Here’s the deal. A few weeks ago I was on a business trip. I ran in the mornings, as normal, but on the last day in town I had work to do before heading into the office and decided a run after work would be better. I was in a training mode and wanted to log ten miles. After work, I got changed, grabbed a water bottle and headed along an out an back route so I wouldn’t get lost.
Something wasn’t right.
The day before I had done a nice six miles in the morning and it felt great. This longer run felt like a struggle from the first mile. It was not a very scenic route with lots of traffic and strip malls. To make it more frustrating, the route tracking app on my iPhone stopped three times, so my mileage was all screwed up. You know how it is when you start to spiral into frustration? Everything started to bug me and after the 5 mile turnaround (which I had to estimate) I just wanted it to be over.
To top it off, somewhere during mile seven I started to feel a hotspot on my foot. A freakin’ blister! I had done that mileage several times before and not had any problems. Indeed, it was the first time since wearing my Luna sandals that I had any kind of issue.
It’s hard to keep focused on rhythm and form when you are pissed off.
I muddled through the last few miles and sat outside the hotel on a bench letting the fumes of frustration dissipate in the late afternoon sun. After equalizing I inspected the sole of my foot and realized that the blister was not new. I had gotten a blood blister while wearing a pair of five-fingers several months ago. This was an aggravation of that old injury. Still, I had to wonder why?
Maybe it was a reminder. You see, the weekend before I left on my trip Micah True, also known as Caballo Blanco, passed away while running along a trail in New Mexico. I had written a post on my author website about his passing. His portrait in Born To Run had been instrumental in my deciding to go minimalist. Was I just channelling my grief? Maybe it was finding its way out of my mind and into my body. I never met Micah, but I was feeling his passing and that feeling lingered through the week.
Running had always been an efficient way for me to exercise. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed running and the feel of motion, but at the end of the day it was about getting exercise. My initial interest in minimalism was all about injury avoidance and prolonging my ability to run. There is nothing wrong with that. There was one other element in minimalism that intrigued me, but not my reason for making the change. From what I had read, the people who were moving into minimal style seemed to be having fun, like they had discovered a long hidden secret; a buried treasure. It intrigued me and kept me working through the initial discomfort of retraining my muscles. Even in those early days I could feel it was different.
After months of adapting to the style I found I was enjoying running for running’s sake. The progress prompted me to sign up for a half marathon, and I went into a training mode, setting some milestones of mileage toward the date. Aiming at mileage is what I was doing that day after work. I didn’t go for a run. I went to reach a milestone.
At the end of Vanessa’s post, she asked all the runners who read her tribute to go out and just run. Don’t train. Don’t GPS. Don’t give a shit. Just run and, in doing so, pay tribute to Micah.
I listened to her. You see, listening is what running minimalist is all about. Barefoot Ted, the guy who started Luna sandals and is featured in BTR, tells people that listening is one of the most important things you do in barefoot running.
To run minimal, pay attention. Your body is sending you all kinds of signals through the new found attachment your feet have with the earth. Those signals inform your running style in subtle ways that you do not get in typical running shoes. Listen to your body and you will run well. That miserable day I hadn’t been listening. I was focused on training, not running. The run had turned into work.
Back home a day later I was up in the morning to log some miles. As I slipped on my sandals and running gear I made a decision. The run would be totally fun. I took my iPhone but only so I could have the cell phone and the camera if I wanted them. I turned down a road I don’t usually run because it is twisty and hilly, creating a lot of blind spots for cars to miss seeing you. It is also very classic New England scenery, so, what the hell.
I stopped often, inspecting some little sprout or the relief in bark on a tree. If I heard something unusual up in a tree, I paused and listened hoping to see the animal of origin. At one point I ran passed a stream that crackled with water. It reminded me that the stream had been there a long time before me and would be there a long time after I’m gone. We are given this place as a gift. It is a shame not to enjoy it.
Standing, listening to the water flow, I felt an attachment. It was like a slight breeze touching my cheek. For an instant I smelled the deep savannah of Africa. The place we learned to run. It was a fleeting moment, but one that told me I was running for the right reasons. Because I was born to.
Since then, I don’t take my running so seriously. I stop and look at interesting things if they strike my fancy. I go down side streets that I hadn’t planned on. I keep my camera with me to snap shots for my recollection. The world presents itself to you. It’s up to you to pay attention.
The funny thing is, I’m running just as fast and just as long as when I was focused on logging mileage. I’m just a lot happier while I do it. I don’t think it a failure if I am a mile into a run and decide, WTF, and just cruise on home.
I’ve signed up for a half marathon in mid summer and then a full marathon in fall. I was going to start up with a training program to build the mileage like I usually do, but now I’m not going to go with any specific regimen. Sure, I’ll take on hills and probably do some speed work, but it’ll be when I’m playing around – racing the kids on skateboards and bicycles in the neighborhood. I’m measuring my mileage because I’m interested in seeing how many miles it takes me to reach the next plateau on my running, but I’m not taking it too seriously.
You shouldn’t either.
Get out. Put one foot in front of another. Smile when you do it and be thankful that you can. Every step you take ought to be a celebration that you can move. That deep down in your genetic code the reason you are what you are – a brainy biped – is because three million years ago our ancestors looked out on to the savannah from the trees that bound them and said, “What the Fuck. Let’s Run!”
Stop if it doesn’t feel right and go home or fool around until you unwind. Listen to the noises around you. Feel the breeze on your skin. If you are wearing shoes, take them off and sense the earth under your feet as you stand still. Smile. Then start running again. Aim at a hill that you think is just too steep or long and smile while you kick the shit out of it.
That is what you were built to do.
Run Free – Micah True