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Baring my sole.   —   Health - Exercise

About four years ago I decided I wanted to be a runner. It seemed like the ideal exercise, no equipment needed, no classes to attend, no gym to pay, all you need is a pair of tennis shoes and the great outdoors, so Adam and I started jogging in our neighborhood. Outdoor running proved extremely boring and I never could seem to set a good pace for myself, always running too fast and feeling like death was imminent or running too slow which just felt like a fast walk. Also, I am a longtime sufferer of back pain and shin splints and running outdoors on the NYC streets proved to be extremely painful. So we joined our local YMCA and I gave the treadmill a try. It was far more entertaining, what with a TV being there and all, but I still suffered from shin splints, back pain, and my feet were always killing me. I had a few girlfriends who were really into fitness and they suggested it might be my shoes. They pointed me to a place called Jackrabbit where they specialize in fitting people for running shoes. Here they do a video analysis of your running and then pick a running shoe based on what your feet do when they run. It was helpful and informative and not cheap but I left the store with confidence that these shoes would make all the difference in the world. Imagine my dismay when nothing changed. So I bought another pair of shoes of a completely different type and brand, sure that my problem, aside from biological, was still my shoes. My back and foot pain and shin splints persisted and the amount of time I had to take to recover from these injuries made "exercise" a completely ineffective event. It was then I decided that I was just not meant to be a runner. A more low impact exercise is what my body craved, or so I thought. I started doing workout videos at home and while at times they proved challenging I felt like my body was going in slow motion. I ached for speed, for the aggression of a run, for the rush of energy it sends to your heart and to your head. I was disheartened and not enjoying myself so that too was pushed aside and the activity of exercise was again put on the shelf.

Years passed, we moved to Portland, and I started to read about health. I learned a lot about nutrition, bones, muscles, body reaction, injury, everything. I wasn't exercising at the time but the topic was (and is) fascinating to me. I've always felt that my body is a machine capable of amazing physical feats and the fact that I was out of shape and fragile made me angry and frustrated. So for my 30th birthday I asked for a treadmill. What was I thinking? I don't know. That having the machine at home would allow me time to slowly build the muscle in my back, shins, and feet so that one day I could run without pain? So I laced up my running shoes and popped in a movie and started to speed walk. It was good at first, really good, I built myself up from a fast walk into a slow jog over the course of weeks and slowly gained speed. But the more I ran, the more my body would become racked with pain afterward. I wasn't getting shin splints at first but my back was killing me. I eventually, again, stopped running because of the discomfort and my beautiful expensive treadmill lay dormant, gathering dust.

One day I was sitting on the couch watching a movie and feeling restless. I decided to go for a walk, without leaving my living room, and without changing my clothes or getting my running shoes I just got on the treadmill. Barefoot. After about 20 minutes it became so clear, it was like the clouds had parted and rays of sun shone down upon my tired body. I felt lightweight and free. My legs didn't feel heavy, my feet didn't feel clumsy, I felt graceful and strong, I felt like I could take off at the speed of light! And so I did. Well, not really but yes, I kicked up that speed and started jogging. When I got off of the treadmill my body felt great. I was energized and limber, no pain was shooting up my back or making my feet throb. What was this special secret I had stumbled upon? Running barefoot is crazy! But the next day I got on the treadmill, barefoot, and ran again. I began to noticed that my posture was straighter than how I ran with shoes, and that I was striking my feet differently, striking with my forefoot instead of heel first. I was also running lighter. My impact decreased so significantly that I felt like I was as light as air. And so began my life as a runner. Nearly ten months have passed and I haven't suffered foot pain, shin splints, or back pain (aside from the occasional misalignment issues that have always plagued me) and I run almost every day for four miles. Last summer a friend of mine who is also a runner suggested that I try running with shoes again, she expressed great concern with the barefoot method so I promised that I would. The next day I ran with shoes and immediately experienced pain everywhere. So the shoes came off and I haven't put them on again since.

When I tell people I run barefoot the look of horror that usually crosses their face makes me wonder if I'm doing something horribly wrong. And while most of the people in my life are not runners or athletes of any kind, do they know something I don't? And yet my barefoot running continues, I am stronger and leaner than I have ever been and I am without pain or discomfort. So it's when I read articles like this on CNN, debating between running barefoot and running in shoes, it reaffirms the choice I've made and it makes me wonder how many other people out there are being poorly affected by running in shoes. The studies are showing that "barefoot runners strike with their forefoot and suffer less jarring to their bodies. When you're barefoot, you're going to land with the portion of your foot that is most springy. Shoe wearers strike with their heel and deliver a shock to their overall body that is two to three times their body weight."

Admittedly barefoot running is not for everyone. Many runners never experience any kind of problem running in shoes so if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But for individuals like myself running barefoot seems a necessity and without discovering this form of running I would have never been able to be a runner. When I was a kid I used to spend entire summers barefoot, playing in the backyard, hiking through the woods, playing softball at my grandparent's, stomping in puddles and in mud. My bedroom had white walls and I had this habit of sleeping sideways and resting the soles of my feet on the walls to cool myself off in the hot summer nights. I would leave dirty footprints all over the wall near the side of my bed and my mother would be so angry with me, but secretly, I loved my dirty footprints. They were a mark of summer, of adventure, of freedom. And even now, all grown up, I feel that shoes are the enemy and dirty bare feet are the mark of a warrior.

Posted 3.5.2010 5:48:38 PM

TDC wrote:
This is just beautiful
Posted 3/5/2010 4:41:32 PM
Mr. Space wrote:
Ever heard of the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico? When they were discovered, people were baffled to see they could run 50 to 200 miles - basically barefoot.

Posted 3/6/2010 8:09:15 AM
Mr. Space wrote:
Whoops, they mention that book in tbe CNN article.
Posted 3/6/2010 8:17:06 AM
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