Back on May 27, 2010, I went for a 3 mile run on the Provo River Trail. It was just like the hundreds of runs I’d been on, before- but with one exception. Afterward, I walked across the street from my home in Provo, Utah, and ran a little on Lakeview Elementary School’s grassy field for a bit. It impressed me enough that the last sentence in that day’s post was, “Felt like a kid again.”
On January 7 of this year (two days after I turned 37), I went for another run to Utah Lake and saw beautiful ice chunks and snow all around the lake. It was beautiful. But with a half mile left on my return to home, I noticed the old familiar IT Band pain that I’ve dealt with for about 6 years. So on a whim, I took my shoes off and ran the rest of the way home. In that post, I reported the following: “Immediately, the knee issues disappeared.”
So all this winter, I started experimenting. I ran with my shoes off, on, off again, and back on again. I ran barefoot through snow, on ice, and on asphalt. I even ran on gravel (ouch!) and dirt. A new, after-run-ritual was cleaning my feet with a scrubber in the bathtub. I may enjoy a barefoot run, but I gotta have clean feet.
It wasn’t all barefoot running. I also enjoyed running with shoes, then taking them off for the last mile or so. My feet started to callous, becoming tougher and more road-worthy. Shoes were more of a way to keep my feel warm, but I preferred the feel of various textures on my feet.
When I was a kid, I remember that I ran around barefoot a lot. We had a nice rock-gravel driveway in Chico, California, where I grew up, and I always enjoyed feeling the rocks against the bottom of my feet. Of course, there were puncture weeds to worry about. They grew up in between the gravel, sometimes. But my feet got to the point where I’d just pull the puncture stickers out of my feet and move on with life (except for a few times when the stickers were so thick and strong that they pierced through the skin callous to cause some bleeding- that did hurt.)
I did the mandatory reading of “Born to Run”, by Christopher McDougall, which is required running material for any new barefoot inductee. When you are out for a barefoot run and another barefoot runner approaches, if you don’t know the secret handshake or can’t recite, by heart, the proper spelling of “Tarahumara”, the true barefoot runner is well within his rights to pelt you with sharp rocks. And you have to just stand there. There are other helpful tidbits in that book.
And so it was, that, on a cold February 9th, I sent Kate Kift of The Barefoot Runners Society an email. I explained that I was a new barefoot runner, new to the ways of this fringe group, which is probably tracked by the FBI, and was interested in helping out the Utah Chapter. I had noticed that the Utah section of the BRS website was all but dead. This was a bummer for me, because I needed local help. I posited that I might be able to help the chapter, new as I was, in some meaningful capacity.
From there it was a flurry of emails, a quiet 4 months of communication, followed by an email from Kate, which I received 6 days ago. In it, she thanked me for stepping up as the chapter president and presented me with the coveted Chapter President Crown (Which is more or less a link to the chapter president section of their website. A crown would have been nice.)
I have arrived.
But I won’t let the power go to my head (or naked feet, as it were.) My goal is to sort of help people to see the advantage of walking and running in their bare feet. In fact, I’m new enough to this thing that I have no interest in being called “Barefoot _______”, or spouting off statistics about how 97 percent of barefoot runners, within 3 months, will find that they have extended their life by 119 years or doubled their salary. What I want to do is help people to learn that taking off their shoes is a nice way to strengthen their feet. It’s a good way to connect to the ground beneath us and feel as we explore walking and running in a while new-to-us, very old way.
And when the day comes that my position is wrested away from me by The Powers That Be, I’ll happily cede The Chapter. It will mean that barefoot running is catching on in Utah, that someone more qualified than me (this shouldn’t take long) is running this thing. Until then, Utah barefoot runners are stuck with me.