Imagine or A Barefoot Running Manifesto

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March 25, 2014 by scratchtype1

It is an opportunity of visual spectacle: perhaps a trip to an art museum, perhaps a fireworks display, perhaps well cultivated gardens with orchids. You go there eagerly to be able to see things of beauty, to see displays that might etch themselves into your memory and that you might carry with you to old age. Then when you get to the entrance you are given a pair of goggles with hazy lenses and you are told you must wear them.

Then imagine that you have lived your life with those goggles on, as a matter of safety to protect your eyes.

Or perhaps you get a chance to go to world-renowned orchestra perform music that you’ve wanted to hear. Or your favorite rock group. Or Barry Manilow if that’s your thing. But at the entrance you’re given and told to wear a pair of ear muffs which will muffle everything.

Then imagine that you’ve lived your whole life with those over your ears.

Or imagine it’s going to be your birthday. For it, you’ll be served your favorite food, whatever it may be. But as the dish arrives before you, you are made to put a protective cover upon your tongue and you then find that you can barely taste the pizza you had wanted, or that bacon cheeseburger, or that foie gras, or that Italian water ice. The only flavor you can taste is just barely there.

Then think of it as not a one freak occurrence, but something that you’ve done your whole life, unbeknownst to you.

How many nerves do we have in our eyes? How many are in our ears? How many in our tongues? How important are those nerves for us to experience life and what’s around us?

Now what if I were to tell you that one of the most nerve-rich parts of the human body is the sole of the human foot? What if I asked you what purpose do those nerves have? Why are they there? Why would evolution put a whole bunch of nerves someplace where they’re always going to be covered by shoes? Are you willing to consider those nerves have a lot more purpose and usefulness than simply existing inside a pair of shoes and socks?

Your feet are not just feet. They are not simply limb parts that need to be encased in footwear so that you may walk or run across the earth. Your feet are sensory organs, much like your eyes, your nose, your ears, your tongue, your hands and fingers. For a long period of human history and evolution, our feet would touch the earth and move across it every day. Every day, those nerves would pull in sensory information and send it to our brains. That sensory information would be processed just like our brains process the sensations from what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. Imagine what it would be like to lose those senses. Of course it doesn’t mean that if we were to lose one or more of those senses that life becomes meaningless and without enjoyment, but I don’t think many of us would voluntarily lose them.

Yet that’s what we do with our habitual shoe-wearing. We’ve voluntarily ceded one of the ways in which we can understand the world around us.

So that’s some of why I’m here to say to you that there is a deeper and richer way to walk and run. But you’ll have to start taking off the shoes. Imagine this: you were beside me last Saturday and we ran and walked 13 miles total that day. We saw a world just beginning to come out of winter’s hibernation. The sun through thin clouds showed us broad areas of empty fields, mud, matted grass. We could smell dirt and mud. We ended up seeing crocuses. We heard the crows and I listened to how they sing. We reached down and picked up some gravel stones by the train tracks, rolled them into our palms and felt their sharp edges. We shared some gumdrops for a snack. But all that time I was barefoot and you were in shoes. I felt the grass and mud and dirt. I felt the gravel. I put my bare feet to both sides of the crocuses. My feet felt the chipseal of the road we walked a short bit on.

We were both there. And perhaps I came away with a little more, a little more memory than you, a little more experience, a little more of a feeling I had come to know more that late morning than maybe you came away with.

If you can imagine that and understand that, then I hope one day you might come to run and walk beside me again there, to walk alongside me without shoes, with just the promises of us being human and being fully connected into the world that’s around us and under our feet.

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One thought on “Imagine or A Barefoot Running Manifesto

  1. So... says:

    It’s the completeness that barefoot makes me feel. I ran in shoes today and it just felt like a dead run, as though I had cushions strapped to my feet.

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