About 4 years ago I began an unconventional experiment, barefoot running. It was a reluctant start – go for an easy warm up jog for 2 -3 km in my rather expensive Adidas shoes, leave the shoes in the safe environs of our society clubhouse and run barefoot for 3-4 km. Later I would return to the clubhouse, duly pick up the shoes and walk back home.
The routine was nice but not destined to last long.
After a good run on a bright morning I was welcomed to the clubhouse by the sight of a missing shoe!
I don’t know whose handiwork it was – An innocent dog mistaking it for a toy, a mischievous kid wanting some fun or overzealous security staff cleaning up the place. I walked back home dejected and shoeless.
The mystery of the missing shoe was never unraveled. Sigh!
I now had to choose between buying a new pair of shoes, stopping my runs altogether or going barefoot the whole way.
I am so pleased I chose the last option. And thus began my barefoot running expedition which incidentally has not been incident free.
Fellow runners often wonder how and why I went barefoot. The speculation ranges from bored man’s experiment to old man’s desperation for attention to affordability issues. Trust me, it is none of the above.
It just simply worked for me, that’s all.
Barefoot running takes some getting used to. The foot landing is different and feels very awkward. It is stressful to constantly stare at the road under the feet all the time expecting injury causing objects. Running becomes a chore. It takes a while for the mind and foot to adjust.
Soon one realizes that many of the apprehensions about barefoot running are imaginary. I am of the firm belief that our feet have their own eyes. Even in the dark they have a way to avoid pebbles, glass and other dangerous objects.
That’s when you wonder why you bothered with shoes in the first place!
Dealing with people around is the bigger challenge. Good Samaritans on the street, unsolicited advisers from the running tribe and the always worrying family members.
The spouse is the most difficult one to ignore or convince. I tried hard to make her understand. We reached a temporary compromise – run in minimal footwear like Nike Free, Vibrams and Vivo Barefoot. It wasn’t long before she gave up on me and I gleefully returned to full barefoot.
An elderly uncle once stopped me in my tracks and warned me about broken glass strewn on the road some distance ahead.
The following morning I was in shoes and through the corner of my eye saw him nearly congratulated himself for reforming me. Little did he know that I had no intention of changing my spots. This was just my one-off run with shoes on.
Walking clubbers in our society who have probably never run more than a few meters ever in their lives would give me extended discourses on the dangers of barefoot running. Countering them was an exercise in futility so avoiding them was the way to go. Soon I started running in every other place except inside our society compound.
Every other place even included the dreaded National Highways which also offered me unusual situations and experiences.
The forever busy Mumbai-Agra highway, NH 3, has patches of tar road and concrete roads. Tar road running is accompanied by the hair raising sound of rubber on tar. Concrete running is harder on the knees.
Being a lonely runner amongst the myriad motor beasts on a highway can be a horrifying experience. After the initial skepticism I began enjoying the experience. Much to my amazement, the supposedly evil truck drivers were anything but terrifying. They always made way for me and at times slowed down and cheered me on. Thanks Guys!
And then there is always the question of injuries. Like all other runners, I too have gone through a phase of bad ITBS. My doctor prohibited me from running barefoot. I was compliant until full recovery and then promptly returned to a state of shoelessness.
No disrespect to the doctor but for me barefoot it is and will always be.
Not all our roads are barefoot runnable and I wish that I shouldn’t have to pick a route based on how good the road is.
My journey through barefoot running for the last 4 years has been an adventurous experience. Looks like it is here to stay. My well-wishing skeptics are either convinced or have just given up on me.
Today my running mates though look at barefoot running with a degree of admiration. To them I say “it is no big deal, just a footwear choice”.
Avnish Upadhaya is a self-professed lifetime barefoot runner
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