"Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes."
I had a fantastic run today. It wasn’t long (only 3 miles), it wasn’t fast (actually, I didn’t check so it might have been), but I was focused and it was beautiful outside with the birds and trees, and all the things that make it wonderful to be outside and full of life.
I’m learning to be much less conscious of running barefoot. Not that I don’t watch the road, pay close attention to my form, or forget that I’m shoeless, but rather that I don’t brace myself for comments or funny looks by people I pass. It adds to the sense of freedom when you can finally let go of the fear of scrutiny.
On Saturday, I met a couple from my running club at the trail head for a 5 mile run. The whole area was buzzing with activity, people stretching, chatting, beginning and finishing their runs or walks. I had never seen so many people there at once! With so many people came many comments: “Where are your shoes?” “Did you forget your shoes?” “Why aren’t you wearing shoes?” Some people are just looking for a smile and a wave, others really want an explanation. When that is the case, I’ll talk with them for a few minute, enjoying how they relax as the understanding of what I’m doing takes away the concern and tension on their faces. In one case, a gentleman was very worried that I didn’t know what I was in store for. He kept listing the hazards of rocks, twigs, gravel, and broken oyster shells one at a time, as if one more danger would snap me back to reality and send me scrambling back to my car for my running shoes, horrified at the near miss by disaster. There was only one negative response, an old granny pushing a stroller scowled at me with all the disdain and disapproval she could muster. I found it rather sad that she would waste so much energy on a complete stranger that was not threatening her in any way.
Sunday I was sore from a couple of blisters obtained while sliding up and down the hills on the trail, probably because I wasn’t focused enough on my form, due to the overwhelming heat and humidity dominating my thoughts. I figured 3 miles around the neighborhood would be alright though, so I clipped the leash of the dog, and headed out. Again, it was hot and sticky and I had to stop 3 or 4 times to give water to my panting pooch, who was becoming less and less enthusiastic about “walkies” by the minute. Unfortunately, with my focus on the dog, and still being tired from the day before, my form was horrible and I ended up with sore calves and stinging feet.
Which brings me to today. I really didn’t feel like running, my feet hurt, it was already getting hot, and I was tired from not sleeping well, but I knew I wouldn’t get to run tomorrow and with a race coming up on Saturday, I needed to get my runs for the week in early so I can rest for a couple of days before the race. I decided not to take the dog, but to really focus on my form and figure out what is giving me blisters. The first mile was agonizing. I didn’t want to be there, but I concentrated on keeping my torso straight, my knees bent, picking up my feet, and staying aerobic. The second mile was better and I was finally feeling into the groove enough to let my mind wander a bit. Near the end of the second mile, I passed an older lady out for a walk who looked at me astonished, and blurted, “You’re running without shoes?!” To which I replied, “Yes, Ma’am!” Her comeback was, “[laughing] You must be from Carolina.” “Nope, California.” I could hear her laughter as we continued in our opposite directions. Shortly after beginning my last mile, a police officer on a motorcycle rolled up next to me. I thought to myself, “Oh great, here it comes, he is going to tell me I have to have shoes on.” The police in my little town are well known for being a bit over the top, mostly because they don’t have a lot to do. He looked at me curiously, no doubt watching my body language to get a read on whether I was up to no good or not, and then started the usual conversation, “Runnin’ without shoes?” “Yes, Sir” followed by my list of reasons to run barefoot. He responded with chatter about how he never wore shoes as a kid, slipping in a question about where exactly I lived, and for the next half mile we discussed kids, TV, races etc. By the end of the interview, I guess he decided I was harmless, told me to have a Blessed Day, and motored away. I’ll never know if he spotted me on a routine round of the neighborhood (I’ve never seen a motorcycle cop in my neighborhood in 2 years of running here) or if someone called to complain about a raving lunatic running barefoot down the street, but it is nice to know I passed the test and now have police consent to be running unshod.