Well, it happened! My piece about barefoot running has been posted on Running and Rambling! Go read it now! Comment on what a great post it is, and then please come back and read this account of my very first forays into running without shoes on. (There’s a link at the end of the post to redirect you to the journal here.)
For those of you who are coming from Running and Rambling, welcome. I hope you’ll stay around and read about stuff like crowdsourcing, the microbiome, how to kiss acquaintances in Switzerland and why Craig Venter is in trouble for quoting Proust in a junk portion of artificial DNA. I post new stuff twice a week, on average. It’s all over the map.
To get down to business, then: This is the trail I run on along Lake Geneva, the scene of the forays into barefooting recounted below. No cars, no glass, no snakes, no problem…
Tuesday: I decide to follow Donald’s wise example and take things very slowly. Heading past the friendly bodyguards staked out in front of the Chechnyan’s house, I run my usual 10k along the lake. I concentrate on bending my knees, as Barefoot Ken Bob suggests. On the way back, I take off my shoes and walk a 100m section of the gravel path. Sweet Jesus! How will I ever be able to run on this? I’m relieved there is no one witnessing my wincing, egret-like perambulation. Back home, I consult Ken Bob and discover that I should have kept my head up, not down, while walking. Clearly, this is going to take some time. The soles of my feet are about as resistant as the foam on my cappuccino.
Here’s a picture of just what I’m dealing with:
Friday: This time, I go back and forth on the same brutal stretch of gravel. Ken Bob says you have to start on the gnarliest bit of gravel you can find, otherwise you won’t get the form right, and you’ll get injured. Is it my imagination or does this hurt less than it did on Tuesday? I keep my head up. Damn, these little stones are sharp. I try to visualize the ball of my foot morphing to spread my weight over the stones. I imagine making little running steps but am not able to execute them. I am positive I’m going to puncture the sole of my foot. Every few meters I have to step off onto the grass for a break. Luckily there’s nobody around but an elderly couple, and they ignore me.
Monday: Today, I remove my shoes 100m earlier. This section is not as gnarly, and I can get a little jog going in places. A bit of mud feels delicious squelching between my toes. I swear I can feel the ball of my foot adapting to the ground as it hits, and I concentrate on lifting my foot up instead of pushing off. Pretty soon I reach the nasty section, and sure enough the running gets too painful, and I have to walk. I focus on relaxing my shoulders and keeping my head up. It is an incredibly beautiful day, but no one is around to witness this. I find that oddly comforting.
Thursday: I’ve decided that Ken Bob is a sadist. I walk a longer section of the trail, gritting my teeth the entire time. This is definitely NOT fun. Sure, it’s easy for him to say – Go pick the gnarliest section of trail you can find, one that’s full of small, killer stones. He’s been going barefoot his whole life! He is not starting with cappuccino-foam feet! I fume as I walk along. There’s no way I can ever run barefoot on this stuff. There’s no way I’m ever going to get the form right if I can’t break into a jog! This is totally ridiculous. I head over to the lake and walk into the water. This is more like it. I run along the grass a bit, enjoying the feeling of the soft ground beneath my feet. I’m going to have to Skype my brother. We need to find some kind of middle ground here.
Friday: I share my barefoot experiences to date with my writing group. Incredulous, they suggest I update my tetanus immunization. Not a bad idea. I try to explain Ken Bob’s philosophy, that a piece of glass or the occasional nail is not really that big a deal in the grand scheme of a Barefoot Life. I decide to take my mini-Swiss Army knife with me on my runs, though, just in case I need the tweezers. Maybe I’ll also go ahead and start transitioning to the New Balances, because if I continue breaking my feet in at this rate, it’ll be January before I can actually run for any appreciable distance. And no matter what Ken Bob says, frozen feet are not on my list of must-have life experiences.
Saturday: We went hiking on a beautiful trail, and I kept thinking how great it would be to run it in my New Balances.
Tuesday: I run five miles in the New Balances. I bend my knees, gliding Zen-like across the ground, slowly. Later I return to the scene of my barefooting to take some pictures, and I make another attempt at walking along the path. It looks so smooth from a distance! But each step is a little world of torture. Makes you think twice about that expression, A walk in the park. Not obvious. Not obvious at all. It’s a function of your footwear and the surface roughness of the park.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday: I’m in Holland, where I run a few kilometers every day in the New Balances. My foot is fine! I’m bending my knees like Ken Bob says, keeping weight under my body. Holland is flat. Really, seriously flat, except for the occasional slight rise to get up onto the dikes. It’s also exactly, or even slightly lower than, sea-level, so no excuses. And because it’s really cold here and the only other shoes I brought are sandals, I’ve been doing all my walking around in the New Balances as well. I really like these shoes! I may never take them off!