Re-Learning Barefoot Running

21 Aug 2014

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A single thought can change the course of your life. -Unknown

Shoed Running

It was one rainy day in April 2014. We were sitting in Maria Cafe in Bangalore, talking about a whole bunch of things which will not make sense to any sane man.

Out of nowhere, Karthik asked, “Prem, Shall we run in TCS World 10K?”.

Without much thinking, I said, “Why not?”.

Though I loved and played a whole bunch of games in my child/adulthood, I was never a sports person. I never ran in tracks. I never ran in roads. The maximum distance I ran could be either between the wickets or in the treadmill. I do have a running shoe, which was never used for running.

We (Karthik, Parvatha and Me) made a decision to run. But, we know nothing about running; where to run, how to run etc. So, we decided to strengthen our body muscles first, increase our endurance level to at least 15 mins of continuous running in the treadmill and then venture out running in roads.

The DJ Fitness Gym in Doddanekundi was well sophisticated with all the machines, free weights, and a separate aerobics hall. I was surprised. We joined the gym and started workouts, with few minutes of running on the treadmill every day. A week later, we told the gym master about our plans to practice in treadmills for TCS World 10K. He advised us to run on the roads and does not seem to prefer other members to wait for the treadmill if we continue to run for longer times.

We took our bikes that day, scanned the roads near Doddanekundi/Karthik Nagar area, chose the road near ISRO, measured the length of the road from ISRO to Marathahalli and finalized every other detail for the next day’s run. Our first ever run on the road.

Next day, early morning 6 AM. All of us woke up, warmed up, filled up enough water in bottles and started running. Trust me, running on the treadmill was very easy. None of us could complete 2 km. Finished the run, thirsty & exhausted. We thought we could never complete a 10K.

We googled on different “Couch to 5K” programs and stumbled across Timed Running. (i.e. Run for X mins and walk for Y mins, repeat). We used “HIIT Interval Timer” for alerting us between walk and run, “Nike+ app” for measuring the distance and some music to cheer us up. We started with 2:1 (2 mins of running and 1 min of walking). Viola, it was awesome. We could complete 3K comfortably. I slowly tweaked the timings and ended up @ 4:1, which was fast and comfortable for me. We charted our own “Couch to 10K” program and started following it.

All was well until it happened.

The inevitable, every runner has to go through.

I started getting a sharp pain in my right knee, within three weeks into running. The pain becomes very sharp and unbearable after every run. Googled again to luckily stumble across “Barefoot Running”. That’s when I realized,

I never ever played any game in my entire life with shoes on.

Yes. We were not that rich to buy sports shoes, during my school/college days. This is the first sport that I practice with shoes on.

Could shoes be the reason?.

I decided to find out.

Barefoot Running

I still remember that day, that moment, that feeling, being out in barefoot for the first time, after a decade.

I felt Naked.

Yes. I really felt that way. I felt that every eye on the road is looking at my feet.

The first few steps were regular heel strike. I could feel the heel strike’s vibration directly in my head. As if someone is hitting my head with a hammer. That did not feel good. The stride changed automagically to middle foot within a minute. My stride length reduced and the cadence increased slightly. My body was upright, my head straight and my knees bent like a suspension. I could breathe easily and run. I felt connected to the earth. I did not consciously change any aspect of running. All were automatic.

That was a 5 km run. I didn’t feel exhausted, didn’t feel thirsty and felt like I could run one more round. More importantly, the pain subsided drastically in a single barefoot run. Two weeks later, the sharp knee pain vanished completely.

This is what I wrote on Facebook, immediately after the first barefoot run.

I felt connected to the earth - felt the chillness of sand, roughness of tar road, water droplets of the grass, painful steps on the loose gravels, rhythmic motion of my feet. It was amazing !!! Decided to walk barefoot as much as I could :)

From then on, there is no looking back. I did not wear a running shoe after that. Through some more reading on barefoot running, I got hold of Born to Run book by Christopher McDougall. What can I say about that book?. It’s a barefooter’s bible. My belief about barefoot running strengthened 100X after reading this book.

I can see hundreds of sponsored research on the internet which says running in barefoot is bad for you. Some research even says that human feet were not designed to run and we are not supposed to run without shoes. Funny. Isn’t it?. Majority of the advertisements made now are fear based. I wish people could simply think and respond to those ads and research. My response would be.

We ran in barefoot for millions of years. Just Re-Learn. Period.

I completed my first ever athletic event - TCS World 10K @ 18-May-2014, in barefoot at 01:03 hrs. Good for a first-time runner, isn’t?. Now, I can call myself an athlete :)

PS: I stopped using mobile phone, apps or music while running. Trust me, you will enjoy your run more and feel connected to running without music. I use my breathing as an indicator to pause/start the run. I completed the second and third 10K without using any device. Our body has an amazing, intuitive feedback system. I am trying to re-learn and master that system now :)

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