Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Barefoot Running

I'm a barefoot runner.

All my life, I've wondered why running was so bad for us. The fact that we have to make shoes to pad our feet must mean that our bodies just aren't made to run. We talk about how amazing our body is, what with its nervous system, blood circulation, etc., and somehow the foot didn't evolve with the rest of it. That is, it didn't evolve for anybody but those natives in Mexico that run and run and run all their lives without injury. It didn't make sense to me. It was a paradox that something that seemed so human was so bad for the body.

A couple years ago, I was talking to a marathon runner. He said the body is made to run. This was a refreshing idea. All my life, I'd been hearing otherwise. But how is it made to run when we have to compensate for its shortcomings? Isn't the idea behind running shoes to allow the body to do something it's not supposed to do? He mentioned barefoot running.

Apparently, those natives in Mexico are running with thin sandals. They protect their feet, but they don't pad them. The foot is designed to run. Imagine trying to write a letter with gloves on. That's running with padded shoes on. Our shoes are designed to keep our feet from doing what they're supposed to do. The world thinks that pronation is unhealthy for our feet, but our feet are designed to pronate. The arch is designed to flatten on each step because the arch is a spring. The more you use the arch, the higher it gets. Arch support is what causes the foot to flatten. If we just took off our shoes and built some callouses, we'd all have healthy feet and legs. We'd realize that running is healthy.

Initially, I wanted to buy a pair of Vibram FiveFingers because they seemed to be the iconic barefoot shoe. They're the only kind that look like feet. They fit like a glove. However, I have something called Morton's Toe Syndrome, which means my second toe is longer than my first. Ten percent of the people in the world have this, but Vibram has yet to accomodate. Thus, I instead bought a pair of Merrell Truegloves, which I'm told are like Vibram FiveFingers without the toes. After my first run in them, my calves were so sore, I couldn't run much the next few days. Obviously, I was out of shape. But it was very interesting that it was working different muscles. This must have been normal thing before the seventies when the first padded shoe was invented. I'd never been that sore after a run before. Doesn't it make sense that running should use our muscles? It was exciting. I felt like I was opening myself up to a new life. I could run without fear of injury. I was enlightened.

However, as I used the Truegloves, I began to wonder if they were the same as running barefoot. While they were surely alot closer than any padded shoe, I sensed that the soles underneath the balls of my feet were thicker than the heel, so when I set my foot down flat, my toes pointed up ever so slightly. This felt unnatural. Now, when I'm running, I hardly use my heels, so this isn't all that much of a problem, but I began to wonder if maybe Vibram FiveFingers would have a more natural feel. I found no hint that they were going to release a Morton's Toe shoe, but I found a site that told how to mod a shoe to fit those with the condition. I found this interesting, but beyond my capabilities.

I gave up on that, but began to research barefoot running. I'm reading Born to Run. Also, I read what Harvard had to say. These sources didn't state that the best solution was to find the thinnest shoe. Instead, we should actually run barefoot. The thinnest shoe is for when our feet need protection. I was still caught up in the world's way of thinking, I thought that the body needs to wear a shoe. This felt even more liberating. All of a sudden, I didn't have to spend a bunch of money on shoes anymore. I could run with the best and cheapest footwear of all: my feet.

Yesterday, I went for a run barefoot. I ran on an indoor track. The reason why I run indoors is because most people are running outside, so I won't be as embarrassed when I run with bad form for only one mile. Anyway, it felt way different from the barefoot shoes. By this time, my calves were getting used to the barefoot shoes, but running completely barefoot was like starting over again, only this time, I not only felt a big difference in my calves, but I also felt a huge difference in my feet. It's an interesting feeling. Wearing shoes all my life, I'd never worked my foot muscles, but I could feel them working and getting tired. It excited me. It made me wonder what life would be like with strong feet. Nobody these days has strong feet.

Unfortunately, I developed blisters on the bottoms of my toes, so I had to go back my Merrells today. But that's okay. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to kick the shoes off again. They say that running barefoot is actually comfortable once the callouses are developed. I'm stoked. It might slow my progression for a little while, but I think the wait and pain are definitely worth it. One day, I'll be true runner.

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