so far, so good

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I’m eight days in to my 30-day barefoot running program and here are three things I’ve noticed.

1. When I eat less meat, I run better. As Chris McDougall explained, when our species was just starting out we did indeed need concentrated sources of high-quality protein to fuel the growth of our huge melon-heads. But now that we’re fully grown, do we need meat all the time and at every meal? The quick answer is no. Fear of protein lack, like fear of terrorism, has taken over our consciousness. I don’t know all the science. It’s all conflicting and conflicted anyway. All I know is: when I eat more nuts and seeds, more leafy greens, more fruits and berries, more green superfoods like spirulina and wheatgrass, more vegetable protein, and less dead animals, I feel like a gazelle.

2. I’m calmer. Running without music, as it’s necessary for me to do so I can really concentrate on my breathing and form, has turned my runs into moveable meditation sessions. I’m calm when I run and this serenity has stayed with me throughout my day. For example, yesterday afternoon I discovered a flood in my basement.  I went downstairs to do some laundry and it looked like SeaWorld without the orcas. No problem! I found the offending pipe (there was a  tiny hole in the cold-water feed that runs up to my kitchen sink), sealed it shut, and will call a plumber. So we don’t have cold water in our kitchen at the moment, but hey, who needs it? I’m a barefoot runner. It’s all good. See how easy that was?

3. I direct my mind to the soles of my feet. The barefoot running program I’m on doesn’t just concentrate on correct form. It also reintroduced me to the sensation of actually feeling my feet touch the ground. I’ve been walking barefoot, lightly jogging barefoot, and wearing my barefoot running shoes for longer runs. All these activities draw my attention to the soles of my feet. Highly padded shoes have made our feet weaker and put up a barrier between our bodies and nature. Modern running shoes are just a blip on the continuum of the history of human running. Our ancestors ran barefoot, or with simple, thin, homemade sandals. By learning barefoot running, I’m not only allowing my feet to tell my body what naturally feels right, I’m connecting with the ancients. In an old Zen story, two monks are arguing over a flag flapping in the wind. The first monk says the flag is moving. The second monk says the wind is moving. The Zen master, overhearing the argument, says it’s neither the flag nor the wind that is moving. It’s the mind that is moving.

Like my mind. Moving, down, down, touching earth.

 

how to become a buddhist hippie runner in 29 easy steps

peace

  1. Don’t give a fuck.
  2. Learn proper form.
  3. Drink wheatgrass and/or other green foods.
  4. Go meatless.
  5. Grow long hair and/or a beard.
  6. Find the right shoes.
  7. Or no shoes.
  8. Leave your technology at home.
  9. Lose the Lycra.
  10. Run when you feel like it.
  11. Take naps.
  12. Drink a shit-ton of clean water.
  13. Meditate.
  14. Get a roller. Not that kind of roller. The foam kind.
  15. Get naked.
  16. Down with coffee, up with green tea.
  17. Take a sauna.
  18. Find your drishti.
  19. Eat less, run more.
  20. Work less, run more.
  21. Maintain creative indifference.
  22. Maintain creative fidelity.
  23. It’s OK to walk.
  24. Think like a child.
  25. Stand up.
  26. Do something else.
  27. Lose your boss.
  28. Take your time.
  29. Relax. Breathe. Have fun. This is your Original State.

rabbit steps

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After a few days off, I’m now on day six of my 30-day plan to transition to a barefoot style of running. I say “style” because I’m not sure if my final goal will be to run with or without shoes. Merrell, the shoe company who created the program I’m using, calls it “bareform” running.  I like this phrase better, but as my spellcheck proves, it’s not quite a real word.

I realized today that what I’m really aiming for is not so much finding a new style of running, but rather a reset to the running style all humans are innately born with. Watch a barefoot child run and you’ll see correct running form right in front of you. Chest open, shoulders back, feet landing under their center of gravity on the mid- or forefoot (NOT the heel!) and plenty of laughter.

Today I did some stretching, some posture resets, some barefoot walking. My training program only called for walking today, but I couldn’t help breaking into a few 30-second runs.

One of the keys to running this way is light, quick steps at a high cadence, about 180 total steps per minute. Some training programs recommend using a metronome to keep your paces light and quick. It makes sense if you think about it. The less time you spend with your feet on the ground, the quicker and nimbler you’ll be. You’ve heard of baby steps. But as I ran around the red gummy track today, I envisioned quick rabbit steps instead. Light, light, light.

I’ve also started reading John Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy. I’ve always loved the look of Updike’s books, uniformly graphically designed to be canon-worthy. And the easy-reading Janson typeface most of his novels and short stories use is to me the only font that says “literature.”

I even drank some wheatgrass juice for the first time today. Not sure how running like a rabbit, reading about a Rabbit, and eating what a rabbit eats all ties together. But there it is.

picking up sticks

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In a Christmas pageant in elementary school, I played a poor firewood gatherer.  It was medieval times, and Good King Wenceslas looked out and saw me as I mimed picking up sticks, shivering, and blowing on my hands for warmth in the imaginary cold of the cafeteria that doubled as our auditorium. The good king took pity on me and beckoned to me to come to his castle, out of the cold, where the royals sat around a table loaded for feasting, complete with a plastic pig’s head with an apple stuffed in its mouth.

Part of my costume called for ripped tights. My mom had to take me to Sears and buy a pair of women’s brown pantyhose that I had to strategically tear in random places to mimic my poverty. It was embarrassing. But I made a pretty believable beggar.

Today, dave five of my barefoot challenge, and my first free day, I worked for a friend of mine, raking leaves and gathering fallen winter tree limbs that littered the property we take care of. It’s a part-time job, a way to earn a little extra money. It rained for three hours, my hands were cold, my boots soaked through, my Red Sox hat dripping water from the brim.

My friend’s Boston retriever was my constant companion. In between hauling loads of wet leaves into the woods, I tossed her sticks or an old ripped tennis ball. She never tired. I, however did. She was never cold, jumping into the creek behind the house, the one with chunks of ice still floating on its surface. I was shivering by the time I was done.

In Maine, you have to show up with a lot of money, or else work really hard to make some. I’m happy to have the work, but in some ways I’m still that beggar from elementary school, picking up sticks to survive.

bcd4

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I’m done with day four of my barefoot challenge and it seems the stars are aligning. Another 30-minute walk this morning, posture resets, and stretching. Later in the afternoon, I went to a sporting goods store and found a pair of barefoot Merrell trail shoes on sale for half price. I started reading ultra-marathoner and vegan emissary Scott Jurek’s biography today, and I’m learning a lot. I notice it’s important to be mindful when starting a new journey, but to not let the details get me down. I’ve always been the kind of person who needs to write everything down, to make lists and resolutions. I have a manila folder that says “running” on it where I stuff all my self-help scraps and notes. I’m wearing my mala beads, remembering to stand up straight even when I’m not practicing my running form, trying to drink less coffee and more green tea, upping my intake of nuts and other healthy fats, using my myofascial roller to ease the stiffness of these old joints. On some advice from a friend, I even bought a few bags of Epsom salts and starting soaking my feet every evening. An element of serenity is starting to manifest. I feel calmer, my mind is quieter. And I’m starting to understand the appeal of the whole mani/pedi thing that my women friends are always on about. I think about my brother and sister monks, running around Mount Hiei right now, in their flimsy straw sandals, carrying lanterns through the night, and stopping to pray at all the appropriate shrines along their path. I run around my college track, dodging the occasional toddler, stray dog or tennis ball, keeping my eyes on the horizon.

bcd3: pack animals

Day three of my challenge was another 30-minute barefoot walk, some posture resets, and ten ankle circles. Before I left my tomb-like basement office to walk over to the field house for my workout, I watched Chris McDougall’s 15-minute TED talk. Again. If you’ve ever doubted that humans were indeed born to run, then watching this will change your mind. I’ll let Chris speak for himself, but one of the ideas he asks us to consider is that we evolved as a roving band of pack animals. Equal parts competitiveness and compassion. And of course, that running was a key part of our survival. Without the ability to run long distances in hot weather (no other animal on the planet has this skill), none of us would be here today. Running used to be a part of our daily lives. And it used to be fun. For many of us, as McDougall points out, running is instead a painful chore, something we do because we had pizza and Ben & Jerry’s last night. But it doesn’t have to be.

I noticed again today that walking barefoot demands mindfulness. Maybe “demands” is too strong a word. Encourages, perhaps. I stand erect, gaze at the horizon, rather than the ground, and walk slowly and consciously, trying to stay aware of the sensations of every step.

During breaks in Zen meditation, we perform what’s called kinhin, or conscious walking. We pay attention to every thought, every breath, every step. The Buddha said that when a monk sits, she knows she is sitting. When a monk stands, he knows he is standing. And when monks walk, they know they are walking. Sounds simple, but try for even five minutes to walk with complete mindfulness. Our modern ways of rushing from place to place, pulled by our conscious and unconscious desires, makes it almost impossible to do so. Unless we have practice.

I was also thinking again today of the running monks of Mount Hiei, who I’ve written about elsewhere, and who I consider my spiritual brothers and sisters. They run their marathons in flimsy, homemade straw sandals. Rain or shine. Day or night.

I’ve begun wearing a mala bead bracelet I bought at the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra monastery in Woodstock, NY when I was there recently for a writer’s festival. It’s fragile, but reminds me of my commitment. To follow through with my 30-day challenge. To move past fear and pain. To ultimately use this body as an instrument for awakening. 

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bcd2

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I’ve always felt that shoes, like most clothes, are kind of bullshit, disrupting one of our few full-time connections to the earth. Our feet have over 7,000 nerve endings that most of the time we shield from our environment. I noticed this yesterday when I walked barefoot around the track. The cool, pebbly rubber. The sand grains scattered on the track from a nearby long jump pit. My slightly altered, and more careful, gait as I walked without my customary protection. Like finding a sixth taste. A podiatry umami.

Today’s challenge is much the same as yesterday. Posture resets, 10 toe crunches, and another 30-minute walk, preferably outside. My biggest obstacle today will be time. I don’t think I’ll be able to take my usual one-hour lunch break, and I have some family business to tend to after work. There’s an outdoor high school track near my house. I might be able to find the time to go there around 7. But I live in Maine and there’s still snow on the ground in some places. The track is clear, but I’m guessing not very warm. Still, I may give it a shot. It’s only 30 minutes.

My myofascial roller comes tomorrow. And I slept with my lacrosse ball last night. Don’t tell.