About a year ago my friend, Sarah, introduced me to a book called Born to Run. We had been working out together every morning, and almost daily, she shared with me something new from the book. Multiple times a week she had us running barefoot through the grass surrounding the junior high's track, or sprinting sans shoes across the football field. I'll never forget the morning she showed up with just a pair of socks on. She had made her own pair of minimalist footwear by sewing a piece of leather on the bottom of each sock. After that, I decided it was time I read the book myself...the book that had provoked in my friend, such erratic ideas and behavior. I picked myself up a copy at the local Barnes & Noble, and was instantly hooked. I couldn't put it down. As I read, I became lost in the world of the Tarahumara - an indian tribe in Mexico's Copper Canyons who can run for hundreds of miles (barefoot or in sandals handcrafted from straps of leather and tire rubber) without ever breaking a sweat, needing to stop for a rest, or becoming injured. As the book unfolds, the secrets of the Tarahumara are also revealed. Christopher McDougall is the author of this fascinating read. I absolutely love his response when asked to disclose some of the secrets he learned by spending time with the Tarahumara - arguably the greatest long distance runners in the world. This was his observation:
The key secret hit me like a thunderbolt. It was so simple, yet such a jolt. It was this: everything I’d been taught about running was wrong. We treat running in the modern world the same way we treat childbirth—it’s going to hurt, and requires special exercises and equipment, and the best you can hope for is to get it over with quickly with minimal damage.
Then I meet the Tarahumara, and they’re having a blast. They remember what it’s like to love running, and it lets them blaze through the canyons like dolphins rocketing through waves. For them, running isn’t work. It isn’t a punishment for eating. It’s fine art, like it was for our ancestors. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle—behold, the Running Man.
The Tarahumara have a saying: “Children run before they can walk.” Watch any four-year-old—they do everything at full speed, and it’s all about fun. That’s the most important thing I picked up from my time in the Copper Canyons, the understanding that running can be fast and fun and spontaneous, and when it is, you feel like you can go forever. But all of that begins with your feet. Strange as it sounds, the Tarahumara taught me to change my relationship with the ground. Instead of hammering down on my heels, the way I’d been taught all my life, I learned to run lightly and gently on the balls of my feet. The day I mastered it was the last day I was ever injured.
By reading this book, I not only became inspired by the lifestyle of the Tarahumara, but felt equally invigorated as I learned of other elite runners and amazing athletes. It wasn't long before I found myself wanting to become a runner as well...a barefoot runner, no less. Sarah introduced me to her friend, Chris, who has been barefoot running for quite sometime and has some great knowledge and expertise to share on the subject. Much of his know-how was derived from none other than Barefoot Ted himself - featured in Born to Run. Chris set up a Barefoot running club and began offering bf running clinics at a local park on Saturday mornings. Believe it or not, it is a science. After learning and practicing a few important elements to barefoot running, I began running almost every morning, and got up to about 3 1/2 miles on any given day. And then heat of the summer struck, and even in the early morning hours, the pavement was almost too unbearable to run on. That, and I got lazy...and busy.
I went barefoot running this morning. It's been several weeks since the last time, so I could only go about 1/2 a mile until my feet started feeling sore. I stopped just in time, thankfully...I have no blisters. Tomorrow I may try to go a bit further. I'm mad I let so much time lapse...now it's like I'm starting all over again. So at this point you may be thinking I'm crazy...or wondering to yourself what this madness is all about. I've been asked all sorts of questions about it...Why in the world would anyone go running without the support and protection of good running shoes? What's the benefit of bf running? Isn't it bad for your feet? What about rocks and glass? I love catching glimpses of people as I pass them by. I've been given a few dirty looks...seen some confused expressions, semblances of shock...some double-takes. Actually I think that's part of what makes it so much fun - getting reactions out of people.
Running barefoot adds a whole new dimension to my running experience. It forces me to be more aware of my surroundings...the ground...the environment, even myself...my movements, my thoughts. It helps me to enjoy nature more. It takes me back to even before my schooldays and brings a sense of childlike wonder. When done right, it's relaxing, it's peaceful, it's therapeutic, and most importantly...it's fun. Skeptical? Give it a try...or read Born to Run and then you'll most certainly want to give it a try.