Way back when I got the idea to try to run again, after a 25 year hiatus, it was like learning a foreign language. My body just did not know how to move! I thought back to when I was 9, the last time I could remember being on a track, and I just COULD NOT conjure up my childhood self – the me that enjoyed running… I had no idea where to start.
But I did – I started. And I quickly realised that running was not something that my body liked any more. My knees gave me problems, subluxing (slipping out of place) causing me to tumble. My leg muscles just were not strong enough, causing my tendons to take the load and get inflamed. I knew I needed help if I was ever going to run.
I started working with a coach to address my running in late 2010. One of the first things we did was to film the train wreck that was my running. I took the video to my physiotherapist, who then prescribed some basic exercises to help me to reactivate my muscles to hopefully set me on the right path toward improving my run.
I talked about my training and my issues, online. I got a lot of feedback – particularly from the minimalist running fans. “Try barefoot running – it will strengthen your feet!” “Barefoot running will help you run forward and take the pressure off your knees!” “Read Chi Running!” “Read Born To Run!” “Try Newtons!” I learned quickly that when it comes to running opinions, everyone has them, and everyone is an expert.
But I listened. I did not embrace everything I heard (maybe I only took on board a maximum of 10% of the advice sent my way??) but I listened. I filed away the advice into the part of my brain labelled “Interesting Stuff” and “Good Intentions”. Some of it, like the barefoot running advice, made it into my file “If Only I Didn’t Have CMT”.
Time went on and my little experiment of N=1 has progressed. After 2 years of working with James Dunne, more than 7 months after being told to never run again, after many many models of shoes purchased, I did something that I thought I would never do three years ago.
I ran barefoot.
On Saturday at the track, for the sake of comparison, I took off my shoes and ran barefoot. It felt WEIRD. My left ankle in particular felt “stuck”. I felt like my feet were kind of slapping the ground – but I also felt like I was skipping along, so not on the ground for too long. It felt oddly FREEING.
Behold. My Naked Running Feet.
Note: I think I was actually able to run barefoot because I have been working on my running for over four years, two of those years with my running biomechanics coach James Dunne of Kinetic Revolution, and since February with my sports physiotherapist Ellis Taylor of Tatami Health. I have always done all of this under the guidance of the medical team at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery here in London and in particular my neurophysiotherapist Gita Ramdharry. Yes, I am now able to run about 200m barefoot, on the track. However, I don’t think that means that I can now “run barefoot”. Rather, the experience gives me the insight to what a more “natural state” stride looks like in me, and provides some feedback on the impact that shoes have on my biomechanics. I know my ankles are very weak, and that today I could not run naked for long at all without taxing my tendons due to weak muscles that can only do their job for short periods of time. But one takeaway for me is that with diligent training, yesterday’s IMPOSSIBLE became today’s POSSIBLE. The other takeaway is always keep all the well meaning advice filed away, even if you think it is not applicable to you. Because some day it might be.