Aah … the joys of barefoot running 🙂 . I can’t believe I let myself forget the sheer pleasure of feeling concrete, grass, bitumen and sand under my bare feet. I can’t believe I forgot the pure pleasure of simplicity.
I know why I stopped running barefoot. It was because I overdid it at the Convicts and Wenches Half Marathon on Australia Day, back in January. I stood on lots of small pieces of gravel during the event and the concrete paths were scorching hot. I ended up with a painful spot along the ball of my foot between my second and fourth toes. I could barely walk on it for weeks but didn’t stop running either. After a month I bought a pair of shoes to protect my foot when I ran. That worked fine but when the pain stopped, I should have tossed the shoes aside.
While the shoes allowed me to keep running through whatever the foot injury was (I had x-rays but there was no visible damage so it might just have been bad bruising), they brought with them a raft of other problems. For the past two months, I have been suffering from shin splints and ITB syndrome. The pain has been at it’s early stages and I’ve been able to run through it after about 20 minutes. But I know from personal experience that the niggles will become major injuries if I don’t take action.
See, I used to run a lot. Seven years ago I was running every lunch time at work – and I was running hard. I’d go out in summer and winter for an hour and find the toughest inner-city courses I could. I’d run in driving rain and temperatures in the mid-thirties (celcius). I’d run stairs and hills. I’d do fartlek like I was training for the Olympics and pretty much wreck myself every day. I was using running as an escape from emotional pain and as a sort of self-punishment for being transgender.
Before I started the running I had been suffering from shin splints and ITB syndrome for years. But I never knew what the pains were. Every time I went running I was in agony; afterwards I’d be limping around the office, unable to bend my right knee or move my right hip. I just kept belting myself through the pain until one day I couldn’t take it any more. I had to stop. And for the next six years I couldn’t run at all. Every time I tried my right leg seized up. It was so bad that even walking with a wallet in my right pocket would cause my right leg to seize.
I tried everything to fix the pain. Physiotherapy was excruciatingly painful and didn’t ease the tension in my ITB and shins. Craniosacral therapy helped me walk again without pain but I still couldn’t run. So deciding to become a triathlete again in July 2011 was a scary thing. What if my leg kept seizing up? What if I my shins would be tender every day just from running?
They did. My leg seized up in those first few 500m runs. My shins throbbed for hours afterwards. It was demoralising to want to change my life so badly but to be in so much pain doing it. And then I read Born to Run. My soul was drawn to the magic of long-distance running. My mind was drawn to the simplicity of running over other sports. And my intellect was captivated by the possibility of running pain-free by shunning shoes.
From July 2011 to January 2012 I ran barefoot. I ran pain free. I enjoyed the simplicity of running. And I have to admit I liked the fact that I loved not having to spend $200 or more on running shoes (yes, shoes are ridiculously expensive in Australia).
I’ve been running in shoes for the past four months. For the past two to three months I’ve been experiencing shin splints and the first warning signs of my right leg seizing back up. Last week I couldn’t take it anymore and I took off my shoes. The pain subsided almost immediately.
This morning was my third run back in bare feet and I loved every minute of it. I’m taking it slowly again. I will limit myself to 4-5km a session until the end of June. I will try to run on a mixture of surfaces to toughen my feet back up. It sounds counter-intuitive to many … but bare foot running makes so much sense to me. It’s natural and is how we were designed to move. Yes, there are times when I need to wear shoes, such as during triathlon races (only because it’s in the rules, a rule I whole-heartedly disagree with) and on gravelly trails that my feet will probably never be tough enough to run. But I’m a bare foot runner at heart.
Total: 4.38km barefoot run @ 6:27 pace. Average temperature: 11.1’C.