Monday 4 July 2011

Who shouldn't run barefoot?

I was recently asked if there was anyone for whom barefoot running is not suitable and it got me thinking. First of all, it's always advisable to get checked out by your GP if you're thinking of trying barefoot running, particularly if you have an existing medical issue.

Aside from that though, is there anybody who just really shouldn't run barefoot?

My contact and experience with barefoot runners is that the majority are a very relaxed bunch of people. They take life as it comes, focusing on enjoyment and giving and not really worrying about what other people think of them. Conversely, those struggling with barefoot running and finding themselves with injuries tend to be quite driven people who want to achieve quick results.

My intial response then to the question of suitability was that people who are unable to adapt their mentality to being a bit more chilled out are perhaps not best suited to barefoot running. It requires so much patience and perseverance. There is an absolute necessity to stop and rest if any niggles arise and a continous and honest acknowledgement of the state of your body and the willingness to rest is essential.

Having thought about this further, if I am honest, I should admit that I am one of those driven runners who really don't want to have to stop because their body tells them to. As a consequence to this mental attitude, I have had more niggly problems associated with barefoot running than David, for example, who is happy to run but equally happy to sit and watch tv! His transition to barefoot running was seamless - he literally took it in his stride and has had no problems whatsoever. Yes, he started from an advantageous place with his background in martial arts and dance giving him a natural, flowing way of moving, but it must be recognised that his laid back approach to it all has been a real bonus.

So, did I rule myself out of the barefoot running game due to my "stressy" nature? Absolutely not! In fact, it's because I don't like to give up on something that I have maintained my barefoot running and........I was going to say "conquered" it but I think it's actually the other way around. Barefoot running for me has been, and continues to be, both a physical and mental exploration, so that as I continually tweak my movement patterns to create better flow and efficiency, I'm also more aware of having relaxed my attitude towards it all and letting my body lead the way a bit more rather than allowing my obstinate mind to constantly override it.

So, is the answer then that barefoot running is for everyone and that it can teach you how to become a more complete runner? I think it probably is. I do maintain that a person needs to be willing to participate on a more spiritual level and some people can tap into this capacity more easily than others. But we can all find that part of ourselves eventually if we take the time to look for it.

So, my conclusion is that no one should be ruled out. The ones who are stressed out and find the transition the hardest are probably the ones that need it the most!

Happy barefoot running - EVERYONE!

Thursday 16 June 2011

Who's Mad?

A lady approached David yesterday while he was waiting in a queue at the cashpoint. Her appearance was what some people might describe as "eccentric". Her clothes were slightly dishevelled, her hair was long and a little bit wild and she walked up to David with a rather strange, lop-sided gait and started talking to him as though she knew him.

Society would say she's a little mad. Some people might be a little wary of her. You don't just walk up to people you don't know and begin a conversation! Especially in London, surely?

David was wearing a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. She said to him, "what fantastic shoes! Where can I get a pair?" It turns out that she's had a problem with her spine which has affected the nerve supply to her legs, hence the unusual walking pattern. She was also wearing diving socks on her feet, not because she's a weirdo, but because these are the only shoes she's been able to find that are comfortable for her. Which doesn't surprise me - if you're not getting the necessary signals from your nerves as to where your legs are, wearing a pair of "fashionable" stilettoes or high-heeled boots with pointy toes is a sure fire way of leaving you face down on the pavement. In fact, it often happens to people with "normal" nerve signals. If you're wearing heeled shoes that squash your feet, your nerves are confused about the position of your body and are simply doing a unanimous shoulder shrug: "we have no idea".

Which brings me to the question: who is "mad", the shoe-wearer or the barefooter? As a barefoot runner, I'm often called crazy, mad or stupid. But wait a minute - I go barefoot so that my feet can feel the ground (they are designed to, hence the intricate nerve supply and shock absorbing qualities) and if I'm not barefoot, I wear shoes that allow my feet to move freely. The people that call me crazy purposely go out and spend hundreds of pounds on shoes that deform their feet. Usually, the more expensive the shoe and the more it deforms their foot, the more the name-caller wants a pair.

Seriously, who's the crazy one?

David made the point yesterday about how an animal's behaviour will often change when it's in captivity. You see lions and tigers in cages pacing up and down or doing some other kind of movement in a repetitive manner. Out in the wild, in their natural environment, they behave completely differently.

David's point of view was that human beings certainly don't live in their natural environment. How many people can honestly say they've never felt "trapped" and stressed out because of it. How does living inside, sitting for 80% of the day and staring at a computer screen at work and then a television screen at home, bear any relation to a natural way of living? Our bodies haven't really changed that much in hundreds of thousands of years and yet our living environment is radically different, almost unrecognisable. Our bodies crave vitamins and minerals, thrive on movement and become healthier out in the fresh air. What happens to a body and its brain when they get little or none of these things? The more artificial our environment, the more "stressed" we are with the overwhelming desire to just "get out". We develop repetitive, stress-related patterns of activity, just like the animals in the cage. We start to want bizarre, materialistic things like owning hundreds of pairs of shoes. As our bodies become more and more unhealthy, we have an increased desire to dress them in expensive clothes but then feel unhappy about what we look like.

In my experience, barefoot runners are merely choosing a more natural lifestyle. They're not crazy at all. They are the sane ones saying, "I'm not getting sucked into this!"

The lady that spoke to David yesterday wasn't crazy either - she just had her own set of rules. She dressed in what she found comfortable, and chose to ask David a friendly question rather than stare at his shoes and then scurry off to look them up on the internet.

It's only my opinion, but as a barefoot runner I feel as though I've actually had a taste of sanity. In the past, I've felt as though I should do things according to what society expects. We're told we should buy certain things, look a certain way. I remember someone saying to me once that she thought every woman should always have their toenails painted and that unpainted nails were verging on disgusting.


Something happens when you go barefoot. You begin to re-order your life and change your priorties. Take a look at the world from a new perspective. A SANE perspective!

I wish I'd done it sooner :)

Thursday 6 January 2011

Barefoot in the snow

It's been fun and challenging running barefoot in this cold weather. In December David and I tackled a few snow runs which are in many ways easier than running in frosty conditions. Snow underfoot might be cold, but it's soft so it's less abrasive. On one of the runs that we filmed, once our feet were warm it was actually verging on comfortable! We did shock - even scare - the few people that were out and about on that day. One woman stopped in her tracks and gasped, "good God!" as we ran past. Hee hee, I love it when that happens - to be doing something remarkable is such an energy boost. I would recommend that anyone who is in rut or feeling sluggish: do something out of the ordinary. Do it now!

I'm going to attempt to attach some video footage onto this so we'll see how that pans out......

Happy New Year!