Monday, November 18, 2013

Mr Flatfoot goes Barefoot: Much ado about nothing

Flat foot? A handicap?

A bit of retrospection allowed me to go back into my past as a kid. I was not keen on exercise, nor was I interested in games.

I used school shoes with hard sole. My Toe was broad and Broad toe shoes were scarce in the market. I often had to do with larger size shoes that created some space for toe movement.

Yet, the movement of the foot on side was restricted.

As I grew older I needed shoes that were beyond size 9. Many shops , then, did not have giant size shoes.

Bata Northstar series came to my rescue, still it was a bit costly for my pocket.

By then, my foot was completely flat. 

Lotto launched a startup shoe that had arch support and without much thought I purchased a pair. It was a really bad investment as my Socks worse off at the Arch and I got blisters.

Flat foot would have been a problem if I wanted to enroll in the army. "You will have to march long distance. Also Flat foot is a BIG PROBLEM if you want to run or sprint." chirped my NDA friend. There ended my dream. 
The thought of being handicapped for life lurked at the back of my mind.

Larger shoes were a problem when I started Mountain climbing. Firstly I never got a pair of the right size to fit crampons on. 
Secondly I had to deal with a larger overhang from toe to arch while climbing rocks where the entire strength has to focus on the toes. (It was easy to get shaky knees when climbing and fear was not the only contributor.)

I had to do with Size 10 boots while my Foot had grown to size 11.

My first time in USA, I observed a shop going bankrupt. I purchased Air sole Nike at mere $25.

(I had crossed 45 years of age then.) The NIKES did a good job at cushioning the foot. I was pained when the cushion got punctured and leaked.
I ran my first 21km in my NIKE leaky air cushion shoes,

In another trip to USA I bought a pair of Size 11 Reebok. I used them to run my 1st full marathon. 
I had bad blisters. I thought I owed them to bad fitting socks. "Nothing wrong with a well designed shoes", thought I.
I then purchased a pair of Reebok low cut socks and ran the full Mumbai marathon.

Then I observed..something was still wrong with my knee. I attributed this to a rapid descent from my last expedition.

My shoes always felt hot and I felt uncomfortable after 30+ km stretch. 

At the same time my Friends Sujit and  Umesh had done the Mumbai Marathon in lesser time, Barefoot!

Umesh attributed the credit to BF running. 
I started practicing Barefoot. I must say that Umesh followed barefoot religiously in ANY terrain (Even Auroville Dirt trail marathon). I was more skeptical and got into the BF phase very gradually.

My first switch was to Floaters that allowed me to move the fingers.I was glad that my feet remained colder than when I wore the boots.

Later, I started using Bathroom slippers with a elastic band to hold to my foot just like a sandal.

This light weight contraption lasted me for quite a while.
I did not improve my run time..BUT I was in much better shape at the end of 21km.

My feet had tasted freedom for the first time in their life. They did not heat up and the long run was a lot more bearable.

I ran without shoes at a beach and then at racecourse. Different muscles started complaining. Did the sole hurt? Obviously! There is no gain without pain.

I stuck to the BF routine and soon I knew the proper landing technique. My slipper had worn out at the heel. so I was landing on the heel. I trained the foot to land on the ball of the foot.

Then I realized that I could now Spread my foot fingers as much as I wanted. The poor guys had never used so much freedom. When I ran in sand, I realized that the Toes were helping me to claw at the sand. This clawing is impossible with shoes on. I was using the full capacity of my toes for the first time in my life

How do you deal with rubble? Does it not hurt you? 

Yes.. It would hurt a lot at first. Till I found that if I stretched the muscles underneath the base I could run over small stones with less harm.
This was a matter of training.

I was reminded of the 36 chamber of Shaolin. The first lesson where the monks had to mover over logs floting on pool of water to get their meal. The newer monks sank in the pool. The profficient moved across just skimming over the little buoyancy the logs offered.

"I got to be swift. Move fast. no long strides." Cadence! small fast steps?"

Barefoot running is a self taught lesson! There are no guru's here. Also what works for one may not work for another.There were cases where BF runners started going back to "Bare Minimal" shoes.

The cost of such shoes???? I could purchase a double layered Mountain climbing boot at the same cost. (Something that was more dear to me than a pair of running shoes.)

I ran my Hyderabad marathon barefoot in 2012 august after 5 months of BF training. It is still my personal best.

I should confess, the Shaolin technique did not work when my legs were tired. My legs pounded the dirt inside the university campus and pained a lot. But it was the run that converted me completely.

Bare foot changed my approach to life. I understood the fact that shoes would not improve my performance. Barefoot running also taught me modesty. (All my life I was accustomed to wear shoes at school/ in workshop/ in mountains or at office. I had never thought of a life without them.)

Did I ever get infected by runing BF?

Never till date! I clean my feet with hot water.

What about glass pieces on the road?

It is unfortunate that people like smashing Wine bottles on the road. It is a hazard that I have to live with. 
I also found a pair of shoes that have a 3mm sole (intended for walking) These can be strapped to my waist pouch or bad road.

My feet have been pierced with thorns and glass at times, but I could pull it out and keep running. A barefoot runner observes the road a lot better than a person who runs in Shoes. It is an instinct that develops with practice. In university campus during a run, I observed a small dead snake on the road and no one else did!

Which are the best roads to run BF?

All roads that have a heavy traffic are good. You just need to find the right time to run on them. Better wake up early!

What is the best part of BF running?

I love to connect with mother earth. As I run on sand or soil, the contact with mother earth is something that I relish.

But you intended to talk about Flat feet..Why feed me all this info?

Well! I was coming to that part eventually.

"I find that I have a better arch than before after all this BF running." 

I realized it after a few months when I was washing my feet after a run. An arch had developed.

I was shocked and surprised. I had flat feet all my life. This was a new development.

The proof? The image at the top of this article is my footprint in the sand during a beach run.

You will notice how the ridges are formed.Though running in sand is a different game, It shows the points where the foot digs in the most and forms ridges.

The first thing I did was to send a message to Bare foot Ted.

I remember the first time when I heard of people going barefoot.

It was MF Hussain..Yes! the great Indian artist..thrown out of a restaurant as he was barefoot.

At the time, I had thought that he was crazy.

Now.. I am just another crazy artist . I understand him a lot better after a long time.

How do you know if nothing went wrong in 2 years, what beholds in future?

I have absolutely no clues for future. But I feel..if something worked for 2 years why not 

experiment for more and find about it myself?


You should decide for yourself. Do not try to follow me. 

Also, do not follow  follow anyone who claims that BF hurts. 

BF is a unique way to learn real running and improve from mistakes by first hand feedback.

If not completely BF, try to make your own Huaraches. :)

Few links that Support above: