I’ve just gotten into this whole barefoot thing lately. In a way it started when I was a kid…I always looked forward to summer, and would spend some time toughening my feet so I could walk across hot asphalt and the occasional bit of broken glass without worrying about it.
Put that way, it sounds kind of stupid. See what words do to people? Bare feet feel good.
So a few months ago I read Born to Run by Chris McDougall. And it got to me, because I used to run (a lot) but had stopped because of persistent/recurring injuries. McDougall suggested that shoes might be the culprits–running shoes, in particular. Turns out there ain’t a lot of research showing benefits from wearing them. If anything, the more expensive running shoes appear to be the most harmful. Now…on my own, I’d gotten to the point of noticing that orthotics, cortisone injections, and “specialized” shoes made things worse–but I hadn’t taken the thought to its logical conclusion.
Actually? I’m a little embarrassed about that. Years ago, I noticed my left knee didn’t hurt when I ran on the beach. Since then, I’ve been telling people I need “no arch support, no cushioning–as close to a bare foot as possible.” And…then I’d go buy running shoes, try again, get hurt, and quit. And I’d be sad.
So last spring I decided to try walking barefoot on trails. And I immediately had trouble. Plantar fasciitis, sore achilles tendon, etc. Apparently I’d allowed my feet to become so dependent on shoes that just walking around was too much for them.
So what’d I do? “Screw my stupid feet,” I said. “They’ll learn.”
Funny thing: they did learn. It took a few months, but the pain is all gone. My feet have changed shape…they’ve lost between a quarter and a half inch in length. My toes have straightened out considerably. I have arches, and can flex my feet in ways I never knew they could move. I can even spread my toes–okay, not so unusual, but I’d never been able to before. And I can easily touch my toes, for the first time since I was a kid. Hell, I can nearly lay my hands flat on the ground in front of me.
As for the abrasion factor: turns out it’s not about calluses, if you’re reasonably careful. The plantar (bottom of foot) skin just gets thicker. And tougher. And, yeah, you learn to recognize what is and isn’t pain. Because at first everything that touches your feet feels painful. Until you notice your feet are actually undamaged. And you begin to adjust your perceptions to more closely approximate reality. If you like that sort of thing.
There are a lot of people out there who are pretty serious about going barefoot. The Society for Barefoot Living, for instance, has all sorts of info about barefoot issues (driving, boards of health, etc.). Then there are the runner-guys. My two favorites to read are Barefoot Josh and The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy, but that’s just me. There are plenty of other people writing about this stuff.
So…I’m running semi-regularly. And I plan to run in the Blue Ridge Marathon on 4/20/2013. And running doesn’t hurt (except for normal/expected aches from the effort involved).
Will I run a barefoot marathon? I dunno. Right now I’m using a couple of types of “minimalist” (or “barefoot”) shoes. Partly it’s because the ground is getting colder. Partly because it’s been wet, and wet trails tend to wear my feet down a lot faster than dry trails. And partly it’s because the leaves are falling, and they hide the sharp rocks. I can still run on all that, only not so fast and not as long…and, damnit, I’m training. For a marathon.
Anybody out there want to join me? I have my own weird ideas about how to train, and I love that I’ll get to find out whether I’m right. But many, many roads can lead to a marathon…
Oh. You expected something about writing? Because this is a writing blog? Well…I wrote this, didn’t I?
Talk to you soon.