Thursday, May 28, 2009

My Newest Adventure

"When childhood dies, its corpses are called adults and they enter society, one of the politer names of hell." **Brian W. Aldiss**

I'm not sure how it started, where I first noticed this new movement in the running community. Maybe it was the article on the guy that ran the marathon barefoot to provide shoes for the homeless, or the article in Runner's World that talked about a famous running coach that made his team compete barefoot in the snow (they won!). However, somewhere the spark struck me and kindled a fire.
The next step that added to the flame was downloading an audio version of Born to Run. Listening to tales of ultra marathons, Tarahumara Indians, and a cure for most running injuries, fascinated me. I have not been plagued with injuries, but the idea of cutting joint impact by 50% definitely made me want to give barefoot running a try.
So why was a 40 year old woman with rheumatoid arthritis so willing to give up her precious shoes? Simple, I hate them. Of all the things that disappeared from my life, being barefoot was probably one of the least important, but strangely it was still very emotional. When the joints in my feet are inflamed, it is like walking on marbles and my feet get wider. For two years this meant I could not walk comfortably in anything but trainers with the most cushions that existed. I had to give up all cute shoes, pumps, sandals, boots, anything hard or narrow and bare feet even on carpet.
I grew up in Southern California, 3 miles from the beach. We only wore shoes to school, in the coldest part of winter, and maybe when we went to the store. Even when we wore shoes, they were as minimal as possible. My earliest baby shoes are white leather sandals and my senior year of high school was spent in one single pair of pink OP flip flops that were paper thin by the end of the year, but never blew out. I ran, rode my skateboard, climbed trees, and had my first kiss in bare feet. Bare feet are what feel natural to me, whether it is in my home, on the grass in my yard, or trying to get from the snack shack back to my towel across scorching sand. I mourned being trapped in shoes.
Now, with my RA mostly under control, I'm spending a lot less time in shoes. The thought of carrying that into my running life is exhilarating! The more I read, the more convinced I am that not only is running good, running barefoot is better. Unfortunately, to get my feet back to kid-tough is going to take time. At first it felt crazy, but after my first few tentative walks, being barefoot started to feel more comfortable so I started to do some running. Next, I bought a pair of Vibram Five Finger (VFF) shoes so I could continue to build up the long dormant muscles in my feet while I waited for the soles to get used to the idea. Of course, running barefoot takes a very different form and I immediately went out and practically destroyed my calves by running 3 miles on my toes (not a recommended running form). With my calves finally healed and a few barefoot miles tacked onto the end of my shod runs (I'm sure the neighbors think I'm nuts for running with my expensive running shoes in my hands) I decided I was ready for my favorite trail in bare feet. Fortunately, I at least had the intelligence to carry my VFFs with me in case things got to dicey. Unfortunately, I did not have the good sense to put them on for four miles and now have blisters all over the bottoms of my feet, DUH! I would have been okay if the trail had been all dirt and flat, but this trail is steep, graveled, and I was using my feet as brakes to slow down my very exuberant puppy (who could tow sleds down the street easily).
So now I sit with my feet grumbling, wondering how long it will take them to heal so I can try again. I would love to walk out into the world and never wear shoes again, but I know that is not only socially unacceptable, but also maybe a tad unrealistic when the snow hits. Although I still feel like an uncoordinated dork trying to relearn how to run in bare feet, I do think it is one of the most liberating things I have done in a long time. I believe all healthy people find little ways to revisit childhood, whether it is with roller coasters, race cars, or being silly with our kids. To totally leave behind freedom and frivolity is to die completely inside. I've always loved bucking the trends with clothes, hobbies, or philosophies so to throw away an opportunity to run barefoot through the neighborhood because someone might think it is unseemly, or I might get hurt, seems crazy to me, especially when I now believe it is the far healthier way to run. More importantly, to let barefoot running pass me by would be to deny the child that still lives within me, the one that I need to truly live.


Dustie said...

Beautifully written!!! I can't wait to try it and to tell you all about it. I, too, have always hated shoes. I feel so free without them. I walk around outside without them, at work in my office job, even in the restaurant i have a habit of secretly slipping them off under the booth, just about everywhere that I can. I love this post. You are an awesome person, Wendy!

robison52 said...

O.K., now you got me curious about running barefeet myself! You're the Johnny Appleseed of running shoeless!!

Clare said...

wow! i'm curious to see how this goes for you...lately my feet have been feeling more sore somehow despite (or because of?) many fewer miles. i should check out those shoes maybe???

Anonymous said...

I've been running barefoot as much as possible since 1990 and you're already and inspiration.

they didn't have VFF's in those days and, besides, putting your feet inside those rubber coffins is a little like . . . well, you know.

However, when it's too pebbly, gravelly or whatever for me to run barefoot, I use a pair of cut-down flip-flop thongs. With sole cut back from in front of the thong post so they protect from the metatarsal to heel, they are convenient to carry when needed and held up for 50 mile trail ultras.

Maybe it's the momentum of running forward or something but, even though, unlike your experience, I've never worn thongs much in my life, they stay on fine and have never slipped off running up/down/or on the flats.

Occasional pebbles slip off in a step or two too.

barefoot jon