Let me just start this blog with the following points: I consider myself a “minimalist runner.” But, more importantly than that I am a runner, and one who practices good form. I have said this before: I am at the point in my belief system where I don’t think it’s as important to run barefoot as it is to run with good form. Some believe it may be easier to learn good form while barefoot, and there may be a lot of truth to that. However, I think the notion that you must go barefoot to do it right carries with it an air of exclusion, division from the rest of the running world. Like others before me have said, there shouldn’t be “regular runners” and “barefoot runners.” We are all people who share a love for the same activity – the only necessary difference is what’s on our feet. I have always had a little trouble with barefoot runners having to be separate. Even from the beginning, my opinion was that I would rather have a whole world of runners learning about the importance of correct form, than a few hundred people converting to barefoot and the rest of the running world shunning their extreme views and missing the whole point. I mean, why wouldn’t you want everyone to learn how to run better? Why let a few millimeters of foam stand in your way?
I would like to say that I came to these conclusions after much inner debate and deliberation, and because of running barefoot for a whole year. But no, I must admit that what taught me the most about barefoot running were:
- my summer-long hiatus from running due to injury
- my Saucony Kinvaras
Currently, I am not running barefoot. I am not running in my Vibram Five Fingers, or even in my Merrell Pace Gloves. I am running in Saucony Kinvaras. Kinvaras have been heavily marketed as a lightweight minimalist running shoe. But really – they’re not. They have squishy-bouncy soles, zero ground feel and a 4mm heel-to-toe drop (not much, but still). So, like most runners who prefer to be barefoot or minimally shod, I sort of object to the concept of the Kinvara as a “minimalist” running shoe. With that said, I am perfectly happy running in them for the time being. Why? Well, as I was coming back from my injury I decided to take the advice of my podiatrist, and ease the muscles of my foot back into their job more slowly than barefoot running would allow. But more importantly, I am just too damn paranoid of re-injury to run barefoot right now. So yeah, I was willing to drop the $70 on a pair of shoes to ease my mind as well as my feet. And when I’m good and ready, I will go back to running barefoot and in minimal footwear, and all will be well with the world.
What I know now is that when you’re running you must take heed of your feet. You must be sure to care for them, from the inside out, because without them you cannot run at all. My time being injured has taught me to respect my feet. To respect their workload limits, and more importantly, to run more for pleasure, health and meditation than for some constant self-imposed pressure to always improve. It was getting me nowhere, anyway.
Some people have asked me why I don’t just stay away from running at all until my foot is completely ready for barefoot running again. The answer is simple: because I don’t have to run barefoot to run. This is what my Kinvaras have taught me. When I first put them on in the store I was convinced this purchase was going to be the end of my credibility as a minimalist runner. And by the way, that attachment to my credibility was the reason I’d kept wearing unsupportive shoes all summer and subsequently prolonging my injury.
But when I took my first few strides in the Kinvaras I realized that they didn’t keep me from running with my usual form, as I had been told to expect. With the exception of the squishiness that had just enough give to satisfy my bum foot, I could still avoid heel striking. I could still stand up straight, lead with my chest and land with my feet under my center of gravity. All of a sudden, barefoot’s monopoly on good form seemed like a bunch of bunk, and for a moment I felt the disappointment of a child learning that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
That moment of clarity brought on the completion of a shift I needed to make in my thinking. Finally it didn’t matter to me if I was shunned from the barefoot community for running in shoes that had more than 6 millimeters of sole, because the people who were stuck on that rule were going about it all the wrong way. They were preaching to a small, exclusive group of followers who would conform to the letter, and all who fell outside their canon need not apply. My resistance to conformity was the exact reason I fell in love with barefoot/minimalist running in the first place, yet here I was feeling compelled to conform to a group of non-conformists. So you know what? Fuck ’em. It was time to break away.
It was also time to quit worrying about stupid unnecessary things like distance, speed, pace, competition, blah blah blah. I run to run. This is my hobby. I’m not a career racer. I don’t have to run any faster or farther than my feet are willing to take me today. And I don’t have to be an ultra-marathoner lest I be named a hobby-jogger. I don’t care about any of that crap anymore. In three weeks I am going to be running in a race called the Devil’s Chase. I chose it because its 6.66 mile distance is gimmicky and fun, and because I can wear a goofy costume. And I plan to not give a shit how long it takes me to finish or if I tire and have to walk some. I’m going to put on a ridiculous outfit, run a few miles with a couple of my friends, and then I’m going to hang around Salem, Massachusetts, the center of the Halloween Universe, and I’m going to smile. If you’re looking to find me, I’ll be the one wearing bright pink marshmallow shoes and running with fantastic fucking form.
That, my dear readers, is what running is all about.