The Starting Line: Why I Run Without Shoes

For two and a bit years I wrote a kind of a blog (or a rather one-way discussion) on the discussion page of my Feldenkrais Works Facebook page about my progress with running in vibrams/barefoot – until Facebook removed all discussion pages a month ago and I lost it all. So I have moved this ‘sort of blog’ out of the semi-seclusion of Facebook (where I still have my page going if you fancy visiting) to the rather scarey open places of the worldwide web.

But before I just continue posting as usual, I need to set up what I have been up to a bit and where I am at. Because I am not running barefoot or in vibrams to be more correct or because I think everyone should do it. Not at all. Its my personal experiment that’s all. I started because I got curious about it when I found the discomfort in my feet (that even sometimes forced me to abandon a run half way) simply went away when I took my shoes off. And then I read all that wonderful research by scientists like Lieberman and Bramble about how running (long distance rather than speed) was such an important piece of our evolution and survival as a species. And so, if we are built for running (and running long distances) and it is such a fundamental human activity, then I wanted to find out a bit more about what that meant for me. Being a Feldenkrais Practitioner, could I use running to find out more about how to organise myself well? If we are actually built to run then doing it well would persumably be to use myself well in a broader way. After all it is still me with my particular habits and patterns whether I am running, walking, eating, typing or reaching for the top shelf. And on top of that, after all this wonderful Feldenkrais I have done over the years, I wanted to put my system under a little pressure and see how it performed: was the way that I put my movement together good enough to hold up with 3 times my weight (or so) going through my joints over time? So I set out to teach myself. And it made sense to do that without the interference from cushioned, motion-controlled shoes given we were originally designed to run without them. I would find out more. Even though – or maybe especially because – I am very far from structurally ideal. I tore the cartilage (meniscus) in my right knee and had most of the anterior medial horn removed many years ago and was diagnosed at that time with a skoliosis and leg length difference. You can take that diagnosis with a pinch of salt as nothing was actually measured and its not enormously severe – but it does express something about the significant functional differences between my two sides.

So how has it gone so far? Grand. I have learnt a lot – and never put running shoes back on. Every time I run further or faster or in a different environment I have to learn and improve so its an exploration that never really stops. I had to negotiate and go very slowly to adjust (no more than 3 miles per run for nearly 6 months at the start!) and use a lot of Feldenkrais to deal with everything that has come up for me. But while I have certainly had niggles and issues (mostly to do with how to really be over my right leg given my ribs, back, pelvis etc just don’t know how to do that easily) and I have most certainly cut back mileage and frequency for periods and done a lot of Feldenkrais to sort something I sense would probably have caused me full-on injury if I hadn’t worked with it like that, those times have been important sources of learning for me. perhaps the most important. And I have had no actual injury.

I run up to 25 miles a week at the moment and have run some very lovely half marathons but haven’t had time to train for a full one. I am in no big hurry to run far and fast. This is more about learning to run efficiently, with more ease and pleasure than clocking up miles and PBs. For now anyway. In fact I have deliberately avoided all that not to get side-tracked from my real purpose here and also because the one advantage I had in starting almost from scratch with the vibrams is that I didn’t have the fitness or temptation to run 40 miles a week and injure myself in the transition (and for me much of the rest has followed from that anyway because I have been able, happy and keen to get out, train and run more because it feels good. I do of course run further and faster than I did when I started and I hope I will continue to.) But of course my real purpose as a Feldenkrais Practitioner is not only to learn for myself but to take everything I learn into the work I do with the running clients who come to me for Feldenkrais – from beginners to international competitors. And that has most certainly been a valuable outcome.

So what will this blog be? Not sure now as I am so far into that experiment and so much of the documentation is lost. But its somewhere to share new thoughts, discoveries and links for interesting research and articles. And I am sure there will be plenty to come. And then of course there are other sports that Feldenkrais can be very interesting and helpful for!!! tennis is on my mind at the moment…… and of course you are welcome to email me with thoughts, ideas, questions ….

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