Few weeks back I let it slip that I was looking into the whole barefoot running thing, thanks to the new book Born to Run. I was intrigued by the author's explanation of how running shoes were developed and the possibility that they could be responsible for the lion's share of modern running injuries. The alternative was, naturally, no shoes at all. I was in no hurry to run unshod, as I have a bunch of marathons still to run this year, one of which is RnR Seattle on the 27th of this month, and I didn't want to do anything stupider than I normally would, for fear of injuring myself.
If memory serves, it was the very next day (after I revealed my interest) that my online running bud, Karoline, from Road to Paris blog fame and fortune, hit the road shoeless. She returned unscathed and, apparently, jubilant for the experience. That's when the subtle (?) pressures began to be applied. Kari was a convert, and it was clear her Paris Marathon partner in crime, Laura, was under the gun to give it a try. They go way back, you see.
Laura and I twittered and facebooked a bit back and forth about Kari's, shall we say, intensity?! Yeah, that works. At this point I was feeling a little self-applied pressure to take the plunge, as it was my suggestion that created this monster (used in the nicest way!) in the first place, but, I was still planning on saving myself til after Seattle. Then, out of the blue, surprising me and our friend in Trieste (Kari), Laura dove in last week. She, too, was hooked. I had no choice but to follow suit.
My intent, when I headed into San Francisco at 6:30 this morning was to put in 18-20 miles as by last long run before Seattle. I was thinking about kicking things off (including my shoes) at the Marina, where I could run barefoot around the Green, either on the grass or the pavement path, for MAYBE a mile...just to say I'd tried it.
Got out of the car in my "birthday shoes" (as Kari calls them) and walked across the blacktop parking area to the green. The only thing I could say right then was "damn, that hurts". The parking area is a bit rough. I was sure at this point that this was not going to go well, but stuck to my guns and started running on the grass. It felt good. Nice and damp...and cool...and soft. I was, however, immediately concerned about the sprinkler heads that are almost hidden in the turf, and did not want to hit one of those, so I stepped out on the amazingly smooth and even blacktop path. It did not take long at all for me to be blown away.
I was amazed, primarily, just how much this did NOT hurt. Seems there are pretty much more nerve endings in the foot than almost anywhere else in the body, which might lead one to surmise that, therefore, running barefoot would hurt a lot. But, turns out, all those sensitive nerve endings allow the bare foot to respond and adapt in nano seconds to the stimulus, pleasant or otherwise.
I also quickly felt as though all the energy I was spending was being efficiently used. I was setting a really good pace (for me), with surprisingly little effort. The experience was so enjoyable, that I ended up going around the green seven times, just under 4 miles, before deciding it was time for shoes...and the rest of my run.
Hitting the road again in the new Kayano's did feel good...at first. The cushy heal was comfortable and welcome...at first. But I soon had the feeling that I was leaving a lot of energy in the cushioning, and perhaps, having to work way harder to get the shoes to go where I wanted them to.
Turns out the balls of both feet got a little tender during the barefoot section, which led to the development of one big blister, late into the shoed portion of the run. That was painful enough that I bailed on my 18-20 mile plan and settled for 15...five minutes faster than my previous 15 mile pace.
All in all, I am blown away by what a positive experience this was. I'm not an expert or a coach so I can not say it's for everyone. But if you're game, give it a go. If you do, even if you don't like it, please let me, Laura, or Kari know. We'd love to hear your tales.
Right now, gotta go lance a blister.