I’ve spent 30 plus years in the running industry as the producer of road races including Bay to Breakers, Bridge to Bridge, Mercury Run, Race for the Cure, The San Francisco Marathon and a list too long to include. After a 15 year absence, I have returned to running. Why, what motivated me you may ask? While on a flight to LA for a business meeting (regarding marathon merchandise apparel) a woman sitting next to me, upon seeing my San Francisco Marathon jacket as we were about to land, asked if I had read a book titled Born to Run. My reply to this question was no and I told her I had not heard of it, she informed me how wonderful it was and that I must read it. I offer my thanks to this wise young woman for her suggestion did have a rather positive affect upon me. Shortly after landing, my business meeting in LA was unexpectedly canceled, so while waiting to get a rental car I decided I would go buy the book and ended up spending a day at Venice Beach reading. It actually took me more than a day to get through the book as I laid on the beach admiring the runners, bikers, roller-bladders and surfers go by. Who doesn’t like LA? I enjoyed the read a good bit as it covered interesting data on running such as why we as humans are made to run, why we survived and prospered as a species, why we should run barefoot, it also covered some of running’s less know but very interesting and highly demanding races and the characters that participate these events giving the book a personal story as well. I do concede the book is a bit romanticized as my daughter pointed out to me while celebrating an end of the year holiday dinner at the Awhanee Restaurant in Yosemite this past December. She wanted me to understand that while it was a good book, it was not a great book. Still, it was an interesting read and I would recommend it to anyone who runs.
When I stopped running over a decade ago, I had been dealing with the physical pain caused by running and a lifetime of struggling with depression and procrastination. After years of meditation to address the depression and after having read Born to Run I found myself entertaining a return to running. So toward the end of the year I hit the ground and started pounding down the roads again. My runs began from either the office or my home, heading out as the sun was setting or rising respectively taking in the views this city is so famous for. I was slow in building the miles, apparently if you have not run in years it takes some effort to bring it back, who knew? I found that the old pains that running had caused in my legs, knees, and hips were once again returning though greatly reduced, I attribute this reduction in pain to a physical awareness learned in meditation that allowed me release the pain. Even so, feeling the joy was invigorating and inspired me to keep returning to the road.
In early January I went to Sports Basement and then REI in hopes to grab a pair of sock shoes (anyone else find it humors that I paid $90 for a running sock?). I had no luck in making an in-store purchase as Sports Basement does not carry them and REI only had a few sizes much larger than my feet. So finally I went online and ordered some up. The online site has a simple method for determining your size that requires a tape measure, two feet (yours), one wall (any will do) and you are good to go. A few days later the running socks arrived and I was off for my first run in a number of years without the normal pain. It was pure enjoyment! It reminded me of being a kid again, feeling the grass brushing against my feet, the morning dew in between my toes. Enjoying myself immensely as I ran on the neighborhood lawns which stretch along the sea wall separating me from the bay water, I found myself smiling taking in the sensations and enjoying the dirt path under my nearly bare feet. I emerged at the bay waters edge and ran out on to a large grassy recreational area offering views of the city skyline with its lights blinking off as the sun rose behind me. Finally hitting the concrete road to climb the hills I so love to take on arriving at the top of a 300′ climb. I stood taking in the view of a few of the bays many bridges – the San Rafael, Bay and Golden Gate Bridges. Pausing, I reminded myself to inhale the incredible place we are fortunate enough to live near and call home. I just kept smiling as I made my return run, observing my foot strike on the ground, how my feet felt as the body collided with ground, the feeling of the shock-wave coming up the leg.
As I ran along my return route I played with how best to strike the foot on the ground, it took some experimenting (landing on the heal, side or ball of the foot) and eventually became more natural side and front flat strike. I found that the sock shoes allowed me to feel the full impact of the strike first in the foot, then the shin, then the knee and thigh allowing me to feel my physical response. With this heightened awareness of the impact, I was able to keep my legs from tightening during my runs. Instead of a thick shoe protecting the arch from its designed purpose and masking the shock wave caused by the impact of the body against the ground, I felt each shock wave of energy slamming against my limbs. When I became aware of the slightest tension I would allow the tightness to breathe, relaxing into the impact, eliminating the pain completely. Meditation has taught me to be physically present and this allowed me to simply relax my legs whenever I felt them tighten slightly and doing this kept my legs, knees and hips from hurting. Combining the lessons learned from meditating and being able to feel the collision between the ground and my body I run free of pain and open to the experience of being out there.
The toed running socks themselves are weird to put on, the toes of the “shoes” take some practice to get on. The soreness on my heel from my first run lasted a day but was nothing noticeable beyond that. The thin sole keeps rocks etc from bothering the foot, and the joy stays with me as I’ve continued to run. The barefoot shoes, and the applied lessons learned from meditation, have allowed me to build the miles back up so I can go as far as I desire, being one with the road.