(Sigh) The title of this article might have to be renamed into “How I Nearly Quit Being Barefoot Charlie”. Not an expected development. I am not beating the drum of defeet. But as I write these very words, I can feel my once proud callouses melting away. I feel the Barefoot Superhero dreams sublimating like snow in summer…like cotton candy in the downpour.
Here is what happened. I love rollerblading and I haven’t figured out how to do so barefooted. So, after not roller blading for a long long time, I headed out on my subpar blades for a short 6 mile jaunt. The blades always hurt my feet. I have been remiss in not buying a serious pair of roller blades, sticking with my hockey pair…heavy, clunky, painful. There is this certain way that my feet have always twisted in them. Sort of like being in a bad relationship. You know it is an ill fit, but you keep sticking around until something breaks. So, I went rollerblading and hit it hard and did something really weird to my feet, reinjuring what I had done the day before. Oh yeah, the day before….I went trail running on a 6 or 7 mile loop that I hadn’t been on for a long time, mainly because if it had a name it would be something like “Rocky Road” or “Foot Crunch Disaster Pie” or “Metatarsal Tragedy”. I took some of the worst rock hits I have ever taken. My feet were gripped in spasms of terror. I had headed out confidently but literally came home limping.
The next day I went rollerblading in my ill fitting rigs. Things really ramped up with the pain at that point. What was I to do on the third day? I chose the wizened path of a 39 year old man who has been there and done that and learned how to finally take things slowly when there is physical pain. I applied hard won lessons garnered from too many days of pushing myself hard through races and paying a high price in extended recovery times. What I did was this….I went running for 6 really fast miles.
Since that day, I have not run and mostly limped. The bones in my feet feel mostly like crunchy doughnuts. And I realize that makes no sense, not even to me. Not even a glazed crunchy doughnut makes sense. But just imagine that something solid and dense…like a doughnut, suddenly becomes all crunchy and crumbly. That is what my bones feel like in my feet, and all the milk in the world can’t wash away that feeling.
I have even found myself teaming up with an old adversary. Was it Lao Tzu who said that the enemy of my enemy is my friend? I rooted around in the closet and pulled out my Vibram Five Fingers. I swore to never wear them again. But I traced some of my foot pain to my Hurache Running Sandals. They made me walk funny and I think it had something to do with how slow my recovery has been. There was a pitched battle and the VFF’s and I kicked them out of the house. I am not running in VFF’s but must concede that they actually do allow my walking stride to be way more natural than how things felt in my Hurache’s.
I hear what you are saying reader, I can feel your questions across the miles. What does this all mean? Is he saying to not run barefoot? Why does he compare foot pain to crunchy doughnuts? Should I buy stock in Vibram?
Here is what I am actually saying. To really be your own superhero, you must listen to yourself. Invariably, listening to yourself will get you into trouble…and how you bounce back from that trouble is how you develop superpowers. In the end, it wasn’t about barefoot running, VFF’s, running technique or crunchy glazed doughnuts. Again, it was about facing that side of me that likes to push the edge a bit too much. I knew better than to run on that trail and I paid the price. I knew better than to use those blades when they were such a poor fit and it left me hobbled. I really knew not to go running on that third day and that was the last straw for my poor feet. So, in the end, not listening to myself is how I usually end up learning how to listen to myself better the next time. I think this is the most important superpower to have, and the most elusive one to acquire as well.
My advice is to definitely run barefoot but to stop if you are hitting rocks and feeling pain. Embrace barefoot running and follow no one else’s advice but those of your own feet. And if you aren’t 25 or younger, be prepared to pay a hefty price for not heeding the warning signs of physical pain. Leave the machismo at home and spend more time outside. I realize that this posting was supposed to be about something much more fun sounding. I was going to write about capes, Jedi Powers, and drinking from the Holy Grail of Bare Feet. But I think it is more important to offer up advice that can lead to your enjoyment of being outdoors and in your body in a sustainable and pain free way. At least I managed to work in the phrase “crunchy doughtnuts”. I think I worked it in at least 4 times.
As for me, I will slowly and gently reintroduce my feet towards barefoot running. I actually may get a thin minimalist shoe for a tiny bit of protection on the trails…I am considering the Altra Adam. But whenever the trail conditions allow, I will still be barefoot. I will be sticking to trails that won’t cripple me. I will also be buying a lovely new pair of awesome roller blades that don’t break my feet like crunchy doughnuts (5 times!).
see you on the trails,
Charlie is the customer service guru at PranaFlo, an online retailer of running gear and site for trailrunners to connect and get inspired to get out there and enjoy the outdoors. He also coaches barefoot trail running in the Chapel Hill, NC area.