I have been running barefoot, almost exclusively, for about three years now. And I have developed quite a serious problem. No, I haven't damaged my feet. Or lost any toes. In fact, I'm enjoying running more than ever before.
The fact is, though, that I find I'm no longer capable of running in any type of footwear. Ok, I can still run if I'm wearing shoes - I don't physically become incapable of putting one foot in front of the other - but I find shoes cumbersome. And by the end of a run in any type of footwear, all I want to do is feel the ground beneath my feet.
David and I went for a run on Clapham Common a couple of days ago. Now, those of you who are barefoot runners will know that, very occasionally, it's possible to tread on a not-so-friendly piece of debris which will cause a slight bruising to the underside of your foot. This happened to me a few days earlier - we were out running and I felt something sharp under my bare sole. Happily, my "fat pads" are so developed that the skin wasn't punctured but beneath the skin was a definite cut. My old running persona would have said: "never mind, push on and ignore it" but my evolving laid back, nurturing side said: "never mind, take a couple of days off and then run in Huarache sandals next time. Leave the barefoot running another couple of days". Oh, how I've grown!
Or....maybe not. On Sunday, David and I headed to Clapham Common (our favourite barefoot running haunt) and I threw on a pair of slim-soled Huaraches, whilst David removed his shoes completely. It was cold, so I was slightly smug when I asked, "how are your feet?" expecting David to moan about the close to zero temperatures. However, Mr "Leatherfoot" reported that his feet felt "cosy" and I began to feel jealous of his naked feet.
As I said, I'm not used to running in shoes. I wear them sometimes when running with clients, or when testing minimalist shoes, but I'm really one of those people who feels freer and happier with no footwear at all when I'm running. As I ran behind David, I could see him slip occasionally on the mud, whilst I was solid in my grippier shoes. But, for some reason, I felt less confident. When my feet are bare, I know what's what. I might slip, but my body tells me how to make the appropriate corrections. The shoes weighed next to nothing, but somehow I was struggling to maintain my normal, swift cadence. David's observations weren't especially helpful either: "you're running like an 18 stone builder" he commented, before leaving me in his light, leather-footed wake.
Well. Each run is an education, I tell myself. And my personal goal is always about learning how to adapt my body to different situations. By the end of the run, I had made a perfunctory peace with the shoes, having upped my cadence and improved my gait.
One of the things I love about a barefoot run though is the way I feel at the end. Not a sense of achievement at having burned "X" amount of calories (which was always my goal in my pre-barefoot running days) but that I have, for an hour or so, really connected with nature. I just didn't feel this when I'd run in shoes. Something fundamental was missing. I didn't feel frustrated, but just a little bit unfulfilled.
I think that something everyone learns as they grow older and wiser, is that you can't have your cake and eat it. In order to make a gain somewhere in your life, something else has to suffer as a result. That is the ying and yang of it. So, whilst I have gained a huge amount from running barefoot, I have sacrificed - a little bit - how much enjoyment I can experience when running in shoes.
By the way, this is not an anti-shoe post, it's just my experience - which is point number 2: that everyone is unique.
Phew, 2 lessons in 1 post from someone who might potentially not have a clue what she's talking about!
Food for thought though, hopefully :).