbelief of you but of themselves. They will try to sabotage any faith that you can do something that may seem outlandish to them. Don't listen to them! First, trust in God and then trust in what God is telling you to do, and then trust God to help you follow through with it. You too, can be a giant slayer just like David!

I am heading into this winter season with a bit more respect for my limitations then I had at this time last year. I am not bullet-proof to the weather! (See December 7, 2005 at for details.) Knowing that I am subject to the laws of nature, I plan to be more prudent this year. I remember directly after the frostbite incident that I was not sure for a couple of days whether I would lose the middle toe of my left foot. Once the feeling came back, then it was a slow recovery, made worse by running the Dallas White Rock Marathon on 12/11. It took a couple of months for it to heal and for the circulation and nerves to return to normal. In short, I don't know if I would be as fortunate next time. Running in snow above 20 degrees, as long as it is not cover the tops of my feet, is fine. Anything above (snow depth) and below (temperature-wise) would be foolish knowing what I know today. These will be excellent days to watch a video while using the treadmill in the basement.

The longer I run barefoot, the more I am convinced that running barefoot will not become mainstream. Although local Kansas City races have seen an increase of barefoot runners, we are still the fraction of one percent of those who run shod. Even less can make the barefoot "leap" to the marathon distance and above. Barefoot marathoning is for very few individuals to enjoy, in my opinion. The learning curve to run distance barefoot can be daunting (blisters, Morton's Neuroma, etc.). While I have not blistered since my first few months of barefoot running, I know that perfecting form in order not to blister can be a discouraging ordeal. Most do not have the resolution or the patience to endure. Which, to me, is fine. I enjoy doing something that most can't or won't do.

Past Annual Reflections
Reflections On A Year Of Barefoot Running - October 21, 2004
Reflections On Two Years Of Barefoot Running - October 21, 2005

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