Alright, we are talking trail running. Well, really we are talking about something near and dear to me – running without shoes. In the past couple of years around Scranton, I’ve kind of become the “Hey, there’s that guy running without shoes” guy. I’m not sure it’s an official nickname or one that I particularly want, but it is what it is. It’s also a smooth entry into something I’ve been wanting to write about.
So yeah, I often run without shoes. Most often, when I’m on pavement I’m just barefoot, and in the woods I wear a pair of thin sandals made by Luna Sandals. They are from a company founded by a dude named Barefoot Ted, who was a central figure in “Born to Run,” a book by Christopher McDougall that asked the question “why do runners keep getting hurt?” Without getting into too much background, Chris developed a premise that maybe the traditional running shoes are not eliminating injuries (maybe even causing them) and that we were actually made to run barefoot. The problem is we’ve been in shoes so long that we forgot how.
I didn’t chuck my shoes based on the book, but I cast them aside based on one friggin’ injury after another. If it wasn’t plantar, it was a knee problem. If it wasn’t a knee problem, it was shin splints. I’d take time off, start running again and something else would happen. I’m not someone who is injury prone. Despite a mild case of hypochondria, I’m healthy. (Knock wood.) So I had to figure out a way to run because it’s the one thing that keeps everything in balance for me. It never fails. Even a terrible run will put a smile on my face. So I started taking off my shoes and running around the downtown. Slowly at first, not doing more than a half-mile at a time. I eventually built it up, gradually. You need to let your muscles adapt. They are not used to this and you need to build callouses on your feet so every remotely sharp thing doesn’t hurt. To answer the obvious question, no, I don’t step on glass or needles lying in the street. I step around them.
So most of my running is done either barefoot or in sandals. Almost all of my trail running is done in a pair of Lunas, generally because there are just too many rocks and things to avoid in the woods. This is Pennsylvania after all. I know there is a lot of side-eye in this premise. I get it. I don’t see a lot of people trying it. But I also have some open-minded friends who have suffered from injury and at least been willing to explore the idea. It was a ton of fun to watch one friend take her shoes off at a local track and just do a lap in the grass. Just a lap. What she noticed was a change in how she ran – more on the middle of her foot and much smoother. It was better than smashing her heel into the ground. She’s not fully converted, but she digs it and it’s been eye-opening.
For my part, it was probably three years ago that I committed to the change. I’m not an expert on this stuff by any stretch. I do know I have had ZERO injuries, except for twisting my ankle once running at night through a dark neighborhood. That was three years ago.
So can you actually run in a pair of sandals through the woods? Hell yeah you can! Now, mine are pretty beat up and I’m due for a new pair because I’ve worn the tread bare, but yes, you can. The air moving across the top of your feet as you cruise through the woods is something that is hard to explain but it feels a lot like freedom. Without delving too deep into the mystic, there is a rhythm and mindfulness that will inevitably find you. This type of running allows for you to listen to your body more closely and give you all the clues you need to keep you injury free and running happy.
I welcome anyone who is interested to contact me about this. I’m happy to share my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned. If you do, prepare for your calves to hurt like hell at first and also prepare yourself to have more fun running than you have in a long time. It just takes a little patience. This probably won’t be the last time I get into this subject but it’s a good place to start.