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Barefoot running and more: what worked in 2015

December 31, 2015
OC sunset

Day’s end, year’s end clouds and sunshine, Orange County, CA

Reflections, Dec. 31, 2015.

End of one year.

Beginning of another.

Nagging thought: “I didn’t get enough done” (nature and nurture, childhood and choices all contribute to this ongoing excavation of my own personal pit o’ despair).

Nagging aches and pains: From sitting too much? Sure. From running? Maybe. From unprocessed emotions that have somehow embedded themselves in my living tissue and need to be acknowledged and dealt with? Whaaat? “Somatic archelogy” is a thing?

Following is a list of stuff that worked for me in 2015: (the year that saw me fulfill my dream of traveling across the Grand Canyon barefoot, in one day, not once but twice, at age 56, with a sketchy haircut)

(AND the year ends with much gratitude to movement educators/bloggers Michael Sandler (Mindful Running), Jae Gruenke (The Balanced Runner), and Katy Bowman (Nutritious Movement) for giving me lots of the nutty ideas below.)

Nose breathing. That’s right . . . when I run and hike, I aim to keep my mouth shut at all times (would that I could transfer that skill to my interpersonal dealings!). Just like running without shoes, this seems like an impossibility until you. Do. It.

Michael Sandler tries to explain it here, but for me, the proof is in my own performance: my grin-sparking ability to fly up hills like a happy hippogriff. Especially gratifying (in a masochistic sort of fashion) was power-hiking up the South Kaibab Trail (seven miles, 4,860 feet in elevation gain) BREATHING THROUGH MY NOSE! Mind (and nose?) blowing!

Another breathing tweak: Inhale for an even number of steps, exhale oddly. Most of my trail runs are to the count of in-four, out-three. On hills, things change. In-three, out-three. In-three, out-two. In-one. Gasp. (But see above tip for how freakin’ awesome NOSE BREATHING is 🙂 )

This has been interesting to experiment with. The benefit is supposed to be a shifting–equalization–of stress on the body . . . here’s a quote from Jae Gruenke’s blog, where I got the idea, always seeking to chase the pain away from my right hip/left knee: “alternating which foot you begin your exhale on powerfully reduces movement asymmetries. So if you’re regularly having discomfort somewhere on one side of your body, you will feel it reduces over the course of a run in which you breathe this way.” Another no-cost strategy that is worth a try for all us hopeful hippogriffs.

Pillow-less sleeping. Yikes. What will these movement bloggers think of next? Katie Bowman likens pillows to another much-reviled body-stifling device in this blow-your-mind blog post, “Your Pillow is an Orthotic.”

No pillow, no problem! (And this allows me to carry one less (fewer?) piece of gear when backpacking.)

–More carb mindfulness. Back in 2014, I started cutting out “white carbs” (white flour, sugar, desserts that combined both of these in the most delicious fashions. Sigh.) Toward the end of 2014, I severely cut back on all carbs, including my beloved organic brown rice and organic whole grain bread. Even potatoes. That was rough. After suffering the expert-predicted low-carb brain-fog and weird restless mental state, I began to adapt. And lost five pounds that I wasn’t necessarily looking to lose, but was fine with me. What 56-year-old-granny wouldn’t love to rock a set of six-pack abs? (Sorry for that disturbing image.)

Instead of carbs, I aimed for snarfing down more “good fats”, as well as the usual forest of green leafies & other salad fixin’s. What fun to be able to “snack” on a whole tin of oily sardines post-run. Mmmm.

A pleasing byproduct: I can now run first thing in the morning on “no fuel.” My body is a bit more fat adapted than carb-dependent, so an hour or so of running no longer leaves me quivery-kneed and carb starved.

Same with water, lately: I almost always carry a liter or two (in a Nathan pack, along with my little camera), but often don’t drink anything unless I’m out for more than 90 minutes. Then a handful of nuts and a few gulps of water will keep me headed up and down our lovely sage-and-sumac ridges.

Disclaimer: this holiday season saw me descending into carbolicious pizza territory a bit more often than I would have liked. That’s what New Years are for . . .

–Mid-run pain “mirroring”: this is a recent (and weird!) one. Again, thanks to the mind-blowing “The Balanced Runner” blog, I am experimenting with a new way to deal with my annoying, chronic, no-good-reason-for-it right knee pain (instigator of many-a poem/blog post/cry of frustration over the last 10+ years).

During my last run, trying this technique helped still the whisperings of discomfort from my right hip (right hip=reason I did not run for months this year). And then, when my left knee decided to remind me it had unresolved issues toward the end of that same run, I was again able to distract my body somehow and get back to the trailhead without having to whimper and limp the last mile. Woo hoo!

–Making small movements to reap big benefits in group Feldenkrais classes with movement guru Darcia Dexter. Another “hard-to-give-credence-to-until-you-try-it” sort of things . . .

Being grateful for my ability to run–I’m thankful for both my physical health as well as for living in a society where women can go outdoors and run without threat of bodily harm. This is NOT something to take for granted, as evidenced by this inspiring story of Kubra, an Afghani woman who faces huge challenges as she pursues her running dreams.

–Seeking out ways to move in three dimensions (or four, or ?) Running involves so much repetition, and (to butcher Robert Frost), “something there is that doesn’t love doing the same thing over and over.” Something = my fearfully and wonderfully slightly asymmetrical body. I’ve just started mixing things up: jumping, hanging, balancing . . . the world is full of fun stuff (tree branches! rocks! retaining walls!); we just need to pay attention and be ready to play a bit.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 12.54.29 PM

2015 was a year of changes and challenges; this blog’s purpose is not to whine, so I rarely give readers the opportunity to go swimming with me in my wading pool of despair (the depths of which are relatively shallow, but which seem bottomless when I’m barely able to tread water).

Just know that all the So Cal sunshine throws shadows as well, and when running barefoot through our local wild lands (nose-breathing and counting my steps all the way), doesn’t dispel the darkness, light and joy are just a prayer away, as I was reminded of this last morning of the year when I read, “The Lord God is my strength and song.” (Isaiah 12:2)

clouds and sunshine

Here’s looking forward to 2016 as another year of questioning & learning (especially focused on stuff everyone “knows” must be true/good/beautiful just because, well, because that’s what everyone else thinks . . . like front yard lawns in a dry climate, ankle-high boots on the trails, moving stiffly–or not at all–’cause you’re getting older . . . I could go on, but then I’d having nothing to blog about next time. May the joy of discovery be yours in the New Year!).



5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 1, 2016 10:17 pm

    Thank you for the inspiration and great ideas! I’ve been doing the nose breathing thing (along with barefoot running) for a while now and I love it! Just found a book that is helping me explore the next step in that direction: “The Oxygen Advantage” by Patrick McKeown. I first found out about him from a book my wife got to help her with her asthma. This book is just out and has more information on nose breathing all in one place than I’ve found elsewhere. It is helping me learn how to slow down my breathing while running and make it more efficient.
    I’m curious about your parkour post and where to go for more guidance in that direction? I’m not as young as I once was and don’t want to hurt myself, but do want to explore more ways of moving.
    Thank you again for your inspiring blogs!
    All the best in 2016

    • January 3, 2016 5:19 pm

      Hi Scott! Thanks for the comments; here’s some links for further “parkour for older adults” inspiration: (the main take-away for me–age 56!) has been that you don’t have to do “death-defying” things to have fun moving through a landscape . . . it’s a matter of applying a little imagination to your surroundings . . . what walls, benches, tree branches, etc. are asking to be hopped on/over or swung from 🙂 ).

      • January 3, 2016 8:13 pm

        Thank you Thea!

        Those links look helpful. I’m hoping to start with some simple movements and maybe learn how to fall. (Sort of like practicing capsizing a sailboat. You don’t want it to happen, but you also want to be prepared if it does and feel confident going a little closer to that edge.) Each new learned thing makes everything around me, that I might have taken for granted or just gotten used to being the way it is, take on new meaning. With a little imagination it also ups the fun quotient!

        It has been frosty here and the frost heaves can be a pain to run on barefoot the way they crunch when you land on them and do the sandpaper thing. Today it started to thaw though, so I got in a little run and then walked the dog. Cold hands and warm feet!

        All the best and thank you again for your blog,

  2. December 31, 2015 5:53 pm

    Thanks for some interesting health tips (not that you’ll get me running…) I so get the “I haven’t done enough” thing…

    • January 1, 2016 6:50 am

      Hi Terry! Happy New Year! Let’s hike & write again when you’re in So Cal 🙂

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