Breaking My Shoe Addiction


My maiden blog about my running begins with a tip of the hat to Mr. McDougall which is the equivalent of a single prepubescent squeal at a boy band concert. Folks recommended his book to me with high praise and others warned against it with strong virtiol. Both groups seemed to miss the point of the book. That he is credited for the so-called "barefoot running craze" is a perfect example.

That this was the book that started it is odd when you consider that only one character in the book actually runs barefoot and only one chapter legitimizes it. That chapter isn't even about running barefoot at all. It's about how the shoe industry boffed running altogether. Beyond Barefoot Ted and the one chapter, everybody else including the Tarahumara run shod. Even Ted does for a good portion of it. The triggering of this "craze" suggests something more. It tells us that barefoot runners predate McDougall's work by a fair amount and pre-existed in a fair volume. This surprises nobody, least of all McDougall. The book gave legitimacy of the practice to a much wider audience. This brought the tribal runners out of their suburban closets to lead others from the ashes of the post-Nike apocalypse.

Sadly, there will be few followers, at least initially and possibly forever. Even when running goes viral, it never garners the power of Psy's Gangum Style, or Charley's finger biting. Internet meme trends are things we we can enjoy by doing nothing. Even if the film version of Born To Run excites thousands of people to try it, it is still running and it will always be its own obstacle. Think of the "resoultioneers" who fill the fitness centers the Monday following the new year. and dissolve into the ether by March. Barefoot running will never be a "craze." That's just fine. Crazes come quickly and vanish as fast. When was the last time you even looked up Psy on YouTube? Barefoot running is a slow moving lava flow that burns up misconceptions along the way.

For me, it all means that I missed my six month appointment with my pusher, a small-time dealer selling to the hood. After reading McDougall and Romanov, I decided the time had come to kick my $200 semi-annual Brooks habit and the orthotic inserts I picked up for a just five dimes more. It was just in the nick of time too. I was being told my pain would continue unless moved to quarterly purchases. The only way I could to fit that in the budget would have been to part-time work for the store. I would need to become a pusher. I was on an asphalt path skidding to Reebok row.

They say addiction can strike anyone at anytime. There I was, a 50 year-old man who tried his first 5k with a pair of memory foam padded, wide-soled support shoes from Costco. Who knew just two years later I would be shaking from chronic IT Band syndrome pain begging for the latest shoe tech to stop my pronation. I'd plantar fasciitis limp my way into the store with cash I snuck out of my wife's emergency fund. There he would be. His grin matching his gold weave shoe laces and jogging suit. He'd be surrounded by women in VS Active tops and yoga pants stroking the heels and soles of injured guys and gals who had no idea of their descent into hell. I hated myself but could not find a way out.


All strung out

Admitting the problem is always the first step. That's where I think McDougall comes in for many of us. That's the point so many missed while recommending and condemming the book. The book isn't about running barefoot. Nor was my addiction just about the shoe. At the core of it were my thoughts about running. I took the shoe because I couldn't face the truth. I hated running and that hatred was eating me from the inside. I ran, but used the shoes to mask the loathing. Maybe this time the shoe would ease my pain. Some did, but only for a run or two and soon I'd be back for another fix. I needed to learn to love running. Till McDougall, it never occurred to me that running is an act of love, an act of joy, an act of life. How could I have been so blind to such simple truths. That is what I learned. That is why my hat is tipped.

My dealer reached out to me. I explained my departure. It hurt, but it had to be done. He wasn't going without a fight. "It's just a fad" he argued, "people will keep needing shoes." It was the shoe pusher equivalent of "everybody's doing it." He didn't understand that barefoot running it isn't a craze to begin with. Later experiences would make this clear. He shook his head and feeling confident that I would be back, and walked away not caring one bit about my arch. I should have known.

Hopefully I can hold on to this as I learn other lessons and remain free from my addiction. I'm not perfect, I still wear flip-flops to the office, but I am trying. As they say in recovery and in barefoot running, one step at a time.

(Correction: The statement that the Tarahumara run shod is not fully accurate. Some wear covers at certain times, but barefoot runing amongst them is prevalent in McDougall's book.)


I have added your story to the home page. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. -TJ
THANK YOU!!! Often I'd wondered if I was a lone voice talking about running (jogging) as an EMOTION, rather than this obsession of time and distance. Barefoot it seemed was/is trying to gain acceptance by immersing itself into the same nonsense of racing, timing and logging miles, as running as a whole. The human species is NOT competitive by nature. We have to be taught to be competitive. This past Saturday I went out for a jog in 20 degree temps in deep snow (had my Merrell Vapor Gloves 2 on). I was gone nearly 4 hours I realized once I got back home. As I don't wear a watch and I generally wander through off-trails I have no idea how far I went . . . what I do know is that is was a stunningly beautiful winter morning for NE Iowa, the snow snapped under my feet, the breeze revived my mood and I came across a couple of cute CC Skiers . . . now that is what running (jogging) is all about in my humble opinion.

Blog entry information

Last update

More entries in Community Blogs

More entries from rb2001