During my recent trip to Mexico, I read a wonderful book called Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. It was a great story with interesting characters, all apparently true-to-life, centered around a tribe in Mexico’s Copper Canyon known as the Tarahumara. They are a fascinating culture that has retreated away from modern society after a history of conquest following the arrival of the Spanish in the New World. A big part of their culture has always been about running, and they are possibly the best runners in the world. Amazingly, they run in the barest of sandals, which only protect their feet from the jagged rocks they run on where they live. The book, in addition to telling the story of their history and culture, was really about the current barefoot running phenomenon.
An avid runner myself, I gobbled it right up. As soon as I got home, I got on the waiting list at my local running store for a pair of Vibram FiveFingers shoes. They are barefoot-style running shoes, a foot glove, really, complete with separate toes. The idea is that the foot, as it has evolved over millennia, is all we really need to run. All the extra supportive heals and arches promoted by athletic shoe companies for the past 30 years have not led to a reduction in injury. If anything, there have actually been more injuries among people wearing “running shoes” than back in the day when we just ran in ordinary flat shoes.
As anyone who really knows me is already aware, I have a tendency to overdo it with new ideas. I enthusiastically went out and started running in my new “barefoot” shoes. It really is a great experience I would have to recommend. However, I pushed myself too hard, too fast. I forgot that as a result of wearing very well-structured running shoes these past few years, my feet and lower legs have atrophied and lost the ability to run au naturel. So I got my first bona fide running injury after just a few times out. I have not been able to run in any shoes for the past week. It’s a total drag. I am limping around town like an 80-year-old man. It’s horrible, embarrassing and a bit humbling. I just hope my feet will heal and forgive me for my enthusiasm to try something now in time for me to run the San Francisco Marathon at the end of July.