Taking a simple approach to running
I was struggling through a half-marathon in Susanville, Calif., in October, running along an old railroad grade covered with sharp gravel and stones, when I saw something remarkable.
In the horde of rhythmically bouncing white shoes, one person was running in bare feet. It snapped me out of my trance and gave me something to ponder for the next several miles.
For one thing, I wondered how it was even possible that he wasn’t bruising and cutting his feet to shreds, and for another I wondered what he had against shoes.
I’d spent $90 on my own shoes, which I’d had specially fitted to match my running style, and even with that I’m constantly injuring muscles, bones and tendons.
At the end of the race, the barefoot runner and his dirt-covered feet were the center of attention, even though he finished in the middle of the pack. Everyone wanted the same answers.
As it turns out, this might be the start of a trend, and I even found an article about it in The Wall Street Journal. The theory is that running shoes actually cushion and protect your feet so much that they become weak and prone to injury, and they keep you from running in a natural style. This runner had been doing it so long his feet were like shoe leather.
And it’s not really that new. The winner of the 1960 Olympic marathon in Rome didn’t wear shoes, and I’m pretty sure Neanderthals could make the same claim. I liked the simplicity of it all, getting back to basics, the way God intended.
For someone training for his first, and most likely only, marathon, and constantly wincing at new aches and pains brought on by mile after mile of running, this held a certain appeal. I considered giving it a try.
But then I thought about those sharp stones on the trails and the broken glass along the roads.
And I’m sticking with the shoes.
I am, however, going to simplify.
That might seem like an odd thing to say about running, which is one of the most natural things a person can do. But all you have to do is watch a group of runners to know what I mean. You’ll notice that many of them will be constantly checking their sports watches, calculating their pace, split times and even heart rates.
As I read more and more about running a marathon, it became obvious that it wasn’t just a test of endurance and spirit. It’s a science, at least if you let it. For a while, I let it, keeping track of miles, times, calories … anything the official training program I was trying to abide by asked of me. From that data, I extrapolated how fast I should be able to run a marathon, even whether I might even be able to hit a Boston Marathon qualifying time.
The training was never very fun and usually it was frustrating, especially when the program said I needed to run eight miles on Thursday night and my throbbing knee told me I’d be lucky to do two.
There were times, however, when it was spectacular. I’m thinking of running in the darkness late in the evening after work, the road lit by a full moon. I’m thinking of a Sunday morning when I felt so good and became so wrapped up in my thoughts that I’d nearly run a marathon before I finally arrived back home.
I love the running, hate the numbers.
It would be different if I were an elite athlete or if I were trying to make a name for myself in the sport. But all I’m trying to do is prove to myself I can run 26.2 miles.
So I put away the heart monitor and the sports watch, because when I attempt to run a marathon, nine days from now, I’m not going to care about numbers.
I’m going to run as fast as I feel like running. I hope that’s pretty fast, but I know from all of these months of running that there are a lot of days when it’s just plain hard work and drudgery and every mile feels like two. So I’m not sure what time I’ll run and, frankly, not even sure I can run the whole race.
I can’t wait to find out.
• Barry Ginter is the editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.