I am way behind in this story! The first barefoot run, a one-miler, took place on December 11. What a feeling! We had anticipated this moment for so long; I had done my reading so I had some idea about what to expect. Paula’s neighborhood is a gated community with very smooth, well-maintained, and infrequently traveled roads. Perfect for our tender newbie feet. The weather was balmy, Christmas was in the air. We were animated, feeling like kids on summer vacation. We could feel the warmth of the sun on the asphalt, then the chill underfoot as we ran under shady clusters of oaks. We hopped around acorns and loose gravel which, if shod, we would have blithely crushed with our Nikes, neither noting their presence nor aware of their potential to inflict pain. As we pulled up near Paula’s doorstep, Merlin (Paula’s hubby) took the above photo, and that capped our inaugural run.
Feet spread after going barefoot for a while.
The next day, Paula’s feet were a little raw and my Achilles’ tendons were taut and slightly painful (normal for beginners). Undaunted, we ran our next mile two days later. Two days after that, we ran a two-miler! We had fun running past the homes festooned with holiday decor, some of it so bizarre we almost forgot to look down for acorns (they really hurt when you step on them). We practiced forefoot and midfoot running, a sharp contrast to the percussive heel strike I had developed over the years of running in progressively more built-up shoes. In fact, I had thought I was doing my knees a favor by landing on my heels! Not at all, as it turns out.
Pay attention to the ground ahead of you.
We kept up the two-mile runs for another week, then it was Christmas weekend. With family visiting and our mutual holiday schedules, Paula and I did our running separately. I went into town and ran around the Palmer Event Center and the Long Center, two civic buildings with plenty of nice, smooth concrete. The distance increased to two and a half miles, but I seemed to be slowing down from an already decelerated barefoot pace. I was landing lightly on the front half of my foot, rolling down through my heel and then springing up to make the next “toe-kiss”, just like the book said. The book also said it takes months to develop the muscles which have out of practice for so long, and months establish the technique and create your own barefoot running style.
It was a challenge to find footing that was gentle enough to run on without shoes. I was constantly searching for a smooth man-made surface, and when I ventured forth onto some rougher surfaces, I found I was putting the brakes on with every step. This made my legs very tight, and slowed my pace by about 50%. In contrast to the relaxed way we had started our barefoot adventure, my runs were becoming a grim and frustrating experience. I didn’t want to return to my old running shoes, that was for sure. My hips, knees and feet had not felt this good in years. I was finally trusting my joints to be functional without all kinds of arch support, anti-pronation molds, the girding of strategically-placed lacing, and a half-inch of cushion between me and the ground. Before embarking on this project, I had seriously begun to think that I would do permanent soft tissue damage by walking around barefoot in my own home. Change had come, but at what price?
I really missed running the trails which are in abundance around Austin. My favorite runs are those in which a variety of terrain and elevation challenge and entertain me, surrounded by trees and wildlife, with earth, leaves and rock underfoot, a creekbed nearby, and a dog loping ahead. Would I ever enjoy that serenity again?