Saturday, November 19, 2005

Lying to Children About Why I'm Barefoot

It is getting colder here in NJ, and today I had to go to the bank and to the post office. It was frosty in the morning when I did the errands wearing several layers on top but without shoes on my feet. I also trimmed the bushes and raked the leaves all afternoon barefoot. For the past couple of days I am happy to report that I can run barefoot for a couple of miles on the road, even though it is dark and cold, before having to put some racing flats on to finish a decently long workout. I must say that the acorns on the sidewalks have been so much worse than anything else I have ever stepped on, now that we are deeply into the fall season.

But that isn't what I came here to talk to you about. I came to talk about addiction and lying.

I may have reached a new low today. This addiction to barefooting has led me to lying to children about it in public.

I was in a local post office. I had several items to ship from my eBay sales. I needed to put the items in Priority Mail boxes that I got at the post office right then and there. I was putting things together on this high service table they have there for this purpose while some other people waited in line for the one open window. There is nothing worse than waiting in line in a post office with those potentially "postal" postal workers working with a hustle index that measures in negative numbers. You can either look at the stamp advertisements or try to decipher the various posted charges for mailing services. Despite the availability of that exciting reading material, I could feel some of the people in line were glancing at my bare feet, no doubt wondering about them, but exercising politeness and not saying anything about what they might be thinking.

A woman came in with two children of about 3 and 4 years of age and she got in line. The children began playing chase-each-other-under-and-around-the-table. On about the third table lap, the older girl said to me, "I need to know what happened to your shoes and socks." Kids are great, saying stuff that adults are just too afraid to say! And it wasn't just a simple question, it was a statement - she needed to know what happened to them. As a teacher who has part of his current salary being pulled from grants based on the No Child Left Behind legislation, I was not going to leave the needs of our children unfulfilled. I smiled and said, "Well, it's a long story..." My mind began working hard and fast - do I explain running barefoot and living as barefoot as possible in support of the strength it has given me and about how it just feels better than sticking feet into sweaty shoes? No, that was too much for a 4 year old - so all of this happening in a split second so I said loud enough for everyone in line to hear, "I'm in a university study experimenting with the effects of not wearing shoes."

...And it was like everyone in there relaxed a little. Maybe they went back to looking at the Christmas Stamps poster thinking their world was not as challenged by the barefoot guy as they had initially feared. Seems it is OK to risk barefooting on cold mornings if it is in the name of science. And the funny thing is, I said the lie with absolute conviction, no guilt feelings, and it was unconscious and unplanned! It just rolled off my tongue as if I was not in control of what I was saying.

In the past I have used the nonverbal strategy of carrying a pair of flip-flops to make people feel comfortable with encountering a barefoot guy in the mall. I think now I have a cold-weather strategy: Make them think I am an experimental subject - perhaps doing something self-sacrificing that I really may not even want to be doing! - and that I am doing it to advance human knowledge.

And I think I am advancing human knowledge, kinda...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

"First Barefoot Runner"

Today was crazy. Wife on a business trip; no sitters that could come over on a Sunday morning. Got the kids over to Susan's house. Got to the race with less an hour to go to the start. I still had not even entered nor turned in any team forms. Roger was in a panic about getting our team entry turned in on time because I hadn't answered his email. He put some stuff on a sheet and I was told by the USATF people that he took them to the scoring van. The scoring van was a quarter mile from check in and parking. I could not find him there. Roger did not have all the information for our 40's teams. So I am running around, ready to race but barefoot and carrying my shoes, trying to track down our team entries. Finally found Roger, who had returned them to the USATF table. I filled them out and handed them in right on the deadline time.

I put myself on the B team because I felt really crazed and I didn't really need this race. Our teams did need a stronger B team than usual, to pick up some points on the MC Striders. So after the race started I started thinking about getting my shoes off. The roads seemed pretty smooth, and I thought it would be no problem. So after about 2 miles I pulled over and took them off. It took me longer to take them off than last time. The running went well, until we hit a stretch of really rough road. It was like primitive paving and there was a lot of tree litter. That mile slowed me down a lot, and wore some skin off my toes. So the last mile went a little slow too. I looked down and thought I saw blood. There was some grass next to the road so I was on and off that in the last mile. I think it cleaned up the blood. And after I finished, there was no bleeding. I am glad about that, because that would not have been good publicity for barefoot running. One of the finish line volunteers said, "First barefoot runner!" So I won that category, at least.

But my right big toe is tender and lost some skin. For this race, being barefoot definitely slowed me down. I ran 41 minutes. The guys I usually finish around were about 2 minutes faster. So the 4 miles I did barefoot lost me an average of about 30 seconds per mile.

A friend of mine pointed out to me that world class African barefoot runners might train barefoot, but still race in shoes on the road.

This race was more about fun for me, though. It was more about seeing if I could do it. I can still run a fast Cat II at Ashenfelter 8K. I will keep my shoes on for that one - at least during the race.

Friday, November 11, 2005

There Were No Acorns in The Garden of Eden

The last two days of running have been a bit of an on-road barefoot breakthrough for me. I usually do the bulk of my barefoot running on grass, with maybe a mile total on the road. Yesterday I decided to just go for it, and my ran consisted of about 4 on-road barefoot miles and about 2 more on grass and dirt. Today I ran on the road in the dark barefoot for about 4 miles, then put shoes on for another 3. I have been running just as fast as I would with shoes on. It feels great, except for the acorns!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Chuck Your Insoles!

I often post how I have had plenty of barefoot running success, as well as running-in-general success, by combining barefoot and shod running in my training. I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner. I have previously traded the stock insole in running shoes for flatter ones when I train or race in shoes "to get closer to the ground". But for the last couple of weeks I have simply chucked the insoles all together. Slip-lasted running shoes are working fine this way and they are allowing my feet to work more like they do when barefoot.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Anti-Barefoot Conspiracy

I wish I had remembered to relate this story before or on Halloween, but here goes -

On Sunday night, in an effort to build the Halloween mood and simultaneously infuse some cultural literacy into my 11 year-old son, I watched the DVD of the classic 1941 movie "Wolf Man", starring Lon Chaney, Jr.

In it, the not-yet-but-soon-to-be-werewolf Lon Chaney kills the gypsy-werewolf, played by Bela Lugosi, who then turns back into his human form. Of course, it is this encounter where Lon receives his fateful werewolf bite that carries him through the next 6 werewolf movies. When the constable investigates the apparent double murder, a big hubub is made about the Bella's BARE FEET. "..well how do you explain his bare feet..." he says suspiciously and almost sarcastically, for example. Moreover, when Lon (AKA Larry Talbot) makes his first transformation to werewolf, the directors chose to focus on his BARE FEET. This was probably easier for the overlapping takes to create the movie's groundbreaking yet primitive special effects. His feet are shown to grow hairy and finally change into something that works more like we run as non-heel strikers. I am sure most of you have seen this movie when you were a kid watching Creature Feature on Saturday night after Don Kircherner's Rock Concert.

What I am going for here, of course, is another anti-barefoot conspiracy theory (ABCT): the usage of BARE FEET as a symbol of the evil in humanity by the Hollywood status quo of the 1940's.