There is a revolution underway in my apartment.
I suppose you might call it a foot revolution. Or a knee revolution. Or perhaps a pelvis revolution…I’m not really sure. But I do know one thing: it’s working.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the newest member of the shoeless running club. Yours truly has kicked off the kicks and is now going au naturel.
Since high school, I’ve loved to run. When I met my husband, we started running together, then got a few dogs and started running with them. When the rainy Oregon weather drove us indoors for days at a time, we kowtowed and bought a treadmill. Running was awesome – sweaty, cathartic, easy.
There was only one problem: my body hated it. A weak ankle here, some knee pain there. A trick hip that acted up viciously in cold weather, going up stairs, or when I wore heels. For three years, I stopped running almost entirely. When I sporadically took it up every now and again, in fits of I-don’t-care-I-simply-must-have-it, I was rewarded with joints that ached and clicked in a creepy way. Not good.
Then, about a year and a half ago, my mother-in-law gave me Christopher Douglass’s book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. The premise is simple: modern running shoes are bad. Their fancy cushioning devices, arch support, flex grooves, carbon rubber, split heels, what have you – all this mumbo jumbo really does is prevent your feet from feeling the ground. And feeling the ground is how we protect ourselves, how our exquisitely tuned toes, heels, ankles, shins, knees, hips help us find a rhythm that works long-term, without injury.
It seemed like a pretty good theory, but like all things my mother-in-law suggests, I regarded it at first with extreme suspicion. And like most things my mother-in-law suggests, I finally tried it. And liked it. Don’t tell her.
It turns out that running without shoes has given me a strange, intense freedom. I step more lightly than I could ever have imagined. I’ve found that my natural, unshod gait hits the ground toe-first, which further cushions blows to the rest of my foot and leg. I can run longer, farther, and faster, with less pain.
Although it remains to be seen whether this solution will continue to work for me in future, I am committed to finding out. Strength training and a proper running style are still important, as is eating a healthy, joint-friendly diet (I’ve gotta curb that cake habit). But with practice, according to Douglass, I can learn to run in ways that won’t deteriorate my bones and cartilage, bend me or cramp me, or prevent my system from doing what it does best: finding balance.
In other words, if all goes well, I can learn to run…forever. Like I was born to.