Barefoot Running Anniversary Manifesto

Blog entry posted by jldeleon, Jul 8, 2012.

It's been one year since I have been running barefoot. Though I actually started running 3 months prior to this anniversary, this is my REAL anniversary because this is when I learned the true joy of my bare feet touching the earth.

I want to talk about the people who inspired me along this transition. Initially, I was inspired by my husband, who used to run marathons. He had told me many times about how addictive running is, and he told me, "You will become addicted." I thought, sure whatever, but he is right. He said, "Your body will CRAVE running." And it does. The endorphin high is the strongest pull there is, even stronger than coffee! Who would have thought? I have two close friends, Heather and Erin, who started running a two years and one year, before me, and ended up running marathons. From a body perspective, we had all been overweight at one point, and exercise was extremely difficult. So it was a great inspiration to watch them tranisition to making exercise part of their lifestyle. The last person who inspired me was a complete stranger. I had just began recovering from a decade long struggle with chronic moderate to severe musculoskeletal pain. I was out walking along the waterfront one day when this man ran by me. This person had an obviously signifant musculoskeletal disorder of some sort and was all crooked and hunched and just looked totally contorted. But, he was running anyway. That was the "final straw" -cuz I knew the guy was in pain. I had pain still, but it was now mild, functional pain. Seeing that guy was my turning point. The only thing worse than exercising with pain, is not exercising with pain, and if he could do it -so could I.

Around that time, I saw a dude run by in minimalist shoes and being an evolutionary freak, I decided he was on to something did some research on it and decided to go minimalist. When I had ran in shoes I had to put up with low back and hip stiffness and some weird musculoskeletal alignment issues. When I switched to minimalist all this went away and I was very encouraged.

Erin and Heather both relied on other people to help inspire them and stay on track. Heather belonged to online running groups and that Erin got a running partner. Despite the fact that I had belonged to various support groups over the years for various things, I could not get it out of my head that getting a running partner, or joining a running group, was NOT a weakness, rather a strength. I sat with this for a couple of months. They are a lot like me, personality-wise, so I finally decided to follow their lead.

So I started snooping around for running groups and that's when I ran across the Barefoot Runners Society. So I joined it and posted that I was looking for a running partner. That's when Mike (migangelo) made the horrifying mistake of becoming my running partner, and sort of by accident. Lol. He had a friend at work who he thought might like a running partner and he gave me her information and I contacted her, but that never worked out. He offered to run with me. (Little did he know what kind of torture he was in for).

When I met him for the first time, I thought. #1.) He's cute #2.) He's short(er) -yay! #3.) He has a "lap-dog" with him, maybe he's gay. Lol. He became my primary running partner for the last year and I discovered he is also a very kind person and I consider him a great friend. The number one reason he is an awesome running partner is because he is a quality over quantity type of person, when it comes to running, which is also reflective of his mind-set in general. This was a very good thing for me, because I know that if I had been with someone who was unusually focused on speed or mileage I definitely would have hurt myself and that would have been the end of that -I would have never tried it again if that had been the case.

I had dealt with 10 years of chronic, severe pain, previously, and was now at a point that I called "mild, functional pain."
Strangely, he and I have the same "bad" left side and very similar aches and pains. So it was nice to have someone to commiserate with over a dysfunctional body, but also to share things that helped each other's pain, etc. Most importantly, he ran "anyway" despite an imperfect body, which motivated me to do the same.

He also converted me to trail running, which I started doing around October, right when it was raining regularly. Looking back, I can't believe I even did it! I had pretty much become "afraid" of my body over the last decade with all the chronic pain I had struggled with -and I was afraid to use my body at all, let alone to take "risks" with it- which is how I viewed trail running (on muddy, slick, wet trails). Mike didn't seem afraid of running on the trails in those conditions,even with his own physical issues. He didn't seem afraid to take, what I considered a physical risk (i.e. falling and breaking his ass -lol). He was way more focused on the "fun" of using his body. I REALLY wanted to have fun using my body, too. And after all my body had been through, it was really time to "allow" it to have fun.

Taking this risk was psychologically ground-breaking for me and this was one of the biggest risks I had ever taken in my life. I learned so much about my body and mind that winter. I was more attuned to my body to begin with, due to the chronic pain I had dealt with in the past. I learned to tune into my body's signals, both big and small, even more so when I started trail running, and to adjust my physical activity according to the messages it was sending me. As a result, I never suffered from TMTS. I learned to "let go" of my fear of inducing pain. This fear initially made running uncomfortable in that I was pretty stiff and tight both physically and mentally. During these runs I spent a lot of time reassuring myself that everything was fine, and that I could relax, and enjoy myself. Initially I wanted to turn around so many times and call it quits, just from fear. But I just focused on the fact that Mike was doing it, and he was still alive, so if he could do it -so could I. After I became less fearful and became more relaxed, I enjoyed the runs a LOT more. My talks with myself with regard to my body turned more into things such as "Whoo-hoo! Sliding down that hill was FUN!" Of course there were a few "Holy S&!%s!" in there. But the important part was, when the run was done, my body was intact. I became more and more confident in my body's aptitudes and resilience.

As time went on, my mind began to wander to other activities I might one day be able to engage in. Mike convinced me to sign up for the Warrior Dash, and obstacle course, that was far into the future. At the time I signed up for it, I thought "Yeah right, someone's going to get a free ticket from me." But over the months, I started to actually look forward to this new avenue of physicality. And I added another obstacle course -which was also his "fault" ;)

I had actually fractured a joint in my toe early on and then bruised the joint above it about a month later, when I whacked it again, I also had strained a ligament in my ankle that kept me from exercising for 7 days. (Those were all thanks to VFFs, but we won't talk about that -lol). None of these injuries instilled the kind of fear that falling did, however -I considered falling a potentially "serious injury". It was a whole 10 months before I finally did fall, but by then, fear no longer had a strangle-hold on me. I truly believed in the resilience of my body. I just picked myself up and carried on.

I did several races this last year. For fun. While having fun I pulled off a 9:52 pace, which was very exciting -especially since I don't work toward speed goals in my daily running. I am now able to run 7 awesome, barefoot, happy miles on the trails. I am really looking forward to my first obstacle course this month, and Warrior Dash in September. And I can't wait to run on the wet, slippery, muddy trails again this winter!!!

Additionally, this year I have become friends with several barefoot running buddies. A couple of you I consider some of my closest friends. I am thrilled that you all are so crazy, fun and funny people, and that I have gotten to know you -including my online peeps! I am really looking forward to the next year of barefoot running!