Ditching Dead Weight

Barefoot RunningSix months ago I wrote an article that began with the words … There is a revolution underway in my apartment.

The revolution, alas, is really not all that revolutionary at this point: barefoot running is, especially among those of us who lace up and head out on a regular basis, rather old hat.

But to me, it was novel in the extreme. See, for the first time in a very long time, I’d been able to consistently work up a sweat jogging without popping a hip out of place or hyperextending a knee. Do I exaggerate? Yes. But am I speaking from experience? Yes.

After suffering recurring bouts of terrible joint pain, not to mention weird stabbings and contractions in the bones of my upper arches, my mother-in-law finally suggested barefoot running.

I snorted. Like wheatgrass and Baby Bjorns, some things are just too insufferably yuppie. But … but … I tried it, because I would have tried anything. And it worked.

Puzzling over the magical change in my running style, I contacted Pete Kitto, an owner and physical therapist at The Running Institute in Ann Arbor. As chockfull of knowledge as anyone I’ve ever spoken with, Kitto explained to me the ins and outs of running styles, shoe types, and the necessity of transitioning correctly.

He told me that the profound differences I was feeling weren’t necessarily due to running without shoes, per se, but to the fact that doing so forced me to change my stride. Without a pile of rubber under my heel to cushion the footfall, landing on it hurt; instead I started landing on the ball of my foot. Voila – suddenly I wasn’t jamming my legs up into my hips, but pushing off lightly into my next stride.

Lesson? If something isn’t working, stop the pattern: try something new. I did, and by doing so got rid of something that I not only didn’t need, but was hurting me. I’ve never been happier.

So if you want to give it a try, make sure to go somewhere soft at first. A track will do nicely, but for the newly unshod, you can’t beat the Oregon Coast. Closer to Portland, you might consider trail running with minimal shoes at Tryon Creek or Forest Park. Hit it! 

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