I’m staring at my suitcase. I’m packing for a week abroad in Spain with my family. It’s going to be a week with loads of time to run, twice most days, in the quiet hills of the Asturias. I’m wearing a pair of, to use the most accurate term, clodhoppers (big cushioned trainers) and trying to decide whether to take a pair of barely used racing flats with me or another pair of the heavy beasts which will leave me less room to pack clothes than the average driver leaves a London cyclist. On an impulse I threw the flats in.
I’ve always enjoyed running barefoot but with a gravel road in front of my parents house and living in cities since then (Oxford and London) I’ve never really done a lot of it. 5 minutes around the track infield was pretty much the limit. At the age of about 16/17 after reading a lot on the net I switched to minimalist shoes and a forefoot strike. It took a long time to transition but was worth it as I clocked faster times with very few injuries as I padded around the countryside in my NB150 RCs with my high arches and naturally supinating (under pronating) feet.
At some point – I stopped and started running on my heels again. Thinking back I really can’t pin-point exactly when it happened. I think it was after buying a pair of Nike Frees which are a wonderfully built pair of shoes but which, due to the heavy heel cushioning (don’t let anyone tell you that Frees are minimalist!), had encouraged me, just gradually to start running more frequently on my heels. Possibly it was after the Green Belt in 2010 where after running the leg from Hertford along the canal path I badly injured my Achilles and was unable to take the strain of running up on my toes for a while and just forgotten to transition back.
Regardless – my stride at this point had detoriated to the stage where I was described by an old friend as running with an old man’s shuffle. Heel striking most of my runs were hard work and I really wasn’t enjoying my running. For the first time in my life running was feeling like a real chore. So I needed to make a change! I’d been aware of this for a while but hadn’t really thought about what was making me feel so uncomfortable in my running stride. My Achilles were sore enough after just a few strides on the track on my forefeet that I’d almost forgotten I used to do 20 mile long runs on my toes.
With my whole body struggling and reading various messageboards (mostly Letsrun) and with Born to Run on my “to read” list for years I decided to start running barefoot. It began around a cricket pitch, just a couple of minutes, but it was enough to realise where I’d been going wrong. Free of shoes I was enjoying the run with light, barefoot strides and for the first time (in what felt like years) I wanted to carry on running rather than feeling like I was hauling my sad carcass around.
And so, having done a couple of barefoot runs I chucked my flats into that suitcase and headed to Spain.