What you see here is a very very happy foot. It is attached to a very very happy man. It is a bit muddy…perhaps a bit weather worn, but it is totally content to be right where it is. This pic was taken today at Lory State Park in Ft. Collins, Colorado. I am here this week visiting an old friend and he lives just down the street from this amazing aforementioned park. Today’s highlights for this barefoot trail running report: Wide open country, mountain lion warning signs, low brushy grasses, narrow rocky trails up steep draws, winds up to 50 mph, smushy mud, hardened slick ice, granular snow, warm sunlight.
My friend had to work for a bit so I snuck away for a quick hour’s run. I had run on this trail “Timber Trail” twice before in previous visits, but had never dreamed of doing so barefooted. Today I approached the trailhead with visions of cactus and roly poly ballbearing granite dancing through my head. I was concerned that it was not going to be appropriate for barefoot running. And for those that do not follow my blog at all, when I say barefoot running, I do not mean wearing “barefoot running shoes”. I mean that I do not wear shoes, whenever humanly possible.
Despite my concerns, the trail was…my god…do I have eloquent enough words to describe just how juicy this trail was? May I linguistically approach the way it felt to move over the land, totally connected, with the roar of 50 mph winds blasting me as I turned the ship of my momentum directly into its chilly teeth? How can I relay the way I laughed and giggled as the same winds literally pushed me laterally across solid ice? Within 200 feet of trail I could expect to squish through deep black mud, slide on tip toes through ice, crunch through crusty snow, leap and zig zag through sun warmed rock gardens, and sprint through banked switchbacks. I have never had such diversity of terrain upon a single trail run. The only thing I can imagine adding would have been beach sand. I live at about 300 ft. above sea level. Here I was running uphill and at over a mile above sea level. I didn’t push too hard, but I was definitely feeling the altitude.
It was a pure celebration of why I love barefoot trail running so crazy much. And I think the trails at Lory State Park are really fantastic, clean and a lot of fun. And yes, the pic above is most definitely of my foot…and no, it actually wasn’t cold at all…even though there was unmelted snow just sitting on my foot. Once you get acclimated, and your blood is moving, and you are loving being in your body, then having a bit of snow on or under your feet is actually a pleasant sensation.
On my run today I pondered what I always do while barefooting it….I experience the metaphor for life that it is.
When you are wearing shoes, you can run over anything without feeling it. This reduces your sensitivity to how your feet meet the Earth, which translates to rolled ankles and misalignment impact injuries that sideline you as a devoted runner. This reminds me of having a strong ego, with which one can move through life without feeling it. Eventually you get so disconnected from things that you end up sidelined from living fully.
When you are barefooted you feel pain immediately. There is no barrier between what you are doing and the pain that may result from what you are doing. When this happens, you are forced to slow down immediately. With a strong ego though, in life, we are able to go so fast, that we do not experience consequences until things are so unbalanced that the consequences can become staggering. We have ways of living that make it so that we avoid all pain. We insulate our lives from pain, like the way a running shoe insulates us from feeling the trail. Yet the answer is pretty straightforward…be vulnerable, take off the shoe…and when things hurt…go slower.
The last thing I always feel observant of is of how much barefoot running brings you to the immediacy of the present moment. Ligament and tendons do not mix well with sharpened rock points. A single hard landing upon a pointy rock can send your foot into a spasm and give you a bruising that will leave you hobbled for weeks. Paying attention isn’t just a good idea. You literally cannot run trails barefooted unless you are completely present. Every single time I land on something hard or pointy it is always when my mind wanders. It takes less than a second and then a painful reminder ensues. Again this is a wonderful practice of embodiment…to receive such a constant reminder of what happens the second one steps out of being centered and present in life.
The last element though that I want to share is joy. I don’t run barefoot to be hard core. I barefoot run because it is about as much fun as I can have inside of a body, in conjunction with the land. I jump. I leap. My arms do crazy things for the sake of balance. I do aerial 360′s. I do backscratchers off of logs and large rocks. It isn’t a workout. It is playtime. It is about engaging all the senses while moving briskly across the land, as most animals do…and as most humans have forgotten how to. It is dynamic yoga. It is joy in motion.
If you want to try barefooting on trails, here is only thing you need to know…have fun. And if it isn’t, then slow down enough so that it is. Repeat often.