I'm now at just over two weeks on my body experiment to switch to bare feet. Today I ran a mile in bare feet and it was almost effortless. Astounding. But I'm getting a head of myself.
I decided to try barefeet and moccasins because I was discovering that my feet were sore after wearing one type of shoe. Further, when those pains went away, my feet got sore when I switched shoes. It also seemed like walking in bare feet was uncomfortable at times. The simplest explanation was not that something was wrong with my feet, but that something was wrong with these shoes. Given that one of my best friends owns a shoe company that sells moccasins, and that going around in bare feet is supposed to be good for you, six months of giving up my shoes seems like a cool body experiment.
So why the running?
Truth is that I have trained for a marathon before. Nay, TWO marathons. The first I trained for six months prior and was running 5 miles a day and 15 miles on the weekend pretty regularly. I did not run that marathon due to coming down with pneumonia two days prior. I took up training again a year later but stopped due to severe knee pains. As little as last fall I tried jogging a quarter mile and came up short with stabbing pains in my knees.
Larkin has this book Born to Run
by Christopher McDougall which, among other assertions, makes the claim that we evolved to be runners but that the shoe industry has malformed our gait into one that inhibits our ability and causes injury. I can't remember all the data, but one quote sticks with me. . . "heels are for standing, not walking".
Over the past two weeks I've been slowly building up my tolerance for walking in moccasins. You don't come down on your heels -- more the middle of your foot. I've come to listen to my feet a great deal -- if it hurts to walk a certain way, you figure out how to walk so it doesn't. That means hardly any heel. At first I could only walk around on pavement and tile at work for a couple hours without having to switch back to a normal shoe. I can nearly make it the whole day now.
And then there's the running.
I just got it in my head that if there was any proof that shoes were the problem and not the solution then it would be me trying running again. So at the end of my workout in the gym a week ago, I went to a treadmill and kicked off my shoes. I figured I'd just try a quarter mile. You run with your back straight, arms working and leaning slightly forward. Same form as if you're running up stairs. Personally I come down on the outside of the balls of my feet and then roll inward slightly. And I admit that I was sore afterwards. But not sore with damage. More sore like I get when I've gotten a good healthy workout with weights.
Today I ran a mile at an 8 minute mile pace. I think it's time to start running in a Soft Star Running Shoe
as I'm getting warm spots from the friction. My calves were feeling it a little, but not too bad. And my knees. . . . not at freaking all. I can hardly believe it.
Over the past couple weeks, I have had five conversations with runners and joggers about my barefoot experiment and taking up barefoot running. The comments are remarkably similar, almost universally disparaging and three weeks ago I would have said the same thing.
"I can't run barefoot, I need arch support". The Born to Run
book and a growing host of medical studies suggests that by supporting the arch that you are actually weakening it. Take the arch in a building. Is it stronger or weaker if you put a jack under its cornerstone and lift upward?
"I over/under pronate and need a shoe to control that". Speaking as an overpronator myself, I get it. However what I'm finding is that in the past I had been told that overpronation was bad and so I bought a shoe that forced me to walk without it. However, rolling your foot around is pretty damn natural. And once you get those muscles firing, they just get stronger. I think in the past I never allowed them to work and so never got past the "uh, oh, something's wrong" stage. I overpronated and so put on a shoe to stop those muscles from strengthening.
"I'm heavy/fat and need a lot of support. I come down hard when I run". The Book cites a study that measured how hard runners hit when wearing different types of padded shoes. They found that runners come down harder when their heels were super padded. Because they could! But you take away that padding, shift your weight up on the front of your foot and now you have the whole spring mechanism of your leg to soften the blow. Okay, whatever. I'm sure that Nike has a similar medical study that shows the opposite. What I do know is that I was running in the gym today next to a woman and you could hear her heels slamming into the treadmill with each stride. She was coming down hard! You could barely hear my feet lighting on the mat over the sound of the motor. Looking in the mirror, you could obviously see who was putting more stress on their body.
Christ. I'm starting to feel like Nike and company have all my life been selling me both the disease and the cure at the same time. Like those beef commercials. Here is more protein than you need, and while you're at it take some heart disease and side of factory farming animal abuse as well.
As for my running, I'll just keep adding the distance and increasing the speed as my body allows. At this rate, I'll be running one of the local 5k fun runs this summer. In a moccasin.