Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It's Best to Be Grounded

After weighing a number of factors, I've decided to put new posts to this blog on hold indefinitely. It's been a pleasure sharing my thoughts and experiences with you the past couple of years, but the blog's traffic simply does not encourage me to focus much on the posts I want to write and other life obligations must also take a higher priority. I've decided to focus my time on my family and further developing The Primalfoot Alliance and its programs into 2012.

Thank you for visiting Barefoot and Grounded! Below I've listed what I believe are the "highlights" of my posts the last few years. I hope that you may find good information and encouragement from them and will further your barefoot journey:

Commentary

Interviews
My Research
Stories

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Injuries While Barefoot: The Elephant in the Room

Okay, everybody. Bring it back in for a minute. We need to talk candidly about something.

"Don't worry. Going barefoot is
VERY safe. I'm not going to
get hurt. Really."
For as much as many others and I promote the barefoot lifestyle and talk about how low-risk it is, a very real possibility is that we will actually get hurt because we're not wearing protective shoes. We can even get hurt wearing minimalist footwear when something might have protected us better. The general public believes that catastrophic injuries to bare feet are waiting in every aisle of every store and under every table of every restaurant. We know that's not true, but injury risks still exist. It sucks.

My intent is not to turn anyone off to the barefoot lifestyle. I think it's so beneficial and that most people can live better through it. But just as "stuff" happens to our heads in car crashes, our hands when working with power tools or any other countless scenarios, "stuff" can happen while we're barefoot that, unfortunately, is really, um, "stuffy."

Why am I bringing this up? "You shouldn't be talking about this!," you may say. And that's exactly the reason I am.

We can't be ashamed, as barefooters, that we might get hurt doing the very thing we promote to others. Just as with ANY injury to ANY part of our bodies, we must do the best we can to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off and move on after a foot injury. We must also support those who've gone through such a thing by encouraging them to not shy away from what's best, overall, for their feet.

I had an extensive conversation on Twitter the other day with a woman by the handle of @QuotidianLight. We'll call her Q for the remainder of this post since I don't know her real name. Q shared with me about how she hurt her foot two years ago after falling off her chair at work and slamming her foot into her metal desk. It was just a freak accident, but she ended up with a neuroma that's been tough to get healed and still gives her pain today - so much, in fact, that she can't go barefoot. She was wearing Vibram Fivefingers at the time, but told me, "If I'd been wearing shoes at work that morning... I'd have ran THIS morning."

The main point she wanted to impress on me was that she felt isolated and alone because she believes barefooters never talk about injuries and just hold in guilt when we get injured.

She's right. It makes sense to keep that information to ourselves so that we don't have shoe promoters feeling validated in their assertion that going barefoot is dangerous. But it also doesn't help when barefooters never address the proverbial elephant in the room.

"It annoys me that people think NO ONE get's hurt barefooting and if you do it's your fault so people don't speak up," Q said. She continued later, "I just wish more people would be open about their injuries. *shrugs*"

I pledged to her that I'd write this post.

Getting a stress fracture while
running in Vibram Fivefingers
turned my barefoot world upside down
in January 2010.
She thanked me and concluded with, "I hate when people get hurt and give up barefoot entirely cause they feel out of options/support."

I've heard it numerous times. Someone loves going barefoot until they get hurt - whether it's a broken toe, bee sting, cut or something else. After that, they get nervous it'll happen again and they hardly go barefoot for the rest of their lives. I know of at least two people in my immediate family who feel this way. It's very real, and these folks need encouragement to go barefoot again.

So there's three points I'd like to make here:

First, we shouldn't ignore the fact that we can - and probably will - get hurt from going barefoot, but we also shouldn't feel ashamed if we do. Understand that your feet ARE more vulnerable when going without shoes or even just minimalist footwear. Resign yourself to the fact that freak things happen sometimes. No matter how an injury to your foot occurs, don't beat yourself up and don't feel guilty or embarrassed about what happened. Just as importantly, let the criticism of shod people roll off your back when they pitch I-told-you-sos in your direction.

Second, don't give up going barefoot because you do get hurt. Obviously, take care of yourself and do what you have to do to get better. Get medical attention to treat and resolve the problem. That may mean a hiatus from going barefoot, but most injuries can and will heal completely. After that's taken care of, remember that you can still confidently go without shoes again. Though risks still exist, the benefits from living barefoot outweigh the risks. Move on a little wiser for the experience. Seek out the support and advice those of us who also go barefoot so that we can encourage you.

Third and finally, support other barefooters who get hurt. Friends, if we find out that one of us has been injured from going barefoot, let's kill them with kindness and not criticism. We need to be wary of pointing fingers and assigning blame when none needs to be assigned or doing so wouldn't help anyway. We want barefooters to stay barefooters, and the only way to do that is to be friendly and understanding with one another.

In closing, both of my brothers used to ride motorcycles on a regular basis. They always had a mantra about the likelihood of having an accident. They'd tell me, "It's not a matter of if you're going to wreck, it's matter of WHEN you're going to wreck." Yet even when they did wreck, they'd fix the bike, heal their bodies and get right back on. Injuries, minor or major, are all but inevitable when going barefoot. It's the mindset we have that determines what we take away from it. In anything we do, we only fail if we give up. Will we let foot injuries isolate us and make us quit, or make us stronger and wiser when we keep going?

Thanks, Q, for your story and inspiring me to write this.

So, community, let's talk about injuries. Do you share Q's opinions? Should the barefoot community be more open and honest about injuries or keep them in the closet? How do we respond to the I-told-you-so remarks from our naysayers? Please leave your comments in the section below.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bring on the Toe Shoes!

First there was Vibram Fivefingers. Then there was Fila Skeletoes. Now, the second-largest athletic shoe company in the world has announced that they are releasing their own version of toe shoes: The Adidas Adipure Trainers.
The Adidas Adipure Trainer (men's)
In response, the folks at MyFiveFingers.com asked via Twitter, "So what does everyone think of the just announced Adidas 'copycat' version of FiveFingers?" They posted a page on their site about the Adipure Trainers saying, "Another FiveFingers (sic) knockoff. Oh great."

Actually, yeah. It IS great!

The Vibram Fivefingers Jaya
Listen folks, just because Vibram was the first to develop shoes with separate toe pockets doesn't mean they are or will be the end-all, be-all toe shoe manufacturer. Heck, my response to all this is is, "What took everybody so long?!"

How long have we had gloves with individual finger pockets for our hands? Did the second company that made gloves with finger pockets get called a "copycat" or "knockoff?" I don't know, but you don't hear The North Face or any other glove manufacturer getting called those names today.

It makes sense for shoes to have individual toe pockets. It's how our feet are built, after all. That way of making shoes really should be the rule more than the exception.

I think it's great that more shoe manufacturers are coming out with toe shoes because it drives innovation, competition, and public acceptance. That's only good news for people who like to wear minimalist shoes AND it's only good news for the barefoot movement.

The Fila Skeletoes
I'd like to see someone make a better toe shoe than Vibram, because then that would push Vibram to make Fivefingers even better than they already are. I hope the Adipure Trainers are better than Skeletoes, because then maybe Fila will improve their abysmal product.

The competition between manufacturers will naturally force DOWN the prices of these shoes and make them more accessible for the general public.

If a bunch of shoe companies release their own brand of toe shoes, more and more of the public will see minimalist toe shoes and, I believe, see them as a good and acceptable thing. "Heck," they'll think, "if all these companies are making toe shoes then they must know something I don't know." Minimalist, foot-conforming footwear could become -- gasp! -- commonplace?

Maybe, just maybe, people will then take the next step and realize that they can just take off their toe shoes and bare their actual toes by living barefoot. It could happen - and ultimately, I hope it does.

Like I said in the subject line: Bring on the toe shoes! The more, the merrier!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Backwards Look at Liability

I've been told on several occasions to be careful how I promote barefoot activity. The concerned persons say I might end up liable if people end up hurting themselves. This is a completely backwards and thoroughly confusing concept to me.

How is it that our society's collective thinking has gotten so twisted that we now believe that I could be liable if people use their feet as nature intended and that shoe companies are free from liability for weakness, stiffness, skin conditions and other ailments that are caused or exacerbated by their products? Do you see how topsy turvy that thinking is?

I wonder how many billions of dollars have been spent in the U.S. in the last half century to pay for the various treatments of ailments caused - or at least exacerbated - by shoes including...


  • Arthritis
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Fallen arches
  • Bunions
  • Hammertoes
  • Morton's Neuroma
  • Corns
  • Callouses
  • Dry/cracked skin
  • Toenail fungus
  • Athlete's foot
  • Hangnails
  • Ingrown toenails
  • Stress fractures
  • Fractures
  • Sprains
  • And more!

I assert that a great number of these ailments would have never occurred if people had gone barefoot more. Would injuries have happened to barefoot persons? Sure, but I'd bet it'd be far fewer than many would like to believe and that the overall costs of treating such problems would have been less.

If I would be liable for someone who goes barefoot getting injured, why aren't the shoe manufacturers liable for all the ailments listed above that their products may have caused for their customers?

It would be interesting to see how a class-action lawsuit against shoe companies would play out. Would it be thrown out by a judge? Would the plaintiffs successfully plead their case that shoe companies sold their products knowing full well that they could cause these ailments in customers without warning them of such dangers? Would the defense actually try to convince the court that shoes don't cause any of these ailments or that shoe wearers should have known the risks involved?

This feels a lot like the lawsuits that were successfully brought against the cigarette industry years ago. These huge companies spent loads of money in reparations after they'd been found guilty of duping and damaging the American public to make a buck. Warning labels were required on EVERY pack of cigarettes thereafter. The shoes available for sale and use today are just as bad for the feet as cigarettes are for the lungs, but many people don't know it.

Daniel Howell, PhD, author of The Barefoot Book and a professor of biology, believes that sellers of high heeled shoes should put warning labels on them. I agree. How many women would stop wearing heels if they knew that 20,000 women go to the hospital each year due to heel-related injuries? How many women would stop wearing heels if they knew they were far more likely to develop bunions, hammertoes, Morton's Neuroma, corns and other ailments because of them? Are the high heel manufacturers telling their customers this vital information? NO, but they should be.

If someone wants to sell us footwear or cigarettes, we should go into the purchase knowing what risks are ahead of us. Most importantly, if we want to opt out of using such products, we have every right do so and should not be forced by anyone to use products that will likely cause us some harm.

Worth noting is that no one had to convince anyone else that breathing without smoke in your lungs is a good, natural thing. That said, why does society put the burden of proof on barefooters that going barefoot is good, natural and acceptable behavior? As I've stated on this blog before, barefoot is the baseline. It is the natural condition for our feet, just as breathing non-smoky air is for our lungs. Sure, there are risks involved, but we understand that as part of our human nature. That said, I can't tell you how many barefooters have been told to put on shoes for their "safety."

Imagine if a restaurant manager changed the way you dine for your "safety.":
"Good evening, sir. I see you ordered the steak. Because of that I'm going to have to ask you to wear these protective gloves while you use your steak knife to cut the food. We don't want you cutting yourself. Alisha here will also be making sure that you've chewed each bite thoroughly and that you're not speaking before you swallow each bite. We don't want you choking, after all. Just looking out for your safety!"
When we use a steak knife with bare hands, we know we must be careful lest we get cut. When we eat steak we know we must be careful not to choke. Likewise, when we go barefoot we understand we must be careful not to step on something dangerous or stub our toes. We don't need someone coddling us and protecting us from things we already know and understand! What we DO need is more public education on the harm that shoes are actually doing to our feet.

What do you think? Should shoe manufacturers be held liable for selling the public on products that exacerbate foot ailments? Should shoes come with warning labels? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Barefooter Went to Camp

I recently spent six days as a counselor at a summer church camp for middle school kids. I haven't been to this or any other camp for four years - a span that predates my time as a full-time barefooter - so I wanted to see how things would go with maintaining a fairly barefoot lifestyle. I say this because the camp does have a rule that shoes are required at all times. I came to discover that this rule had several fortunate exceptions.

The camp directors, with whom I have been friends on Facebook for many years, were all aware of my barefoot lifestyle as we staff all gathered on Monday evening of last week. I had told Carol, the camp's liaison to the sponsoring church, ahead of time that I planned to be barefoot all the way up to the point that campers arrived midday on Tuesday. She said, "Okay."

My intent during the camp was to respect the rules of the campground by setting a good example for the kids while they were on campus. I would wear minimalist footwear when out and about, but go barefoot in our lodge room -- it's a pretty swank campground, so there's no tents or anything.

It turns out that I had other opportunities to go barefoot and that former emphases from years ago on wearing shoes had been relaxed quite a bit. It used to be that flip flops were officially discouraged because they still exposed campers' feet to rocks, sticks and other undesirables. Close-toed, secure shoes were what was recommended. Not anymore. The informational materials only said that shoes or sandals were required at all times.

The interior of the tabernacle building
Even so, there were many occasions that other campers and I would slip off our flip flops or other footwear and go barefoot or just in socks. This was a frequent occurrence at the "tabernacle," an open-sided building in which we held most of our "indoor" all-camp activities. The floor of the structure is a smooth concrete slab, so it was very barefoot friendly. Many of us also slipped off our shoes at the nightly campfires, even going up front to perform skits sans footwear. I taught two hour-long classes - both indoors - each full day of the camp. I'd slip off my shoes upon arriving at each of them and teach barefoot. As the week went on, other campers took my lead and kicked off their shoes during class, too! When at the pool, most people went barefoot as well, naturally.

Shoes were used most when traveling between locations and at mealtimes in the dining hall. Because of the high amount of heat and the fact that many roads around the campground are gravel, going barefoot from place to place wasn't the easiest thing to do, even for me. There was one time, however, that I walked barefoot from the lake up to our mini lodge because my Vibram Fivefingers had gotten all wet and I was none-too-interested in walking all the way back in them. Fortunately, most of the ground between those locations was paved. In the dining hall are signs that say "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service. Sorry, this even goes for camp." So we did all keep our shoes on when the campers were there, but for the three meals we staff ate before the kids arrived, I was barefoot the whole time and the kitchen staff - employees of the church-owned campground - never hassled me for it.

In general, I was very pleased with how "barefoot" I could be during the week. While I did need to wear some kind of footwear much of the time, I kept it minimal and had many periods when I could kick it off and go fully primal with my feet. I said earlier that the directors know of my barefoot lifestyle, and I did make the camp nurse aware of my chiropractor's note that I should be allowed to go barefoot. All were receptive and understanding of my choices. I think if I'd pressed the issue more I would have been allowed to go without shoes whenever I pleased, but I did want to wear something when going across the hot pavement and gravel roads.

I can't say with any certainty that my barefoot lifestyle has softened the camp leadership into being more accepting of it, but I'd like to think that. I'd also say that our youth are quite willing to go barefoot more often than adults. Middle school-aged kids haven't been fully programmed yet that shoes are necessary all the time. Even so, it was my job as staff to set a good example. That example, this time, was to only go barefoot at our destinations - an example many campers were willing to follow. It's a start.

What are your experiences with going barefoot at a campground? Have you been blocked by camp policy or the wishes of others from going without shoes there? Have you vastly expanded your preferences for going barefoot because you were camping? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Barefootedness

On the 4th of July each year, the people of the United States of America celebrate Independence Day, the anniversary of the signing of The Declaration of Independence on the same date in 1776. Although an official constitution was not ratified until 11 years later, we Americans generally think of July 4th as the anniversary of our country's founding.

Patriotic toes!
Courtesy: Elizabeth McCullough
Freedom is something we hold dear and do not take lightly in the U.S. Our country was founded on the basic principle of having the rights to say and do as you please (so long as it is within the law). Ask any American and they'll tell you that, for all of our country's flaws, this is still the best place to live in the world. I do believe that...to an extent. Why? Going barefoot in this country is a freedom that many of us do NOT have -- not really.

Americans have a deep relationship with -- even addiction to -- shoes. As much as women complain about how much heels hurt their feet, many would never think of giving them up. For many groups, the shoes they wear are a status symbol among their peers. Like addicts with a drug, most Americans feel like they need shoes. Footwear has become a part of our identities and influences how we feel about ourselves. They've become a prophylactic antibiotic that we've become convinced we will suffer without. The problem is that this country's addiction to shoes has led us to believe in inappropriate distortions and perversions of key biomechanical functions of our bodies.

Even though the Declaration of Independence says each one of us is endowed by our creator with the "unalienable" rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," our shoe-centric society has declared that those rights are at the discretion of others when it comes to our feet. Even though feet are not considered "private" areas of the body and going barefoot would bring no real harm or liability to anyone else, we somehow do not have the liberty to live in the way we feel is best for our own bodies.

There's Just No Justice

Though it's perfectly legal to drive, shop or dine barefoot almost everywhere in this country, the prevailing assumption is that it is illegal. It's all not true! Because these myths are so prevalent, they've percolated down into the collective of social norms so that many people now are convinced that it's wrong to go without shoes. It's widely thought that going barefoot -- that is, making the choice to not wear foreign objects on our bodies -- is unsafe, unhealthy, unhygienic and inappropriate. Because of that, we who prefer to live barefoot are often discriminated against by friends, family, business managers and more.

The scales of "justice" for bare feet.
That "and more" includes discrimination by the courts. Bob Neinast, a barefooter in Ohio, has actually brought suit against public facilities in his state for disallowing his bare feet and has subsequently LOST each one of the cases. The courts ruled that going barefoot is dangerous enough that the facilities have a right to bar their patrons from going without shoes. These rulings have been made without any legal or scientific evidence to back them up. These are obviously judges who carry the same biases against feet as so many others in our country.

It doesn't make sense. Where's the real "justice," here? The Declaration of Independence says I should have these freedoms and the 10th Amendment of The Constitution ultimately leaves all this up to the states "or to the people." No state has made illegal the practice of going barefoot, so I should be in the clear because the right belongs to the people - of which I am one - right?

One could argue that business proprietors also have a right to pursue their own happiness -- a happiness that may come partially from having all their patrons keep their shoes on so that they don't get hurt and the owner doesn't get sued. I wonder, though: Who ultimately gets to decide that a business proprietor's rights supersede my individual right to not wear shoes? What if the establishment is a public institution whose purpose is to serve the people (e.g. a public library, courthouse, city hall, capitol building, etc.)? All of Bob Neinast's lawsuits have rightfully argued that these tax-funded institutions should not be biting the hand that feeds them and have no reason to deny people entry simply because they are without shoes. Likewise, you'd think that most businesses wouldn't take issue with a paying barefoot customer so long as they're not putting others at risk. Does the danger of allowing customers go barefoot really rank worse than losing their money and helping your bottom line?

The Realities of Risk

I've heard all the ill-conceived reasons to deny people the ability to go barefoot into an establishment. There's a widespread belief that walking barefoot inside a store or restaurant is an enormous risk to the feet and has the potential for significant injury. In all actuality, the risks in going barefoot are very low - much lower than other activities, actually, that are allowed by various establishments. There is rarely any broken glass or super infectious disease just laying about, especially the kinds that can cause serious injury.

When you take a close look at what patrons of most establishments are allowed to do, it's surprising that bare feet are what get banned for "safety" reasons. There are no other social norms, legal precedents, or identifiable risk concerns that require the constant restriction or "protection" of ongoing biological systems like those for the feet:
  • Hand Function: Restaurants do not require that diners wear protective gloves when using a fork or steak knife. Diners are expected to be careful and try not to cut themselves. Establishments (except for specific areas of some hospitals) do not require that patrons wear surgical gloves on property to avoid the risks associated with communicable diseases. Individuals take on the risks of being infected when in public places. Library patrons aren't expected to wear gloves to protect against paper cuts when flipping through books. It's expected that they take on those risks.
  • Respiratory Function: Establishments (except for specific areas of some hospitals) do not require that patrons wear protective masks to avoid the risks associated with communicable diseases. A social norm exists that individuals take on the risks of being infected when in public places. Gas stations don't require that customers who fill up their cars wear gas masks to protect against noxious gasoline fumes. Everyone involved understands that the risk of inhaling such things is part of the process.
  • Neck Function: Amusement parks do not require people to wear neck braces on roller coasters or bumper cars. (In fact, I can tell you from my experience working a roller coaster years ago that riders with neck braces would not be allowed) Policies are posted that you take on the risk of injury by riding such things. Car manufacturers do not require that drivers and passengers in their vehicles wear neck protection as part of the safety features in case of a collision. A social norm exists that people take on the risk of being injured if a collision occurs.
  • Hearing: Concert and auto racing venues do not force attendees to wear ear plugs for their own safety even though these events can get to volumes that are dangerous for the hearing. Concert goers and racing fans understand that by participating, they take their hearing into their own...ears.
  • Eyesight: Outdoor venues do not require on sunny days that their guests wear sunglasses for their eyes' protection. People understand that they take responsibility for their own eye health.
Are the risks from going barefoot so much worse than those from the activities above? Is the potential for impaired hand function, lung infection, neck pain, hearing loss and cataracts so much less objectionable than a cut to the foot?

Biology's Best

One natural - but very controversial - biological function has had to be protected by law to prevent discrimination against those who practice it. Even with legal protection, breastfeeding is still looked upon poorly by many in our society. In fact, many mothers hesitate to use their right to breastfeed in public even with the protections afforded by law in almost every state. As I blogged about in June 2010 ("Exposing Another Healthy Taboo"), going barefoot and breastfeeding both have many health benefits and are legal in public, but both also have a prudish stigma attached to them. One is frequently protected by law, but the other is not. Do the health benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the benefits from going barefoot?

The hands and feet are both unique sections of the body that serve important and specific biomechanical functions. Just as a core element of our hands is to feel, grasp, move and use objects, our feet serve a critical function in our ability to stand, feel, balance, walk and climb objects (like stairs, for example). Both hands and feet have a large number of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints and nerve endings that are used to carry out these jobs. Blocking our feet from feeling the ground, a process called exteroception, stifles an important and significant biomechanical system that aids the body in balance and danger avoidance. Reducing foot flexibility by requiring footwear increases the likelihood for tightened soft tissues and foot stiffness.

For each establishment that requires shoes on our feet, it forces the equivalent of gloves on our hands, masks on our faces, braces on our necks, plugs in our ears and shades on our eyes. By denying us - heck anyone - the ability to choose what is best for our own bodies, we are being denied something that was "endowed" to us by our creator - or nature, if you so choose. It's one thing for a person to choose for themselves to wear shoes - that, too, is a liberty afforded in this country - but it's another when a person is denied entry to a business, church or publicly-owned facility only because they prefer to go shoeless.

The Pursuit of Protection

I assert that going barefoot should be legally protected from an establishment's ability to set codes of conduct or attire. We have a natural biomechanical right to go barefoot and take on the risks associated with it. It's an issue of health and personal liberty. Just as laws have been established to protect the biological functions of breastfeeding women and their babies, laws should be put in place to protect the biomechanical functions of bare feet. It's the right thing to do. Realize that dress codes dictating what kind of pants can't be worn or prohibiting certain kinds of hats is not in the same vain as this issue. This is a matter directly related to protecting key systems of the human body.

My fear is that we could see a very appreciable and negative backslide for the barefooting movement if these issues aren't proactively tackled now. Many of my readers may disagree with me, but I believe that the increase in barefoot activity that we're seeing could lead to the tables turning against us. In some ways they already have because of the precedents set in the court decisions mentioned earlier. We don't want court precedents discriminating against barefoot activity to continue, that is for certain.

Going forward, I will begin pursuing the legal and legislative intricacies related to all this. Through my own efforts and the collective backing of The Primalfoot Alliance, we barefooters will hopefully soon be able to see significant positive change in support of the barefoot lifestyle. I don't know where this road will ultimately lead. I hope it doesn't end in disappointment at every curve. With the arguments I've laid out above, I hope to present a solid case to attorneys and legislators that protecting bare feet is the right thing to do. It's a pursuit of happiness that should be protected.

What do you think? Should barefoot activity be protected by law? Am I off base by comparing bare feet to other biomechanical systems of the body or even breastfeeding? What do you think needs to be done in the U.S. to press the issue of greater barefoot acceptance and less discrimination? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Report: The 38th Annual Hospital Hill Run (Half Marathon)

On June 4, 2011, I ran in and completed the half marathon (13.1-mile) course of the 38th Annual Hospital Hill Run (HHR) while totally barefoot. If this race report was made up of only that sentence it would sound kind of impressive but only tell a tiny part of the story. The HHR was a beast of a race that I went into somewhat unprepared and came out of well educated.

Training

Ever since I registered for the race in late 2010 I had the finish line in sight. I had run distances as long as a 10K (6.2 miles) up to then, but the half marathon distance was one I felt that needed to be tackled on my way to my "bucket list" item of completing a full marathon in my lifetime. Though I'd heard and read that HHR is one of the tougher halves in the whole U.S., I decided I was up for the challenge. All I had to do was train smart so as not to get hurt and consistently look toward the prize of crossing that finish line.

Everything was going well with my training until I got a flare-up of tendinitis in my right big toe a few weeks out from HHR. I can only speculate why it happened, but I figure that my form and overdoing it contributed to the problem. It made it somewhat painful to run on but not to the point that I felt I was in any danger. Still, I consulted with my running friends on dailymile and they recommended that I rest it as much as possible. I took their advice -- sort of. I cut back on my running a lot but still worked on getting the long runs in on the weekends. It was only when, lifting my toe upward, I could feel the friction of my soft tissues grinding against each other because of the inflammation that I finally backed off significantly and ramped up my intake of anti-inflammatories. With a week or two left until the race, my toe was back to normal. That said, it ended up that the longest run I'd had prior to the half marathon was an 8.77-mile run two weeks prior. I wondered if that was quite enough.

The Start of the Race

On the morning of the run I had a bowl of Chocolate Cheerios, a banana nut Gowalla bar and a Gatorade Prime drink. I washed it all down with a good helping of water -- or what I thought was. More on that later.

I left the house early in order to arrive and have plenty of time before the 7 a.m. gun. I hadn't even left the parking garage when I heard my first comment about my bare feet. "So are you doing this barefoot?" I replied in the affirmative. "Okay!," the man said. I got to the race area, used a porta-john, donned my fuel belt full of mango-flavored Gatorade (yum!), checked my bag and started warming up with dynamic stretching.

After chatting with some other racers -- including a few familiar faces -- lined up and got ready to race with the huge mass of bodies in the starting chute. I figured I'd finish in about 2 hours, 40 minutes, so I lined up near that pace marker. We were all warm. Not only was there a lot of body heat with us all crammed in shoulder to shoulder, but the temperature at the start of the race was already 78 degrees Fahrenheit. God help us all.

I started out the race at what I thought was a "slow" pace. I'd heard over and over that you don't want to start a race too fast, so I was trying not to. My goal was to average about 12:00 to 12:30-minute miles over the course of the 13.1 miles. About a 1/4 mile in I looked at my Garmin Forerunner 305 and saw that I was running a 10:48 mile! Holy crap! I don't hardly feel like I'm moving at all and I'm running at 10:48? Oh boy. I eased up even more and managed a more manageable pace.

Another piece of advice I'd heard was to not blow through the early aid stations. Stop and hydrate because you'll need it later on. I heeded the advice and took Gatorade and water. "I'll save my personal stash for later," I thought. The miles began to add up and I hydrated on what I thought was a good schedule.

The Walking Begins

Although my goal was to actually run the entire race, I found myself needing to take a walking break at about 5.2 miles in. This was on a hill next to the UMKC campus that raised 132 feet in 0.6 miles. Once to the top I ran for more than another mile.

My wife's picture of me
at the 7-mile mark.
I didn't think that my wife and kids were going to make it out to the race to cheer me on. Our church was holding a Father's Day brunch (two weeks early) that morning and my father-in-law really wanted for my family to be there. Our son also really wanted to see grandpa. So the plan was that my wife and kids would go to that, because the logistics of getting them out to the race and then to the brunch was going to be too difficult. Even so, my wife surprised me by bringing the kids out to cheer me on at about the 7-mile mark. That was a nice surprise and gave me a bit of a mental boost.

I also got to spend some time talking to a fellow runner, Greg Vaughn. Greg's known for carrying an American flag with him on his runs. It's to raise awareness for all the emergency responders who serve our country each and every day. I'd chatted with him at a few previous events, so we knew each other somewhat. Chatting with him helped make some of the walking more tolerable.

Just after the 8-mile marker I noticed that I had some blistering starting on my right big toe. For whatever reason, my gait when barefoot makes that exact spot prone to blistering on my longer runs. I ended up having to put some athletic tape on the pad of the toe to help keep it from getting any worse. It's a strategy that has worked well in the past and also worked well at the HHR. I really need to take a look at what's causing the blistering in the first place, though.

The run/walk intervals continued for a while and became a little more frequent each time. I was hot, I was tired because I'd pushed my early pace a little too much, and I now know that my hydration was messed up.

The Wheels Fall Off

Disappointment started to set in as I realized that the race I wanted to run had fallen out of reach. Not only was I not running the whole race, but the pace groups for 2:40 and 2:45 had passed me. What's more, I noticed that my hands were starting to swell up some. My wedding ring fits me well, so when my fingers swell to the point that I can't take it off then I know there's an issue.

By mile 10, I didn't want
to finish, even if I knew
that I was going to.
I was approaching the Country Club Plaza and the dreaded "Broadway Hill" at the 10-mile marker when I began really feeling like I didn't want to be out there anymore. I was going to finish, but I didn't want to. I was hot. I was tired. My hands were swollen. My stomach had a knot in it and I just wasn't enjoying it anymore. I had been out there for just more than two hours and had managed a 12:52/mi. pace. I had gone a mile longer than I'd ever gone before and I wished I could just quit. But I didn't.

For the next half an hour and almost two miles, I walked. I trudged up the nearly 150 feet of the Broadway hill's incline. At some point along the way I met up with Greg again. I told him about my fingers and he told me that if we were running an ultra the medics would pull me out. Essentially, I'd messed up my hydration by drinking too much Gatorade and not enough water, and he told me that I needed to lay off the Gatorade and just drink water from then on. Drink only water until I could pee again. So I did.

What was interesting was that I never felt lightheaded or stopped sweating. I know that those are tell-tale signs of dehydration, but they never showed up. It seems to me that I was hydrated well enough but just had too much sodium in my system, a condition called hypernatremia. What's interesting is that runners often suffer from the opposite effect of not having enough sodium in their system, hyponatremia. By trying to hydrate well, I overdid it to some extent. I never found the right "cocktail" mixture of water to salt intake.

The Finish Line

The finish line! Greg was
right behind me carrying
his American flag.
Greg and I walked the last hill to the 12.4-mile mark and it was all downhill from there. We went for it. We ran the rest of the way in. After a grueling three miles of personal disappointment, I finished strong. In that last 3/4 of a mile I ran an 11:14/mi. pace...and it felt good to finally cross that finish line. It may have taken me three hours and two minutes, but I FINISHED!

After I'd been given my bottle of water and medal I just about broke down in tears. That was certainly the roughest race I'd ever run. Certainly, it was the longest, but mentally it drained me. Looking back it'd be easy to say that should have pushed myself more. I could have found ways to be more motivated and run more of the areas I walked. Maybe so, but in the moment I felt I was doing well just walking, walking, walking toward that finish line. When I got tired of being out there at the 10-mile marker I could have just thrown in the towel, but I didn't.

All things considered, I'm proud of myself and I learned a lot. I set a goal when it was still cold out to run this race on a warm June morning. I persevered and fulfilled my goal to do the whole race barefoot. I got the same medal that the first-place finisher did. And next time I run Hospital Hill -- or any half marathon -- again, I'll know better about how to pace myself, hydrate properly and push beyond my perceived limits. I'll also have a pretty good chance of setting a new personal record!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Show Your Feet Their Independence on Your Day Without Shoes This Saturday

As Founder and Chief Primalfoot Officer of The Primalfoot Alliance, I've planned a couple of  organized activities in my hometown for Your Day Without Shoes this Saturday, June 11. Supporters and advocates of barefoot activity from around the midwest are welcome to come together to eat, play, enjoy the outdoors and show their barefoot independence in...Independence, Missouri.

The shoeless activities will start at 11:30 a.m. with a picnic (bring your own food) and barefoot time at Waterfall Park behind the Bass Pro Outdoor World on the southwest corner of I-70 and I-470 in Independence. The park is a unique space, set up next to a large man-made lake and with paved trails leading throughout a natural setting. There is also lots of space for kicking a ball around or throwing a frisbee. For kiddos, there's a large playground area set up with a climbing rock and customary jungle gym. The playground surface itself is very barefoot friendly, composed of a rubbery wood-chip-like surface.

Independence Center Mall
After that, we'll make our way to the nearby Independence Center on 39th Street, just east of M-291 highway, a uniquely cavernous shopping mall with stores ranging from Macy's to Radio Shack. While there, we can window shop, make any "necessary" purchases, grab an orange julius from the food court and/or have the kids play in the large play area of the mall.

Participants are then encouraged to continue the day on their own while barefoot. Whether it's shopping or dining elsewhere, taking in a movie or countless other activities, I encourage everyone to bare their soles and continue experiencing the world without shoes for the rest of the day.

I should point out one thing: Some of our plans, whether for this organized event or on our own throughout the rest of the day, may get sidetracked due to discrimination from management or security at the places we go. That's part of the reason for Your Day Without Shoes. We want to begin educating others and advocating for our feet. We want to begin changing the tide away from misinformed policies that keep people from living in a way that they find healthy and comfortable -- and that is perfectly legal.

Make sure to visit YourDayWithoutShoes.com to read up on how to make it the best day possible. Print off a bunch of the informational fliers on the Resources page. When people push to make you wear shoes, push back with respectful information that can help others understand that we're not just a bunch of troublesome hippies.

It's Your Day Without Shoes, and the more support we get, the better.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Things That Make You Go Hmm...: The Barefoot Edition

One of the most frustrating things for me as a barefooter is that so many of the claims criticizing barefoot activity are made without the critics giving any thought to what they are actually saying. I know that the following observations are a bit snarky and pointed, but they're worth thinking about:

Lots of people have told me that they successfully went barefoot "all the time" as a kid, playing on rocks and gravel, in dirt, and around all kinds of dangerous things. Then they insinuate that the flat, smooth surfaces of the adult world (e.g. concrete, asphalt, tile, linolium and carpet) are too dangerous for going barefoot.

Hmm...

There's a prevalent thought that going barefoot is terribly unsanitary and can spread disease, yet most diseases are spread through direct contact from our hands to our faces, or from face to face. Still, no one insists that we all wear surgical masks and gloves during the height of flu season and no one polices public restrooms to make sure that we've all properly washed our hands when leaving.

Hmm...

Lots of people think it's "gross" or "disgusting" to go barefoot, but then put shoes on that their feet have sweated in day after day and which act as incubators for problems such as athlete's foot and toe fungus.

Hmm...

Going barefoot in a store is supposedly very unsafe and a high risk for injury, yet high heels -- which put 20,000 women a year into hospital ERs and often have no traction at all on their soles -- are acceptable footwear.

Hmm...

Many people claim that they "hate feet" and can't stand the sight of them, yet they're fine when others wear open-toed shoes. It's only when the small amount of shoe material is removed that the sight of the feet is offensive. The exception: bare feet are rarely hated at the pool.

Hmm...

Countless women have told me that they don't go barefoot because they have "sensitive" feet, yet are willing to wear shoes which cause regular pain and blistering in and on their "sensitive" feet.

Hmm...

Podiatrists and other experts say that there's no evidence to support claims that running barefoot leads to less injury. There is also no evidence to support claims that running with standard cushioned shoes causes less injury, yet they are fine recommending those.

Hmm...

Many people think that going barefoot puts feet at a high risk of injury, yet many people regularly close car doors, use sharp steak knives and scissors, light matches and more without wearing protective gloves.

Hmm...

Naysayers claim that there's loads of broken glass, sharp rocks, nails, and even hypodermic needles strewn about all over the place, yet they can never point out where any of it is when asked.

Hmm...

Though many podiatrists say that our bare feet aren't capable of properly supporting us, countless athletes successfully compete barefoot in gymnastics, martial arts, dance, running and more.

Hmm...

Some people believe it's inappropriate for someone to shop a store barefoot, yet customers are regularly allowed with offensive shirts and tattoos, bad body odor, loud children and more.

Hmm...

A common thought is that bare feet may make business floors excessively dirty. A person who regularly goes barefoot cleans their feet at least once a day. People who wear regularly wear shoes rarely, if ever, clean the soles of their footwear.

Hmm...

You know who -- or what -- is allowed barefoot into a store? Service animals. It may be "no shoes, no service" for people, but guide dogs are allowed on the very same unsafe floors AND they cannot be made by management to wear protective booties, per a blog post I wrote a while back.

Hmm...

Speaking of bare feet being inappropriate, it used to be that women should only wear skirts, children should only speak when spoken to and flip flops were only for the pool or shower room. My, how things change.

Hmm...

Do these things also make you go "Hmm..."? Does it give you a different perspective on bare feet? What would you add to the list? Am I off base with some of them? Please leave your comments in the section below.



Image: graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Barefoot Likely Better Than Shoes If You Step on a Nail

A common argument against going barefoot is that one might step on a nail and it could go straight into the sole of your foot. By wearing shoes, many people believe, you can protect your soles from such puncture injuries. On the surface this seems like sound advice, but when you look more closely at the issue you'll discover that it's probably just best to take your chances barefoot.

Some "protection."
(Image: Cirris Systems)
Before I write any further, it's important to remember that nails can pierce into the feet even if someone is wearing footwear. Construction workers experience this a lot - especially those involved in demolition work. Closer to home, I recently had a friend post on Facebook the following status: "How worried should I be that my 5 year old stepped on a nail outside? Went through his flip flop and made him bleed. Says it's still hurting this morning..." The flip flop was likely intended as a protection for his feet but failed at its job. Some people might say that if he'd gone barefoot the injury could have been even worse. I disagree and here's why:

First, stepping on a nail while barefoot does not automatically mean you'll get a puncture wound. Because each foot has 200,000 nerve endings in its sole, our bodies are exceptional at reacting to painful stimuli beneath us and reacting accordingly. It's like pulling your hand away from a hot pan on the stove. Almost before we can realize it our body's natural systems have kicked in to protect us from harm. If we begin to step on a nail or other sharp object while barefoot, our feet - if flexible enough - can mold around the offending item and/or pull away before much damage is done. I'm not saying that a puncture wound won't happen, but it could be far less deep and serious without shoes.

Keep in mind that when we wear shoes, almost all sensation of the ground below us is blocked. Our bodies cannot react until the offending object has already pierced through the layer(s) of sole material in the shoe and by then it's too late. We've already begun to put so much force down that a puncture is all but guaranteed. Likewise, the material of the shoe holds the nail or other object in place! We can't take the foot out of the shoe until we've pulled out the nail or destroyed the shoe. If, while stepping down, we sense that the nail is there and then try to step away from it we can't.

Shoe material partially
removed from around a nail
in boy's foot.
Image: Cline's Family Blog
Secondly, a nail that is stepped on barefoot is likely to be less harmful than one stepped on with shoes due to a lack of additional foreign material that can enter the wound. If a person does puncture the foot with a nail while unshod, pretty much the only thing going into the foot is the nail. On the flip side, a nail that has already punctured through a shoe's material(s) may end up depositing fragments of that material inside the foot. Depending on the shoes, this may include rubber, foam, fabric and/or glue. What's more, any contamination that has occurred to that material via mud, animal excrement, foot sweat or various forms of bacteria may also go inside the foot as well. If foreign contaminants are left inside the foot and the wound heals around them, it could cause infection and other problems long into the future. For diabetics or others who have difficulty with wounds healing, this can be especially bad.

Let's be clear: I'm not saying that going barefoot keeps you from stepping on sharp objects like nails. I'm also not saying that shoes won't protect against such objects -- they obviously will to some extent. What I am saying is that my chances while barefoot seem no worse than with shoes. In fact, I feel like there's a better chance of avoiding some puncture wounds and further complications by going barefoot instead of wearing shoes. All things considered, I'll just go barefoot, be careful and let the chips fall as they may. I'm up to date on my tetanus shot, and that's what's really important. It's a good idea for anyone.

We should remember that for most people, stepping on a nail is not a risk to life or limb* and doesn't prevent you from going barefoot again in the future. Stuff happens. I stepped on a nail while barefoot in our house as a kid. It hurt. There was a lot of drama around the experience. I moved on, though. I grew up and became a barefooter who realizes that risks are out there, but the rewards of living unshod are so much greater.

What do you think? Have you ever stepped on a nail, whether barefoot or shod? If so, do you think the situation would have been worse if you'd had your feet the other way? Has some past injury made you skiddish about going barefoot more often? Please leave any and all comments you have in the section below.


* - People with difficulty healing wounds or with peripheral neuropathy should take extra caution to keep floors clear of debris and clean as a way to prevent potentially-catastrophic injury. Always consult with your doctor about the wisdom of barefoot activity in relation to your condition(s).

Monday, April 25, 2011

Driving Barefoot May Noticeably Improve Gas Mileage

With gas prices in the U.S. on the rise and warmer weather becoming more regular, I wanted to revisit a topic I blogged about almost two years ago. I decided to do a little experiment to more definitively find out if the act of driving barefoot has any real impact on gas mileage. I wasn't terribly surprised by the results.

Driving barefoot may improve your gas mileage by double-digit percentages
and, although it's believed by many to be against the law, it's perfectly legal in all 50 states, Canada and the UK to drive without shoes. The one exception is in Alabama, where motorcycle riders must don footwear.

Methodology

I conducted a generally unscientific study over the course of a month with my own vehicle, a 2003 Hyundai Sonata GLS with automatic transmission, to see what noticeable difference I might find driving shod versus barefoot. I set up a strict set of rules in order keep everything as equal as possible. This would ensure that the results would be more accurate and better comparisons could be made. The test involved driving on two subsequent tanks of gas. With the first, I drove with minimalist shoes on almost the entire tank and with the second, barefoot almost the entire tank.

While I would have liked to drive every bit of each tank only with shoes or barefoot, the logistics of making this happen were quite unrealistic. For the most part, however, driving with the opposite foot condition was very limited and ended up being only a few miles maximum.

The following rules were used in ensuring near equal conditions for both tanks:
  • Both tanks were filled to near capacity, allowing for a few "clicks" of the pump when finished filling.
  • I would drive with similar patterns of accelerating and braking with both tanks.
  • A very small amount of driving - only a few miles - with the opposite foot condition would be allowed with each tank for logistical reasons.
  • I would only record the mileage driven up to the point that the gas indicator light came on while in the process of driving. (The gas indicator light comes on when approximately two gallons of gas remain in the 17.2-gallon tank.)
  • Similar routes would be used for driving to and from work each day.
  • A near identical mix of city and highway driving would be attempted.
  • No maintenance would be conducted on the vehicle during the test. (e.g. No car washes, oil changes, tire pressure adjustments, etc.)
  • The same brand and grade of fuel would be used for each full tank.
  • I would use the air-conditioning unit, radio and other ancillary systems for a similar number of miles.
And so I proceeded to drive. It took approximately 2 weeks to burn through each tank of gas. When all miles were driven and the test was complete, I did see a difference.

Results

Driving barefoot showed an improvement of 2.1 miles per gallon, a difference of +11.3%. In total, I drove 31.7 miles farther on a tank of gas without shoes.

This may not seem like much, but over time the savings would add up. According to AAA's Website, the national average for a gallon of gas in the U.S. on Wednesday, April 20, was $3.84 per gallon. When you figure out the difference in cost per mile (two cents, based on the MPGs from the results) and extrapolate that out to annual savings based on the U.S. Department of Transportation's annual mileage data, an average American could save about $284 a year, or almost $11 per bi-weekly paycheck, just from driving barefoot in a car similar to mine. That doesn't include any other fuel-saving measures that could save additional money. What could you do with an extra $11 in each paycheck?

Conclusions

The apparent increase in fuel efficiency from driving barefoot makes sense for a couple of reasons. I can tell you from experience that driving barefoot gives the best feedback from pedals to foot that anyone can achieve. Wearing shoes, I only feel the inside of my shoe. When barefoot, I'm able to use the thousands of nerve endings and dozens of bones, joints and soft tissues in the foot and ankle to add or remove the slightest degree of acceleration or braking that is necessary. With shoes on, much of this sensation and movement is limited or eliminated, and then I must use only larger groups of bones, joints and muscles to make adjustments. Essentially, if you can feel the pedals better and exert only the exact pressure necessary, you will use only the gas you need and save fuel over time. Think of it as kind of very intelligent cruise control.

Based on all this, I have a few thoughts on my results and what they mean for the "bigger picture."

  • Was this experiment scientifically valid and can we make solid scientific conclusions based on this information? Absolutely NOT. Don't flame me because I didn't do this or that to conduct a proper scientific experiment. This was a test conducted by one person in one car with two tanks of gas. I'm no Mythbuster. That said...
  • This data and my previous experiences driving shod vs. barefoot all do point in the direction that driving barefoot does provide better gas mileage. Though I've never kept solid numbers except for this experiment, I can tell you that I notice an uptick in my mileage the more often I drive barefoot. I really do think there's something to this.
  • A person who begins driving barefoot after using regular (read: non-minimalist) footwear could see even bigger numbers than I did. Remember that I only wore minimalist footwear during the shod test. These types of shoes provide better ground feedback than regular shoes do, so it's not far fetched to say that going to barefoot from regular dress shoes or sneakers with thicker heels and less flexibility could show an even bigger improvement. Heck, there might even be cause to say that just switching to minimalist shoes for driving would provide it's own uptick in gas mileage.
  • With current gas prices as high as we've seen them in three years, why not try whatever you can to save gas? If a combination of fuel-saving measures, including driving barefoot, can show at least some noticeable positive difference in mileage, it seems prudent to try them out and see what it can do for your pocketbook. Remember, driving barefoot is absolutely LEGAL.
  • I really want to see someone scientifically study this. There's a lot of anecdotal evidence and vague postings out there to support the idea that driving barefoot saves gas, but my study is the closest thing to scientific analysis that I've seen on this topic. Maybe this very blog entry will spark some auto club or group to look further into this. I think it's safe to say that there's plenty of people who drive barefoot when flip flop weather comes around. Now let's see some real data to find out if they happen to be saving themselves money. Maybe I should ask the Mythbusters...

What do you think? Do you drive barefoot and, if so, have you gotten better gas mileage because of it? Can having direct skin-to-pedal contact really allow for finer sensation and adjustment of the pedals? If you disagree with my assertion that there's something to this, why so and what do you really think the difference is between driving shod or barefoot? Please leave your comments in the section below.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Little Runner That Could

Today feels different. Waking up today was different. This morning's short 2-mile barefoot run felt different.

I feel a little bit like The Little Engine That Could when it comes to my running. I've been climbing and climbing this figurative hill trying to get into a rhythm, saying all the while, "I think I'm a runner. I think I'm a runner." Now I actually feel like I'm crossing over the peak and starting on the downhill slope, soon to chant, "I know I'm a runner! I know I'm a runner!"

It's a whole bunch of little changes culminating into one BIG change. Waking up in the morning to go for a run is so much easier than a month ago. Getting everything together for a run in the morning is going quicker. My feet are holding up well for longer and longer runs. Most importantly, the act of running is becoming more "natural" for me. Running is working for me instead of me working for the running. My body is beginning to get into a habit of running that it didn't have before. I've NEVER felt this way, even with all the running I've done so far.

Up until now, running has always just felt like a lot of work. It never felt quite "right." I thought during this morning's run about the words of Micah True, Born to Run's 'Caballo Blanco:' "If it feels like work. You're working too hard."

After this weekend's Trolley Run and this morning's short run, running isn't feeling as much like work anymore. Instead of being something that I do, it's becoming something that I am. Maybe it has to do with that whole concept of developing habits. They say that habits take 30 days to form. I think mine is finally forming, and I look forward to continuing that momentum.

Are you a runner? Have you experienced the same kind of feelings about the sport? If you're a non-runner, have you ever tried and just couldn't get a momentum going? Please leave any comments in the section below.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Report: The 23rd Sabates Eye Centers Trolley Run (4-miler)

My first fully-barefoot race of the 2011 season was outstanding! After running a 5K in late January with Vibram Fivefingers Sprints on almost the whole course, I'd been conditioning my feet to do a lot more barefoot running. With this four-mile Trolley Run, I took a bit of a risk because I wasn't totally sure if my soles were yet conditioned for that distance. It turns out that they did GREAT and carried me to a four-minute improvement on my four-mile-race personal record (PR). I finished in 41:11 with an overall pace of 10:18 per mile, officially.

Up and at 'em

My family got up early on Sunday, April 17, in order to leave our house at about 6 a.m. The starting gun was set for 7:45 and I had a few things to do to get to the starting line - more on that in a bit. We traveled down to the Country Club Plaza shopping district in Kansas City, Missouri, where the finish line was located and the other events of the day were set to take place. We got the kids and my wife situated just after the finish line so she could get pictures of the finishers and other happenings.

It was then my job to get a little bit warmed up and head to the shuttles that would take me and 11-thousand other runners to the starting line. You see, unlike most races, this one doesn't go in a loop with the start and finish lines in generally the same area. This one actually starts four miles away - and uphill - from the finish line! (Any guesses how popular this mostly-downhill race is for the most elite runners?) After warming up some and using a, ahem, "plastic facility" in ~47 deg. F. conditions - brr - I kissed the wife and kids goodbye and headed totally barefoot to the line for the shuttles.

The Shuttle Shuffle

The experience of shuttling to the starting line is a whole big story in itself. I kid you not: From the start of the shuttle line to the end was literally three city blocks of people long! Wait that long in line barefoot and people are bound to talk to you about it. I had a nice chat with one guy who started off by saying I had to have real toughness to go barefoot. My feet and I were warm when I got in line, but by the time I got onto the bus, my feet were sufficiently chilly (i.e. NOT warm like a barefoot runner's feet should be). I spent the 15-minute-ish ride up to the start massaging my feet with my hands trying to get them warmed up again. The total time I spent waiting for the shuttles and riding one to the start was probably longer than I took to actually run the race!

On the positive side, I had a great conversation about barefoot living with a young lady on the bus. I don't remember her name, except that it was a non-typical name that started with an O...I think. Let's call her Olivia. We quickly got into a conversation about going barefoot and barefoot running. To keep a long story a bit shorter, I told her that I also live barefoot as well as running sans shoes - even shopping, dining, etc. She said she does the same a lot, much to the chagrin of many of her friends and family. I told her about how I founded The Primalfoot Alliance, and she seemed genuinely interested in the organization and for barefoot living to be much more acceptable. I'm glad that, although my feet were cold, Olivia and I could meet and we could have such a great chat.

The Start

As the bus pulled up to the drop-off zone, I glanced at my Garmin 305 GPS watch and saw that it was 7:55. TEN MINUTES after the starting gun was to have gone off. Seriously?! All that work attempting to get there in plenty of time and it still wasn't enough? Well, I'll just know better next year. For the record, the race web site indicates that I actually crossed the start line 12:21 after the starting gun.

My effort to re-warm my feet on the bus paid off as I started the race. That effort, plus the sun-warmed pavement, made it so my feet never felt too cold.

Off in the distance I could see the back end of my wave of runners. It was kind of surreal. The Trolley Run bills itself as the largest four-mile race in the nation, yet I was starting with just a few dozen people from our bus because everyone else was already gone! It was actually kind of nice. I didn't have to worry about getting my feet stepped on by a huge mob of people's Asics, Nikes, New Balances, etc. at the starting line. I've said a number of times that one of the biggest risks to living barefoot is other people's shoes.

The Race

After driving the course the day before, I was mostly looking forward to this mostly-downhill race. What I wasn't excited about was the approximately mile-long stretch of rougher pavement in the first part of the race. About three quarters of a mile in, we ran a while on smaller side streets. For those who don't normally run barefoot, side streets are not as friendly for barefoot runners because they're not as frequently traveled by cars. Therefore, the blacktop is not typically as smoothed out by constant traffic and there aren't as many tire particles to take the edge off the pavement's rockiness. Anyway, I was hoping that my feet would hold up through that part of the course and my technique would provide as little friction as possible to let me finish the race un-blistered, and it worked out. Awesome!

The elevation chart for the 4-mile Trolley Run shows a net
elevation loss of 164 feet - downhill almost the whole way!

There were a few fun and/or humorous moments for me throughout the race. One dude carried a Christ-like cross the whole way, though I'm not sure Jesus' model had a tire on the bottom of it like this guy's had. I have to think our savior's journey to Calvary might have been a little easier if it did. A random young lady was standing beside the course playing bagpipes, of all things, for all of us. I became acutely aware at a couple different times of all the "clopping" of the other runners' shoes on the ground while I was cruising along in stealth mode. The best story, however, is about a woman who I'd just passed. I ran by her and her friend and the next thing I hear is, "Hey, Susan." Then, nothing. I can't be positive because I didn't turn around to look, but I can picture in my mind's eye the woman pointing her finger down at my feet and looking at her friend with this stunned look on her face while she silently mouths, "He's barefoot!" At least, that's one scenario that could have happened. :-)

I am pleased with how I felt during the run. My heart rate stayed up but didn't push the limits to the point that I felt I had to back off from my pace. My legs felt good, never feeling like they were going to give me problems. The only slight issue I had was with a little more than a mile left. I started getting a little cramping in my right side - an issue I've had before - so I took appropriate measures to squash it. I had read right before my first 5K last year that exhaling when the same foot lands on the ground while running can lead to cramping on that side after a while. To fix it, just change up your breathing so that you exhale when the other foot lands. Voila! The cramping goes away! And mine did.

I felt a little bit tired in the last half mile or so, but I think part of that was mental. I knew that the end was (literally) in sight and my mind started giving up a little bit. A bunch of people did pass me when I slowed down at the end, but I still think I finished pretty strong.

Overall, I ran a very good race. I actually ran the whole thing barefoot, never stopped to walk, kept an elevated - but comfortable - pace and set a new PR for the four-mile distance. Speaking of pace, this is the second fastest pace I've ever run in an organized race, short of the Groundhog Run in January. Could I have pushed it a little bit more? Sure, but I can't complain. I also discovered that this is the longest barefoot run I've had since November 2010! My bare feet are back to where they were before winter, baby! It's all good.

Now, my training marches on as I prepare for the Hospital Hill Run (half marathon) on June 4. I'm planning for bare feet for that race, too. I wonder if pseudo Jesus and the bagpipe girl will be there, too...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Barefoot Season 2011: No Backup But The Doctor's Note

Now that Spring has sprung and warmer weather has moved in, I've decided to revise my Barefoot Code of Conduct for the 2011 "barefooting season." The idea is to keep it relevant and keep current my own personal preferences and standards related to going barefoot. There are two big changes for this year:

The first change is the elimination of regular "backup" footwear. Up to now, I've kept a pair of flip flops under the driver's seat of our car and minivan. The original purpose was to have a pair of backups available if I needed them for some reason. This included my willingness to comply with signs that required footwear and having the option of returning to my vehicle for them if asked by a business' employee/manager/security to put on shoes. I still had every intention of walking into most places totally barefoot.

The problem that I discovered, however, is that I relied on these flip flops too much. Instead of going into most places without any shoes, I kept slipping on the flip flops and then taking them off inside. This even included stores with no signs prohibiting bare feet! I was getting "soft." Instead of dictating how I was going to live my life, I found myself acquiescing to the assumed preferences of others and avoiding assumed confrontation. I don't like that.

There have been a few occasions in the past when I didn't have any backup footwear with me...and I LOVED it. This rarely occurred, but when it did I felt a sense of relief and a weight lifted off my shoulders. I was pleased with the reality that I had to go barefoot and that I didn't have to make a choice I didn't want to make. The certainty of inevitability can be quite soothing, sometimes.

If I know ahead of time that I will genuinely need footwear -- such as in times of extreme temperatures or when participating in more risky activities, I'll take shoes with me. The overall point is that having those "just in case shoes" on hand has come to an end.

The other big change is that I have acquired a note from my chiropractor. It says "Patient needs to be allowed to be barefoot regardless of location/establishment." (see photo below) I had a conversation with him about my barefoot lifestyle, and he understands the benefits of going barefoot. Because of that, he was more than willing to write up the note. I have heard success stories from other barefooters about how having a doctor's note helped their cause immensely. I haven't been questioned or had a need to use it yet -- and quite frankly I don't know if it carries any real legal weight (I've been researching this) -- but I welcome it as a "tool in the tool chest" when barefooting in public.

My doctor's note (altered for privacy purposes).
I should point out that I decided to ditch the backup footwear before I ever considered getting a doctor's note. The decision to talk to my chiropractor actually came on a whim when I overheard another patient talking with him about one.

This could be interesting. For example, I have a paid membership to Costco, a wholesale warehouse that requires footwear of their members. I have already been asked once (pre-note) to put on my flip flops while in there -- I complied because I had my flip flops in the cart. I like my Costco membership, but I also prefer to go barefoot. Without any backup footwear, I hope that the doctor's note is able to satisfy them enough to allow me to shop unshod. If not, I could consider Sam's Club, but they also have a shoe rule and may not allow me even with a note.

I still want to be able to function in society and purchase the things I need at the price I'd like, and anybody should expect the same whether they prefer to wear shoes or not. I founded The Primalfoot Alliance to advocate on behalf of barefooters because policies still exist that discriminate against us. I like having a doctor's note to show that I have medical backing behind my decision. That said, I also like the idea of being able to shop without hassle at Costco and many other places and not need a doctor's note or any other reason.

Rest assured that I will not back down from my dedication to The Primalfoot Alliance or other barefooters even though I have a doctor's note. The cause is still important and I will still be approached by many managers and security officers. I may "get off" with the note -- we'll see -- but I'll also take the opportunity to educate.

I will be posting again with information about how the doctor's note has worked out. I think it will help in many cases. If you have a chiropractor or doctor who you know is barefoot friendly, consider having a conversation about your desire to go barefoot into places but that you're often discriminated against. It may be that, if you ask, he/she would be willing to back you up with a note of your own.

I ask you, dear reader: What are your thoughts? Do you think the doctor's note will help? If Costco holds fast and rejects the note, should I stand on conviction and kick them to the curb? Have I taken this too far? Please leave your comments and suggestions in the section below.

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