Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Friday, September 4, 2015

Barefoot Style

Apparently, going barefoot is out of style.

Bare feet run fast--if you're Kenyan

Not that it was ever quite in, but minimal shoes and barefooting were sort of a thing. The Haitians and Jamaicans grew up without shoes, and those guys were fast. So were the Kenyans. And Zola Budd. And that secret running tribe in the Copper Canyons of Mexico, who ran in thin, leather huaraches. There was Barefoot Ken-Bob, the barefoot guru. And Barefoot Ted.

But then people got injured when they stepped out of their ultra-cushioned shoes onto the actual ground, or into a pair of shoes with no raised heel and very little padding.  LOTS of people got injured. Achilles tendon damage. Foot bone stress fractures. The military actually banned minimal shoes.

The rash of injuries isn't too surprising, when you think about it--something like spending your whole life in a cast and suddenly expecting your leg to hold you up. Or walking around wearing sunglasses all the time and then taking them off one day and finding the light hurts your eyes.

The problem was, I think, that people wanted instant results. They wanted a pill. No injuries! Ever! Shoes are bad! Take off your shoes--or mostly off--and you'll run like the mysterious Tarahumara tribe in Mexico!

I took off my shoes because I had plantar fasciitis for a year and a half and everything the doctors said to do about that made it worse, until a guy in my local running shoe store handed me Christopher McDougall's book, Born to Run, and suggested I get rid of padding and arch supports. Also, my brother had started running barefoot and he thought it was just fun.

It took another year and a half to work slowly into wearing minimal shoes--or bare feet--100 percent of the time when I run, and I still have to be careful when I put on a lot of miles. You have to ease into it slowly, and remember your feet are weak from years of wearing padded shoes with heel lifts. Wearing raised heels all the time actually shortens the Achilles tendons. There's a reason the shoe-boxes for minimals usually warn beginners to start out wearing them only ten percent of the time.

Super-padded shoes are the new trend, the guy in my local running shoe store tells me. Trail runners so floaty-thick-and-soft they could make you believe rocks don't even exist. Pure fantasy.

All right. I get it. People don't want to get hurt.

Personally, I believe in rocks, especially when I trip on them. My ankles and knees (which haven't been twisted or injured since the day I paid to have out the padding cut out of my running shoes), they believe in rocks, too.

So does my daughter, who got twenty-one stitches over the course of one summer tripping over rocks and roots in her highly padded heel-lifted running shoes (she's still not a fan of minimal shoes).

 So, I didn't buy the super-padded floaty-soft shoes. Instead, I picked up a great deal on a pair of discontinued minimal trail runners, which I bought in case they weren't there next time I really needed some, and backpacked 27 miles in those shoes--with a 45-lb pack on my back. Which was freaking heavy, maybe because of the six tangerines and two apples--and the baggie of garden peas--and pillow from home, because I wanted to sleep, didn't I?--and the giant canister of bear pepper spray. No twisted ankles or tripping, though, because, yeah, I could feel the rocks, which were definitely not fantasy. When we went on a day hike through squishy marsh and snow, I kicked off even those shoes and went barefoot across the snow. For some reason no one wanted to join me.
The 45-lb pack--see it tipping off to one side? That would be the bear spray, probably.

After we got back I wore my thrashed zero-drop padded shoes for a few days, because my bones weren't used to that kind of abuse and some padding felt good.

But I've been back in my minimals for awhile. And my favorite run will probably always be the barefoot one in the drainage-basin park which they always over-water and the grass is splashy and squishy under your feet and it's SO MUCH FUN! Even with that little thistle patch on the southwest part of the basin, which doesn't hurt anymore, because my feet have become pretty tough.

Moms with little kids glare at me, think I'm setting their children a bad example.

Maybe.  I just like to know the ground is real.

Bare feet in grass!

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