Saturday, October 11, 2008

Andrew Goes Sorta Barefoot

“The human foot is a work of art and a masterpiece of engineering.”Leonardo Da Vinci

That the human body is pretty close to perfect, and that our best attempts to augment and improve it are inept bumblings at best and disastrous at worst is an idea that's served me well. Sunday, I had no choice but to follow through with it and go barefoot. Kinda.

One of the best things about a raw food diet is that you get previously inconceivable quantities of energy to use as you please. One of the worst things about a raw food diet is figuring out how to use it when your feet are busted.

I haven't run in over a month, and last Friday I was starting to go stir crazy. I passed up a trip to Boston this weekend becuase I needed to do some serious physical exercise before I went nuts.

I headed up to Fahnestock State Park in New York Saturday and hiked for five or six hours. By the end I was feeling some complaint from my injured bones, and, as usual of late, there was some low-level knee pain.

While hiking, I was reflecting on the ridiculousness of the situation. I had enough energy to run miles but I was stuck moving at a snail's pace- with pain to boot.

Worse, I felt that I hadn't routed out the underlying cause of my injury, and that after giving myself time to heal, that I might well reinjure myself when I took up running again.

It's a similar feeling to when my intestines were messed up with colitis. Even when I was feeling fairly good, there was always that underlying threat that they were going to go nuts again. It preyed on my mind.

The doctors essentially want to offer colitis sufferers a crutch. They'll put you on hormone pills
that treat some-but not all- of the symptoms. They won't touch the idea of curing the underlying cause- they won't even agree that there is an underlying cause.

I eventually got sick of the whole medical establishment and went with a raw food diet. By removing the underlying cause-the harmful food-, I cured my symptoms. I haven't had intestinal problems since, and I never expect to. It's extremely liberating.

So as I hiked at Fahnestock, somewhat distracted by the issue, I kept half tripping myself on the rocks strewn about the path.

This has chronically been a problem for me, despite being well coordinated. I spent my college years scaling mountains, I can do handstand scorpions, but put me on a hiking trail and I'll somehow manage to catch my shoe on a rock every 20 minutes.

Why? I can't feel the ground with my feet like I can feel the rock when I'm climbing. On a cliff face my hands are uncovered and my feet are in slipper-like climbing shoes. When hiking, there are stiff soles blocking any feeling of the ground that might tell me feet about the terrain.

This brought me back to something I've been tossing around in the back of my mind for some time. Why is it that Africans, like Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila, who ran a world-record 2:15:17 marathon at the 1960 Olympics, can get by without Nike, but westerners need to coddle their feet in inches of padding and stabilization?

Genetics? Maybe with Bikila, but are you going to tell me that every poor African that runs barefoot has the feet of the gods?

I look at my flat, pronation-prone feet, which running store owners tell me can only run with $90 Nikes keeping them stable, and wonder if maybe, like doctors facing colitis, the running store owners haven't been selling me a crutch.

Is there any benefit to running shoes besides protection from sharp objects? Why did we even start to use them? The Greeks ran barefoot or in thin-soled thin sandals for their Olympics, and mankind went barefoot for the first 200,000 years of our stay on this planet, so why should I need shoes?

It's with this thought that I found myself staring up a trail at Hubbard Park Sunday, prepared to be humbled. On my feet were a new pair of Vibram fiver fingers. There was enough rubber under my foot to keep sharp rocks and broken glass from slashing my feet to pieces, but not enough to let me walk sloppy.

My bones are still in no condition to run, so I set off for a brisk hike.

In short, it was like all the best parts of going barefoot without the threat of sliced skin and muddy toes. As I walked, my feet melted over the terrain. I could feel the pebbles, the grass, and every dip and rise of the terrain.

These things completely changed the way I walked. Previously, though unconsciously, I trod with little regard to the biomechanical setup of my body because I was offered no feedback. My feet landed however they fell, and I had no idea if it was good or bad.

Suddenly I saw there were bad, painful ways to crunch down on your foot. And there were also perfect ways. After a hour or two I noticed that my knees weren't bothering me like normal.

I jogged in 20 second intervals on dirt to be safe, and I noticed that these things also change my running stride a lot. I find that instead of reaching my foot out in front me, I now lead with my torso, with my legs pushing off in back of me. It's the only comfortable way to do it.

This is incredibly interesting, but I'm going to have a lot of build up to do if I want carry this forward.

When I got back to my car, I noticed that there were muscles in my legs and ankles that I obviously hadn't been using in a shoe, and they were all complaining.

And that was just after a hike. We'll have to see what happens when I try to run after I heal up for a few more weeks.

I may look strange in these, but I have to say I'm liking the barefoot thing.

P.S. I'll post info about the Marathon I didn't run later.


Anonymous said...

Hi Andrew, I just posted a comment on vegsource for you regarding barefoot running so I won't repeat myself. But I want to say that I have very flat feet also and I "overpronate" too. Foot docs told me I need this and that but my injuries never subsided until I went barefoot. I believe that our feet/ankles are suppposed to pronate. If we stop the pronation (when we put on large, heavy running shoes) then that is when the injuries occur. Everybody has a differnent foot design. High, low arch etc. Neither is worse than the other, as with some docs like you to believe differently. It's like everybody has a different shaped nose. Large, small but in the end no matter how different a nose looks it still serves the same purpose, let air in, let air out.
Good luck on barefoot running.

Running Raw said...

Thanks Kathleen. It's fantastic to hear someone say that. I must be on the right track.