“God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there” . . . on running barefoot over rough trails
“God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there” comes from a poem titled “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke.
I think of this line every now and then when I’m stepping quick and soft over rocky sections of trail. Early on I learned (via research and then experience) that a sort of paradox exists when trail running with no shoes on: sometimes it’s easier to get through a rocky section by going faster, not slower.
Sections that take too much mental effort to walk through slowly, picking my way through bebbles and billows of stone (I meant to write “pebbles” but then liked the new typo-word, “bebble” even better) somehow became magical moments of focus when I trot across with high and light footfalls.
Again, paradoxically, I don’t aim my eyes directly down where my feet are, but ahead, where they will soon land. And, somehow, foot-or-toe-sized flat landings flicker into being on and between the stones, and my gaze stays up-trail, and soon I am across the jumble and smiling at what just happened.
There are many helpful posts that goes into more detail on “form” and barefoot running, such as this excellent introduction by barefoot running guru KenBob Saxton.
Barefoot Ted has similar good advice: he also recommends a playful approach–similar to jazz improvisation, as blogger Clynton notes in his fine review of a learning session with Barefoot Ted.
Another barefoot running principle that Clynton reported: how running should be “joy with no pain.” That’s what I get from trail running, even over rough terrain.
Disclaimer: There are still occasional moments of surprise when my rock-radar malfunctions and I get a poke from something sharp. But that goes away pretty quick.
Oh yeah . . . and there was that one time when I jammed a root sliver in my under-toe cleavage and had to have it removed at urgent care. But that was three years ago. And it healed super fast due to the amazing circulation my bare feet have developed. Even the occasional toe-meets-rock flesh wound (like this one at Anza Borrego Desert State Park) heals quickly (and makes for a good story/photo . . . )
But the debilitating pain, a lifetime of chronic run-stopping injuries that have come from moving unaware of my poor technique—those days are over. (Especially thanks to Pilates/body/movement awareness instruction over the course of the last year.)
And while I still manage to come up with weird pains, like my recent cuboid (foot) bone displacement , that may curtail my running for a couple of weeks—it’s only until I find time for an appointment with my physical therapy doctor, Derrick Sueki. That amazing-genius-healer knows how to work both diagnostic miracles and cures. (Who knew there was something called the “cuboid whip?”)
But I’m running faster and stronger, and smiling more, than ever before . . . over terrain that may not be quite as shattered as this talus slope trail at Saddlebag Lake in the Eastern Sierra Nevada . . .
but still contains plenty of rocky sections.
God bless the Ground! It’s so much fun to feel . . . and share with other dust-loving critters, like this cool alligator lizard that paused long enough for me to paparazzi around a bit.
These beautiful creatures can grow to over a foot long and can live 10-15 years—unless invited to lunch by a snake or swooped up by a red-tailed hawk . . . or . . . crushed by a mountain bike tire.
Like many of their lizard cousins, alligator lizards can escape a predator by detaching their tail. This defense doesn’t work so well against a mountain bike, as I was graphically reminded of on a recent twilight run.
What was twitching and flipping around in the middle of the trail at the bottom of the popular Chutes mountain bike single-track near Irvine Park?
At first I thought it might be a snake in the trail, but as I got closer, I discovered—the broken tail of an alligator lizard. (The already-stiff body lay about six feet away.)
With mixed feelings, I pulled out my camera and recorded the disconcerting disembodied dance.
. . . . and, later, mixed the footage into a short YouTube video, complete with beatnik voice-over.
Let’s share the trails safely with our scaly friends!
“God bless the Ground! I shall [hike, bike, run] softly there . . .
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