Both Karen and I are into this whole barefoot/natural running thing which has seemed to gain popularity in recent years. I was first introduced to it via our friend Tamara and her Vibram Five Fingers. Um…, I thought to myself, those look stupid. What I said to Tamara was, “Whatever you’re into, I guess.” Or something equally dismissive. Memory is a funny thing…I’m not sure what happened next, but I think Karen read Born to Run and bought her own pair of Vibrams. Then I read Born to Run and stubbornly ran in my Converse Chuck Taylor high-tops figuring if part of the whole deal was no support and no cushion, I couldn’t go wrong with Chucks.
Fast-forward a couple/few years. Now I run in Merrell Men’s Sonic Glove Trail Shoes with Vibram soles. Now Karen runs in New Balance Minimus. Now running magazines and shoe companies are in full-on promotion of no- or low-rise minimal running shoes.
I’m not expert, but I truly believe the more we connect with the experiences with which we’re involved, the more we get out of it. For me, the transition to a minimal shoe took awhile. You have to go slow and build up all the tiny muscles which get activated when you actually feel your foot meet the road or sidewalk or trail. You make tiny adjustments along the way. Muscle groups get more developed. Stability is increased. Your form changes; you run more like you did as a child. Etc., etc. – this post isn’t really about how or why to run more naturally. But, I mention it because, for me, running took on a whole new level when I began running in a minimal shoe.
I think I began to make connections I didn’t before. I used to run in a regular running shoe with a lot of padding in the heel and a lot of support for this or that part of my foot. I thought it was a necessary part of running for a long time – this idea of making sure I didn’t actually feel my foot hit the ground. But when I didn’t feel my foot hit the ground, I didn’t know to make adjustments to my form or stride or speed. In the minimal shoe, I know. And, I adjust accordingly.
So, what does it mean? It means, for me, that discomfort is a part of growth and doesn’t always need to be viewed as a negative thing. If I’m running and feel the outside of my right foot getting tight or feeling weird, I adjust my stride a tiny bit to give it a break and allow another set of muscles to work. I still move forward, still engage in the run, and my weaknesses get bolstered and bettered by the stronger parts of me.
This is a huge intellectual discovery for me. Discomfort is a part of growth. It’s not always a bad thing. What? I know, right?
Because I run, now when I encounter something uncomfortable in my life, I try to think of it as an opportunity to grow. If I totally ignore it or pretend I can’t feel it, I risk injury. If I make adjustments, focus on stronger parts of myself, I get stronger on the whole and provide myself an opportunity for that discomfort to subside. Thank you, running. Thank you for teaching me that.
Something else super positive happens to me when I run. Especially when I run 5 or more miles, I enter into a weird head space. I’m aware that I am running, I am still feeling my feet meet the earth, still making adjustments, but I feel as though I’m somewhere just slightly above myself, above my body hovering. Karen and I, like most of you no doubt, live busy, complicated lives. When I’m in balance and not too stressed, I find I’m able to cope pretty well with day-to-day life (eating right and doing 3 mile maintenance runs daily, helps). But when I start getting wiped out, beaten up by little defeats or am feeling stress on an ongoing basis, I react more negatively to things, am agitated and upset. I know I need a long run. Just this morning, I got caught up in some negative thoughts triggered by something I saw on Facebook of all things. And, I don’t even LIKE Facebook to begin with! Anyway, instead of letting this little negative thing snowball for me into a big negative thing, I decided to go for a 7 mile run. I needed a system reset.
Warming up in the early miles, my mind was jumping around. It would touch on the negative thoughts and pull back, go somewhere else completely, make adjustments based on the feedback it was receiving from my feet and back and neck, touch on the negative thing again and pull back, it would notice the beautiful day, it would focus on my breathing, look for traffic, etc. Around 4 miles in or so, things start to shift. The running was more on auto-pilot – I had worked out the kinks. My mind was getting sharper, finding more clarity. I was seeing beyond the emotional part of the negative thought and getting to the real issues surrounding it. Today’s little jolt was about fear, essentially. Fear of feeling emotional pain, fear of past experiences which were painful, fear of the unknowns of today and tomorrow. Getting to the truth of what I was feeling gave me the opportunity to acknowledge it. Huh, I thought. I’m still scared by that, I guess. And here’s the crazy part…
As I cranked out more miles, the fear dissipated. My mind, now floating somewhere above my body, said clearly, Let it go. It was tired of rolling it around and around in my head. Just like it (my mind) was able to let go of assessing each foot strike, but still be aware of them, my mind said, Hey, this stuff is going to hit you from time to time. It’s okay. Recognize it. Acknowledge it. But then, let it go. Breathe deeply. And feel peaceful. Oh, and keep putting one foot in front of the other, too. For me, accepting that advice from my own mind as I was nearing the end of the run – something physically taxing – was fairly easy to do at that point.
There are many physical benefits to running and there is a lot of cool research out there suggesting our brains are initiated and activated differently by the repetitive action of running (which uses both sides of our bodies and both sides of our brains). For me, it’s free therapy. Many years ago, I saw a therapist. I was down…struggling to make sense of the world and my life. I, essentially, sat in her office for many weeks an hour at a time and whined and whined and whined. I think it exhausted us both. Then, at some point, finally, when I had whined it all out, she said, “Okay. So now what do you want to do? You’ve recognized all that negative stuff. You’ve articulated it. Where do you want to go from here? It’s on you. Either stay stuck or move forward into something else. What’s it going to be?” We never needed another session.
It was sound advice then and it’s sound advice today. But, if I’m honest, I’d rather get the message from that weird floating version of myself hangin’ out above me while I run. It’s cheaper too.
Running goes hand-in-hand with my vegan journey. I certainly feel better running on plant-based foods than I ever did when I ate meat and junk. No matter where or when or how you begin opening yourself up to new thought, new ways of being, new behavior, whatever – that opening up will touch all the areas of your life. My hope for you and myself is that we open more toward joy, love, understanding and patience and that we arrive thankfully into a place of peace within.