Guest Post: How I Became Barefoot Charlie: The Origin (Part 2 of 3)

As I mentioned in Part 1, my acquisition of barefoot superpowers was elusive at first.   My latent superpowers had to be earned slowly, Legend of Kane style…Grasshopper style.

Since this is an origin story I will rewind a bit further once more to where it all began.  I had been a stay at home father, with two kids, juggling a couple of home based businesses for about 5 years.  It was a rich and rewarding lifestyle.  It was so rich that I gained about 10 pounds per year on a steady diet of mayonnaise and butter…but not always in that order.  Chocolate and Ben and Jerry’s also played a minor role in the saga of my undoing.

Every superhero has his nemesis.  In my case, it was forgetfulness.  I had forgotten how to make having a healthy body a life priority.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that my life was about to change forever.  And on one magical day, it did.  I pulled a muscle in my back “running” about 20 feet down the driveway, while playing with my son.  It was a revelation!  That was when I realized I had to become my own superhero, and I began running.

When I began “running”….I “ran” at a pace of about 13-minute miles with great effort.  I would run one or two and find myself sitting down at the end with the world spinning, wondering if I was going to pass out or not.  I figured they would find my body by the trailhead and wonder why I hadn’t finished the water in the bottle still clutched in my hand.

The point I make here is that my approach was not sustainable.  My barefoot perspective is that IF I had been running BF at that point…it naturally would have been sustainable.   Barefooting makes your mind unable to outrun what your body is really ready for.

Not so with shoes.  If I had been BF from the start, I would have been forced to go slowly, saving myself many months of overuse injuries, the types of which numerous runners encounter in adulthood as they finally rise up from their couches to discover their superpowers.  I was running in shoes at that point though, and they allowed me to overtrain, run through the pain, and end up at the podiatrists office.

My feet and knees and shins were in such bad shape that I just couldn’t take it any more.  I dialed the number as if I was contacting Lex Luthor’s office.  I had this feeling like it was all wrong, like I was trapped in some delusion, but what else could I do…I couldn’t run any longer.

Podiatrists?  I wondered about those guys.  I wondered how much stock they owned…as a group, in Superfeet.  I chatted briefly with someone at the office and told them my story and they said that I would need orthotics, special shoes, yada yada yada.

I made the appointment feeling like I had just given up flying lessons and thrown my cape into the landfill.  To cheer myself up, I hobbled into Borders.  While there, I picked up Chi Running on a whim.  Can I say thank you to Dan?  Like right here?   Right now?  Thanks Dan!

I read the book cover to cover and decided to give it a shot.  I also realized that if I filled out the paperwork at the podiatrist’s office then they would uncover my secret identity.

So, I canceled the podiatrist appt. and began working my way through the book.  Chi Running changed everything for me.  I felt like Dan became my sidekick.  He’d be there telling me slow it down, telling me that my lean is my gas pedal, to remember to take in the chi from all around as I began to see running as less of a sport and more as a way to let energy run through my body.

Running became yoga in motion, Tai Chi at 7 miles per hour. My running form felt great, but there was still something that wasn’t working.

I’d be like “Dan?”  He’d say, “Yes Super Barefoot Charlie?”  I would respond (whining a bit but trying to sound competent)“My ankles are still rolling too often.  My shin splints aren’t completely gone and I feel like I am trying to make your running form work with shoes, when in fact, your running form is what happens naturally when I am not wearing shoes at all.”

He’d shrug his shoulders and go “yeah…what’s your point?”  And, in between breaths (because when I run, and think at the same time, I have to pause to catch my thinking breath) “Well…what I am saying… is that Chi Running…. IS what happens naturally with barefoot running…so why am I trying to emulate barefoot running….in $100 shoes?”

When the execs at Brooks decided that the new Cascadia 3 needed improvement it gave me the push I needed.  I don’t know who runs shoe companies.  But I am positive that they giggle at dinner parties while dreaming up arbitrary changes that they could feasibly make to perfectly functional shoes.

While I do find it hard to believe that a 5 month old shoe has suddenly lost it’s credibility as a reliably built shoe…and must be replaced by a new version with new features that I don’t need—I must confess that I only live in 2 bedroom apartment and must not be smart enough to grasp the wisdom of such highly deductive reasoning.

At any rate, the new and expensively improved Cascadia hurt my feet really badly.  I tried numerous different shoes and found none that worked.  It was finally time to put down the Chi Running book, thank Dan for running with me and showing me the way, and to begin running as nature intended…. without shoes.

I went from 40 pounds overweight, to discovering Chi Running, to finally embracing BF.  You know from Part 1 of this 3 part series, how to NOT start out BF running.  All that is left to share in the last part is what it is like to be my own running superhero, finally drinking from that holy grail of bare feet.

I will share mainly how BF running has changed my perspective on just about everything related to fitness, health and well being.  I might also cover the cultivation of Jedi Super Powers.

Charlie was 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.

Part 2 of 3 – also read The Origin: Part 1 and The Origin: Part 3.

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