The Bare Soul - June 24, 2007
Exploring the Limits

I've always enjoyed "exploring". I remember as a kid when my big brother would let me tag along, we were always in the woods, in creeks, in holes in the ground, and assorted other "high risk" areas (where most mothers blood pressure would go through the roof if they knew their offspring were traversing). Webster's Dictionary defines exploring as the act of "Going in or wandering through for the purpose of discovery". Discovery is a wonderful thing to a human being, and in my opinion should never stop but should follow us through childhood into adulthood.

Presently, I am reading The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard. Not a lot of people know about his perilous journey into the heart of the Amazon after his failed attempt to run as an independent for President behind the Progressive Party. Roosevelt had already proved himself as a capable leader in his first two terms, but sought another behind the nicknamed "Bull Moose" Party. He ended up splitting the ticket, and Wilson won handedly. As balm for his punctured pride, he created a new challenge for himself. Roosevelt agreed upon a trip to South America to catalog specimens sponsored by the New York Museum. A fairly safe venture turned into a high risk adventure once he arrived in South America and the opportunity arose to explore and map the unknown River of Doubt, now known as
the Roosevelt River. The ex-president nearly lost his life on several occasions from wild Indians, rapids, and most perilously, malaria.

I believe Mr. Roosevelt and I would have gotten along famously. I feel like we are cut from the same "exploring" cloth, in that we both love challenging ourselves by new discoveries. As a whim and just having a hunch about his character, I decided to Google Teddy Roosevelt and the word barefoot. This is what I found from his autobiography regarding his childhood:

We children, of course, loved the country beyond anything. We disliked the city. We were always wildly eager to get to the country when spring came, and very sad when in the late fall the family moved back to town. ... In the country we children ran barefoot much of the time, and the seasons went by in a round of uninterrupted and enthralling pleasures-- (click here for complete work)

Some would call Mr. Roosevelt a risk taker that did not have the sense to keep himself out of compromising situations that could be life-threatening in later life. It's interesting to me that he and his siblings ran barefoot with apparent abandon as children, which would be considered by some to be "risky behavior". These, in my opinion, are those who would be pessimistic and overly cautious to the point of constrictive of their own life and those of others. Now, on the other hand, there are those who would view this behavior as an act of "discovery or exploration" -- to learn and enjoy the limits of their own minds, bodies, and surroundings.

Recently, on a message board that I have belonged to for several years, there was an inquiry on winter barefoot running and how barefoot runners negotiate the winter months sans shoes. Here's what I wrote in response:

Here's some info and some pics on winter barefoot running from my website.

Those of you who have visited this page know, that along with some pics of me running in snow and ice, there are also some not too flattering pictures of me with frostbite and some of the results thereof. That was several years ago, and I learned my limitations and hopefully have instructed others to abide to a general guideline that I discovered regarding freezing temps and bare feet. Someone on this message board responded in a surprising way, not really understanding the reason I posted both the good and the bad, and yes the ugly of my experiences. (Ultimately, what I journal or catalog regarding my barefoot running is meant to encourage, challenge and instruct.) The surprising response to my post is as follows:

I am not sure people are looking for frostbite. You might be proud of those pictures but I run in Vibram Five Fingers from about 39 degrees to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. I also wear a pair of Injinji Wool Socks with them and if it is colder I wear a normal Injinji Sock over the wool pair. Sometimes my toes are a little numb when I finish but never frostbite. ...

Hmm ... well, that's all fine and good that this person never has gotten frostbite. Maybe they are not the personality type to want to explore their own limitations. Hopefully, my "exploration" of discovering my own limitations have prevented others, such as this winter barefoot running poster (or im-poster, you be the judge), to avoid frostbite or other problems. When I started this exploratory adventure of barefoot running, there was not a lot of information out there for the type of barefoot running that I do as a mid-westerner that runs nearly every day outside. Sure, Charlie Robbins ran barefoot in the Northeast for years and years , but there is not a lot of real good data regarding temps, depth of snow he ran in, as well as lots of other variables. A lot of what I have documented the past several years regarding cold weather running is "exploratory" in nature and bench marking in that there is not a lot of information out there to compare. So, in that regard, I guess I am a pioneer regarding cold weather and winter barefoot running and am "mapping" out what's doable and what may be pushing the limits regarding what bare feet can take.

God has lavished his gifts and grace upon my life. One of these gifts, in my opinion, is a sense of discovery and a desire to find out my own limitations. Just as Mr. Roosevelt overcame the besetting illness of asthma as a child and became a strong individual in body, soul, and spirit, so I believe that God has given me the drive to overcome my besetting weaknesses and to strive to find out what are my own outer, and inner limits. Just as Roosevelt was content to leave his bones in South America if need be in order to complete his last, great challenge at 55 years of age, so also I am willing to leave and abandon others' pre-conceptions of what they might THINK I should be doing regarding barefoot running and my own limitations. Regarding this or any number of life's challenges, we will never know how far we can go until we venture forth!

Having a Blessed Barefoot Blast!

Barefoot Rick

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