I’m not sure which are my best features, but I’m fairly certain they aren’t my feet. I have flat arches, my toes crisscross, I have little strength or flexibility for downward dog, I can’t sit with my feet tucked under me, and I can only point my toes in my imagination. At any time I have at least one toenail turning black from running or hiking. I have bunions and calluses and, well, you get the picture. More that you wanted.
So it may come as a surprise that I signed up to join the “One Day Without Shoes” event, at the request of my friend Jordan Witte.
The official website says: ‘One Day Without Shoes is the day we spread awareness about the impact a simple pair of shoes can have on a child’s life. On April 8th, we ask people to go the day, part of the day or even just a few minutes, barefoot, to experience a life without shoes first-hand, and inspire others at the same time.”
I’ve been around people who spend their entire lives barefoot, and while their feet may be tougher and stronger than mine, very little of the rest of their life looks better. I am glad that I’ve lived my life in shoes.
However, after spending last summer reading the book, “Born to Run,” I decided to give barefoot running a try. Since, in addition to all my other foot issues, my feet are soft and tender, I knew I couldn’t really go barefoot. I had to wear something on my feet.
So I started off by running one mile in my socks, on the grass in a local park, one day each week. It felt better than I expected. In fact, it felt so good that on my third attempt I went two miles in my socks. That turned out to be a big mistake. I limped for days. Apparently a 100% increase in distance was bad. I was embarrassed because I should have known better; I’m an incremental sort of guy and I made a goofy beginner mistake.
But I stayed at it. I ran for a couple of months (still, one day per week) in some cheap water shoes. When I wore those out, I bought a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. Once I learned how to put them on, they were great. I’ve been running in them three miles at a time, once a week.
But what is the point, you might ask? Not simply to toughen up the soles of my feet (who needs tough soles), but to make my feet stronger, to improve my stride and balance and to minimize injury. It was an intentional attempt on my part to become a better runner. I’ve learned I can’t change very much in my life, or change the world around me, by drifting through life. Drifting worked for Forrest Gump, but it doesn’t work for real people in real life. You have to be intentional.
So I psyched myself to run today completely barefoot, skin on the ground, for three miles. And I did it. I ran on sidewalks and asphalt and on grass. The sidewalk was the easiest.
I’ll be honest; it was less than pleasant. I had to stop often and pick pebbles out of my feet and remove stickers. I had to keep a close eye out for acorns. When I got back to the gym I had to put two Band-Aids on each foot to cover the broken blisters.
Being fifty-three years old might be too late to start a barefoot lifestyle. My feet have been protected in shoes for a long time. I doubt I will try true barefoot running again; at least, not for another year.
But here’s the deal. For me, going barefoot is a training technique. It’s an indulgence. It’s a choice. And I’ve lived my entire life in a world with lots of choices. The point of the One Day Without Shoes campaign is not to draw attention to people like me who make (what you may consider to be) goofy choices. It is to focus attention on people who really don’t have choices. For three miles, today, I felt their pain.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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