There’s an old joke among gardeners that goes like this. The head gardener of Eton’s playing fields, when asked by an American tourist how he kept the school’s lawns immaculate, replied “Well, sir, you start 500 years ago… ”
I’ve decided that barefoot running is a bit like that. It looks simple, but there’s a lot of care involved, and it takes time to get it right. I started running barefoot two years ago, and I’m only now feeling that I’m getting it right. I’m not fast yet (and probably never will be), but I can run up to 25K barefoot without any issues of any kind. I’ve gotten back to entering – and enjoying – races, and my times at those haven’t been too shabby. I run six or seven days a week. Recently, I had one week when I ran a total of just over 100K barefoot. I haven’t had even a minor injury for what seems like a very long time. And, last but not least, my weight is down to a very respectable 150 lbs., and I feel extremely fit.
But all that goodness didn’t just happen. When I first started running barefoot, I made a mistake common to most beginners, and did too much too fast. That meant that, after an initial bout of enthusiasm, distance, and speed, I didn’t run for almost two months. Top of foot pain gave me “Frankenstein feet” (all seized up, wooden, clumsy steps, a world of hurt) and a whole bunch of blisters. Then came a Canadian winter, which meant I had to move my barefoot running indoors and onto the treadmill. That was good, because I could work on improving my form, but it wasn’t running on the sidewalks and roads that are my “real world” surfaces. Getting back outside in mid-March brought a series of blisters large and small, and less-than-ideal form brought recurring forefoot bruising. As if that weren’t enough, I suffered a couple of small puncture wounds that, while not serious, cramped my style somewhat.
As I’ve said more than once, I’m an “experiment of one.” At times, I felt I had gone three steps forward and one – or even two – steps back. But the journey was always interesting and always worthwhile. Not once in all that time did it occur to me me to abandon my barefoot journey. It felt right, even with the hiccups.
So I kept going. I kept testing, refining, and improving. Perhaps most importantly, I kept enjoying it. It was fun to learn what my body could do and couldn’t do. It was fascinating to play with minor tweaks in my form, my cadence, or my posture. Every once in a while, I was challenged to change my thoughts and start off in a new direction. I learned to push my limits, accept my realities, and understand myself at some very deep levels.
And it’s all paid off.
After posting this, I’ll head out to do an LSD-paced barefoot 18K run. I’ll do it easily and happily. I’ll run free and strong. And, if anyone asks how I came to be able to run barefoot, I’ll say, “Well, you start by doing it. You just have to jump in and start. And then you keep going for a while. For a long while, if need be. Don’t worry, you’ll get where you want to go. It’ll just take time.”