Of course we know there is a whole movement toward barefoot running, about which some of us are completely convinced and others, completely equivocal.
One has reason to ruminate on such subjects while walking barefoot with the dog on on a Tuesday morning in July. The asphalt was rough and my feet tender. And what should provide relief but a long strip of tarsnake? The smooth black strip of rubberized tar was the exact width of my foot. It was cool to the touch. The heat of the day had not yet reached its surface. Later on it might become the hottest portion of the road.
Tarsnake yin and yang
I’ve written plenty about tarsnakes, and how they symbolize the yin and yang of life on the road. Here was an illustration of that principle, unexpected and pleasurable all at once.
When the dog kept walking and the tarsnake ran out, it was back to mincing on the asphalt. How and why would anyone really want to run on the road in bare feet? I confess to not buying in, all the way, to that notion.
Barefoot running is great. On the grass. I need to do that for a couple of reasons. My calves are stiff and short all the way from the knee to the Achilles. Not good. And my arches are spoiled from years of shoes and the addition of orthotics. I am totally dependent upon orthotics to run or my calves are tense and my knees ache. It’s all about biomechanics, of course. But also genetics. Both age and years of consistent running have made it more important than ever to focus on strength as well as endurance. The two naturally go together, people.
Now I know from having gone through physical therapy for a torn ACL that many of our biomechanical flaws can be cured. So there’s a part of me that retains a notion that even a pronation problem in both my right and left foot might be conquerable.
But if not, they can at least be remediated by paying attention to strength training and the resultant stretching that comes with exercising formerly weak body parts into workable shape.
The Big P’s
I’ve seen it happen with chondromalacia in my left knee. The PT cured that. And soreness in my hips? Strength work cured that too. I’ve been adding miles again, with intelligent and gradual increases, and regaining confidence. It’s about strength, not age. It’s about Personality too. Persistence. Perseverance. Perspective. Hell, through a few more “P’s” in there if you like. You get the Point.
So are people who run barefoot more persistent, perseverant and full of perspective than the rest of us? That’s a tarsnake type of question for all of us.
The anachronism of barefoot running also happens to be the most progressive thing to come down the pike in a while. No shoes? Barefoot running? Minimalism? That goes against everything the running industry has thrown at us for 35 years. I speak from experience. At one point I wore a pair of running shoes so thick they could have served as O-rings on the NASA space shuttle, and they could have used that a couple flights, as we all recall.
So it was weird, using fat shoes to make yourself skinny.
But looking back, there’s really nothing new under the sun about barefoot running. A couple few decades ago we ran barefoot in college. Some of us even raced 4 mile cross country races barefoot. That seemed like a good idea until the acorn cast on the upper campus turned us all into ridiculous Dancing Bears. Hurt like hell. Turns out shoes are good for something after all.
Yet we still sensed barefoot running was good for us. Sprinting up and down the football field at twilight was both a mechanically wise and immensely pleasurable thing to do.
We were ahead of our time in being behind the times.
So it comes down to personality–and the providential gift of decent biomechanics—that make this barefoot running thing practical at all. Some people can hack it because they have good enough foot and leg structure to make it possible. They’re the fortunate ones if aiming to run, or even walk, barefoot.
Others approach the change so determinedly that nothing will stop them from running barefoot. Not heat. Not rain. Not snow. Not even bowed legs or chronic toe jam. But we all know toe jam doesn’t grow on a rolling set of bare toes.
As for little old me, walking the dog barefoot and using tarsnakes to quell the pain is about as far as I’m willing to go on the asphalt. On the grass, I’m going to add some sprints after runs to loosen up these calves of mine. And be a kid for while.