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running barefoot

3 October 2010 2,985 views 4 Comments

the inspiration

Greg gave me a book about running when I was in San Francisco: “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougall. It’s not really fair to say ‘about running’; it’s better than that. Anyway, if you haven’t already, pick it up, borrow my copy, give it a try, it’s excellent. Obviously it encourages you to run, but it also encourages you to think about your running style, physically and mentally; how do you run, and why do you run.

So, anyway, I’d been rationing chapters but when I was in Batemans Bay I piled through and there was one part that was so good, and, yes, inspiring, that I just shut the book, grabbed shades and went for a run.

the scene

I’d just read about the apparent benefits of running barefoot and adjusting your running technique to do so. Chris (I think we’re there) also says that he tries to make his style “easy, light, smooth” so, that’s what I was trying to do too.

I took off along Broulee Beach, and basically kept going as long as there was sand. Then I turned round and came back again. It’s a beautiful beach: lots of surf, dunes on the land side, and the stretch in the middle is basically empty of anything other than driftwood and footprints.

That was over 12 k barefoot along the sand. Which isn’t an epic distance, or massively impressive time (1 hr 23 mins, thank you Timex), but a few things:

  • I haven’t trained ‘properly’ since the Half Ironman – I don’t think salsa and surfing count.?
  • Soft sand running is pretty challenging anyway because of the extra resistance you need for the shifting surface
  • I had peanuts and lager for dinner the night before so I wasn’t exactly prepped for this

So my point is that it should have been tough, but actually it was glorious.

the technique

One of the things Chris talks about a lot is keeping your back straight. I think I know what that should feel like from yoga so I concentrated on that, it felt awkward but ok. When you run keeping your back straight it makes you plant your feet more directly underneath your hips, which definitely feels weird. And that in turn means that you have to lift your knees higher to get any stride, which should and does also feel weird. But, and bear with me here, try to picture that, does it sound more like the shape and motion of, say, Usain Bolt..? C’mon, it does doesn’t it.

I had to concentrate a lot to maintain that pose and motion but it was worth it – it started to feel really good. Tricky bits:

  • I kept focusing on lifting my knees high – although that did start to make my hip flexers a bit sore
  • I started to get a stitch / strain in my right shoulder which I think was from the more upright position but on the whole my arms felt relaxed, free, floaty
  • I slowed down whenever I needed to. Chris talks about running only so fast that you can still keep up conversation. A man that likes to run and talk, tell me he enjoys gin and bike riding and it could be love…

the experience

On the hippy side of things, it was a great experience: I love having free toes, and the sand was beautifully crunchy underfoot, and it’s fun having a less predictable ‘journey’ – feet, ankles, body adjusting as I went along. On the less good side: every time you land, every step, the non-firm parts of your body identify themselves very clearly which is a bit gross.

So, I ran, and like I say, it was glorious. I had to dodge the odd blue bottle, and bits n pieces that had washed up on the beach but it was a gorgeous day: warm, sunny, maybe a bit too salty-dry but totally bearable. Plus my iPod is currently loaded with great tracks that I’d popped on in preparation for the Half and then not been able to use, so there were heaps of treats along the way.


I digress, the point is barefoot running – even if it was on sand and I need to progress to tougher surfaces – is wicked. And I want to get some of those crazy looking glove type shoes; they’re meant to just provide protection for the ground but basically you’re running barefoot. In the meantime I’ll be doing laps around the park or along the beach.

And my final point is that I actually had a new found respect for my body. I felt that I’d asked quite a lot of myself doing that run, and all things considered my body responded well. This is a potential breakthrough / change – there are very few occasions when I have anything good to say about myself physically.

Don’t you love learning new things…


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