Seven lessons learned in seven years of barefoot hiking/trail running
In January 2010 I attended a local bird-watching workshop and noticed some of the attendees were shoeless. Fascinated (and puzzled as to why anyone would want to go barefoot in winter), I returned home to research. What I found littering the rocky landscape of the interweb convinced me to try barefoot running as a way to (finally?!) overcome my nemesis: chronic left knee pain dating back to a 20-mile trail race in 2004.
Seven years later, the knee pain is long gone. I have a really long braid. My grandkids don’t always wear shoes (even in winter).
I’m taking early retirement at the end of this semester to write and hike barefoot even more than I already do.
To celebrate all the good weirdness that losing my shoes has brought into my life, I came up with the highly original idea to make a list of seven barefoot-related lessons, one for each year of fun. (Warning: I am neither doctor, psychologist, nor orca trainer. Implement these lessons at your own risk.)
There is more to life than following conventional wisdom.
Stiff shoes, high boots: neither are necessary to enjoy trail running, hiking, or back packing–even six-day adventures up and down steep, rocky Grand Canyon trails.
As with other muscle groups, strong feet/ankles develop via use, not immobilization (hiking boots = ankle girdles/foot coffins).
Throughout years of getting strong via many hours of shoeless trail time, my capable feet have enjoyed the following Grand Canyon adventures (mostly shoeless, but some in lightweight sandals when I’m being paid to backpack with a group as WFR): four rim-to-rims; week-long backpacking trips to Havasu Falls, Boucher Creek, and Thunder River; and quite a few “short” overnight trips to Bright Angel Camp and Cottonwood Camp (each seven miles below the rim of the Canyon).
Question: what other areas of our lives do we need to question conventional wisdom? If Big Phalanges (shoe/boot companies) are wrong about the need for shoes to enjoy trails, where else might we have reason to speculate/hyperventilate about conspiracies to keep us consuming unnecessary shizz?
Many fellow hikers/runners/bikers out on the trails feel compelled to say something about my lack of footwear.
Question: why the huge need to state, “You’re barefoot.”? As if:
a) I don’t know this and/or
b) Their verbalization will somehow change the situation to something they can wrap their Big-Phalanges-brainwashed mind around.
Recently I’ve heard more than a few “How do you do that? I can’t even go barefoot in my living room.”
Bonus question: is it difficult for me not to launch into a diatribe when I hear this.
Answer: Yes. Yes, it is. (But I don’t, these days, having learned over the last seven years that folks really don’t want me to reply with a sermon-on-the-mountain; they just need a safe space to verbalize their dismay at my unconventional lifestyle/shoestyle choice.)
Barefoot running offers no guaranty for curing or preventing running injuries.
My physical therapy doctor can vouch for this during any one of my many regular visits to play whack-a-mole with my owie-du-jour.
Q: How was your barefoot trail running going before your stress fracture last October?
A: Pretty darn good. Best in my 57-year existence.
Even when injured (that pesky lower right fibula stress fracture being the most recent and by far the worst so far), limping along on a trail barefoot is better than doing most anything with shoes on.
Q: Are you back to barefoot trail running again?
A: Yep. [Cue “Still Crazy After All These Years“] I continue to inter-web my brains out looking for the magic key to unlock they mystery of my chronic running/life aches and pains, and I continue to be fascinated by the connections of not only gait mechanics, but psychological/mind-body factors in chronic pain. (And I thank God I can trail run barefoot again!)
Barefoot trail running can lead one down a slippery slope that has nothing to do with mud and everything to do with life changes inspired by discovering the power of shoelessness.
Q: What the heck does that mean?
A: I have let go of haircuts, sleeping-with-a-pillow, mouth-breathing, some-but-not-all carbs, etc.
Smiling is unavoidable when trail running with a long braid.
While I still wear sandals (the same ones I backpack in) to eat out, work, go to church, etc, it’s getting more and more difficult to keep them on once at table, desk, or pew.
Q: Why don’t you stop wearing footwear altogether, then?
A: After seven years, am I still hung up on “conventional wisdom” that says only crazy people go out and about in public without shoes? How fun is it to answer a question with a question?
A: Almost as fun as traveling trails with happy, free toes.
Happy Trails . . . seven times seven!