I love running.
It has gone beyond addiction for me. Running is woven into my life. It is foundational. Going for a run is my form of meditation. I need rhythm. I need motion. I need to be outside. I need to feel my body working. Give me a run and I get centered.
Running frees my mind to think what it needs to think. Whether it is a time of creativity or a time to wrestle with my own demons, running allows what I already know to come to the surface and slap me upside the head. During a run out on the open road, all alone, with my breathing as the only sound in my head, my mind will eventually tell me the truth. If you are a runner, you probably know what I mean. If you aren’t a runner, you don’t know what you are missing. This is the runner’s high. It isn’t a euphoric state. It is a state of truth.
That is why I want to keep running for a long time.
After reading Born to Run by Christopher Mcdougall (hereafter referred to as “the book”) I had one of those head slap moments. Barefoot style running isn’t a fad, it is a return to our natural state of locomotion. You know what I like most about the book? He did the research, so I don’t have to. It isn’t that I’m lazy, but why waste my time retracing steps that someone has already done effectively? I’m not going to regurgitate what he has written. Read the book. He does a great job of presenting the facts while telling a great story. Five Stars!!!!!
So, what made me want to start running barefoot?
Because I’m jealous!
I love to watch my 7 year old son run. Even the neighbors talk about how fast he is. He is just so smooth and swift. His face lights up and he laughs out loud when he is in motion. He’d rather run than walk anytime.
To show you what I mean, I asked him to run around the col de sac so I could take a picture. He said, “I’ll fly!” Off he went, laughing and running, catching the air under his wings. I never want that thrill to change for him.
It wasn’t until I read the book that I understood why he is so smooth. Kids run the way we are all supposed to run. They strike their forefoot first and have a beautiful, easy, smooth rhythm. About halfway through the book I watched my son tear across the col de sac and saw that perfect stride. Right then I decided I wanted to run like him.
Listen. I am not a doctor. What I choose to do is a personal decision. My writing here is to let you know what I am learning in the process of re-running my life. I am healthy and want to stay that way. Running injury seems to hang over every runner’s head like a cartoon boulder tethered with a fraying rope. Are we all just Wile E. Coyote waiting for the inevitable?
That doesn’t seem right. If man wasn’t born to run then he would have never made it very far in the savannah. Survival was all about running down food and running away from being food. Men and women ran before we had language, tools, crops and a brain that could think in a predictive manner. Running got us food and enhanced opportunities for sex. That’s all the reasoning I needed!
So, the next question was how to convert?
Yes, there is a program you need to follow to re-learn running. Except, in my wisdom, I decided to skip all that and just go out and run.
I finished the book on a Saturday morning and was so jacked about it that I went out and bought a pair of Vibram 5-fingers that afternoon. I wore them around the house on Saturday night and Sunday morning I went out for a 4 miler. I had done a shod 10 miler the weekend before and some 3 and 6 milers during the week, so 4 miles didn’t seem like a strain.
What the hell was I thinking? How come no one warned me? Well, maybe there was some warning in the book. Like, the whole chapter when Chris talks about how he got professional training to re-groom his running style and started very slow to let his legs and feet readjust?
First lesson in learning to run barefoot is: Don’t run barefoot – yet.
Let me back up a bit here. In my excitement I skimmed over the fact that I really hadn’t spent any time finding out exactly what it meant to run barefoot.
Here’s what not to do when you start out.
- Don‘t think that running in Vibram 5-Fingers or any similar shoe will be the same as barefoot. (They do have their place.)
- Don’t think that it is the bottoms of your feet that will hurt.
- Don’t run a distance that seems typical for when you are wearing shoes.
- Don’t think you can start cold without getting your foot and calve muscles in shape.
The first thing you need to do is get in your bare feet and develop a feel for how your foot is supposed to strike the ground. See how in this video – A New Way to Run. Watch it. Practice it. Make it feel natural.
First, I suggest doing this on a hard surface. You want to feel your foot hitting the ground.
Second, notice how the forefoot strikes first? That is the natural mechanics of your foot hitting the ground. Make it smooth and gentle.
Third, don’t push off with your foot. Lift up with your knee. This is important. If you run barefoot you don’t want to push from the ball of your feet. You will wear the skin on your toes and forefoot out. Locomotion comes from the hips. More on that later.
Last, straighten up. Just like your mom used to tell you. Shoulders back, chin up.
You can do this while you are watching TV, on a conference call or standing in line at Starbucks. Do it slow a few times and see how your leg moves as a unit. When you pick up your knee stop and look at how your untensed foot hangs with the forefoot lower than the heel. Try to do it with your knee too far out or in and get a sense of where the posture feels natural and right. When you get it just right – stop. Always stop on good form. Don’t do it again for at least 30 minutes.
If you feel compelled to try a run, do it in your kitchen or on some smooth, hard outdoor surface, but don’t go more than a few hundred yards yet. Let the motion become a habit. A hard surface will give you immediate feedback.
Walk around the house barefoot. Pick things up with your toes. Walk like a tip toeing Ninja, knees bent and landing quietly on your forefoot.
Next post I’ll take it out on the road, but only after we play guitar. Believe me. They are related. But, I’ve been told I have a strange mind.