“I slid to a stop, my toes piping mud between them. I had missed the turn on an invisible path. As my weight shifted and in the split second between stopping in one direction and tipping in another I was poised, motionless. A statue in the forest: framed by sunlight, steam rising into the chilly ether around me. Deer had stopped munching, alert and hesitant. Squirrels cussing. I stood barefoot as a primitive man – time peeling back 30,000 years – I felt animal, alert, connected, planted with the earth around, in, on and beneath my feet. The sense of texture, of every rock and roll in the soil, the roots, the tendrils of nature: sensory overload. Primitive. Barefoot. Animal. Alive.” On The Wildside, Journal, 2012
WHAT’S more natural than running in nature? Wild running is an antidote to pounding unyielding city street or the hamster-wheel treadmill down the gym. Wild running takes a walk in the park further. Much further. This is running through those untamed places in all their muddy, rutty, prickly, rocky, slippery, slidey, gritty glory. Great for the body. Fantastic for the soul. This closer interaction enables you to balance along nature’s rough and sublime edges. ‘Wild Running’ might seem like a fad, but this reconnection of yourself through nature could be a genetic imperitive or an ancestral echo.
Our wild places are places you can truly ‘bewilder’ yourself. Bewilderment treads the borders of ecstasy, exuberance and the sublime – all means of pulling you strongly into the ‘here and now.’ Add in the primary sense of touch through your feet, with its 20,000 nerve endings, the sense of balance as you navigate every dip, rock and root and the dialled up awareness and concentration you need means that FLOW, a mindful and state of being present, is just over the next ridge.
Wild, untamed, visceral arenas gift you an infinite number of routes and terrains. From arrow straight fire-trails to million-mile meandering mammal tracks. From watery woodland to gnarly gorge. From boggy bottom to heathery height. Plants, animals, minerals and man: an amorphous, often saturated ampitheatre from which the wild runner can create a unique and sublime experience.
Barefoot: run like the animal you are
If you are truly committed to a closer connection with the landscape you run through then you might be tempted to kick off your shoes and sink your toes into the mud! Plugging into the landscape in this way just adds to the sensory richness of the experience.
When we run barefoot we become hyper-aware of our surroundings and what’s beneath us. The nerve endings on the soles of our feet enable us to run with incredible precision. When we are able to feel all the different kinds of terrain, we are able to adjust and still remain light on our feet. Over time our bodies will instinctively adjust, re-align, and gain the strength to run efficiently and hopefully safely!
Throughout most of human history, running has been performed barefoot or minimalist, with thin-soled shoes. We have only been running with padded shoes for forty! Barefoot or minimalist practice continues today in Kenya and among the Tarahumara people of northern Mexico. The runners of Ancient Greece also ran barefoot.
The Barefoot or Minimalist style of running helps develop a natural spring-like gait. The balls of our feet absorb the shock of the trail in an efficient way that enables us to run longer and faster. Today, our thick-soled shoes have contributed toward certain types of injury due to heel strike. Landing on our heel causes three times the amount of force up our legs and spine. This takes its toll on cartilage, tendon, muscle and bone. Learning to land softly on your forefoot/mid-foot changes this dynamic. You start to build strength in your metatarsals, so they act as shock absorbers. Force is distributed through the arches, tendons, ligaments, calves, quads, glutes and hamstrings: allowing for your body to do the job it was designed for.
A less painful and risky alternative to going barefoot is to wear thin shoes with minimal padding. These are now widely and commercially available. These minimalist shoes permit a similar gait to barefoot, allowing for a close connection with the earth, but importantly protect the feet from cuts, bruises, abrasions and mud. Because even in untrammelled forest there are plenty of things you don’t want to step on or in!
Caution: Barefoot or minimalist running is not for everyone. Nor is it entirely risk free. A sudden change from running in thick-soled shoes to barefoot or minimal-soled shoes is not advised: a slow tranisition is recommended. Do your research and seek guidance from an expert at your local running shop or club. Remember, what you end up doing to your body or what you might step on or in – is entirely at your own risk!