It is sometimes in the unexpected minutiae that we are surprised, once again, by the fact that God’s design works just fine without any human tinkering.
I kept planning to start running again, but various obstacles kept coming up. Proving forever true the old saying – Man Plans, God Laughs. For instance, I had to first find the proper footwear. One thing I remember clearly from my running days of yore was that footwear could make or break your success as a runner. Well, footwear and diet, water intake, breathable clothing, your running regimen, your route, your running playlist, your post workout shake, your undergarments, your hairdo, your career choices, your socks, your astrological sign, your fabric softener, your relationship with your mother, etc. If you read enough running magazines, you’ll discover that every life decision could make or break your success as a runner. Not wanting to get overwhelmed, I focused on my shoe choice.
I also remembered from my running days that there were many, many running shoes on the market. There was a lot of emphasis on finding a shoe that corrected and improved whatever foot type the runner had in order to re-make the foot into a sort of bionic perfection so as to avoid any and all pains that can come about from running a lot. I tried shoes with different arch supports, shoes with different impact absorptions, shoes with different levels of padding, shoes with different ankle supports, shoes with different toe roominess, shoes made for different leg types, shoes made for people with curly hair, and shoes based on my Myers-Briggs personality type.
No matter what shoe I tried, it always seemed like there was some new symptom popping up to correct. When my arches felt good, my knees would hurt. When my knees were doing better, my toes would hurt. When my toes were well, my ankles would hurt. When my ankles were no longer screaming at me, my knees would be yelling again. It was as though each corrective measure I tried threw something else off that I would then have to correct.
The only time I ran with zero discomfort for any length of time was when I ran barefoot on the beach. Barefoot running was just starting to make a splash back then because of its many purported benefits. The concept made sense to me: a person’s feet are designed to absorb the impact of running naturally. When they put on shoes, the shoes get in the way of that natural design and throw everything off so you wind up with the various problems that runners can have with their feet and joints and such.
Now being middle-aged and wanting to start running again, I didn’t want to court any additional aches and pains. I was having a hard enough time just recovering from waking up in the morning.
So, I entertained the idea of running barefoot. Then I thought of all the oak trees in my neighborhood and all of the broken acorn shells I’d seen on the sidewalks while out on walks with the kids. This is not ancient Sparta. I have pampered, 21st century, first-world feet absent of a sole-like callous necessary for running over nature’s shrapnel without sustaining serious foot wounds. Not wanting to come home with feet like John McClane from Die Hard (yes, it is a Christmas movie, see my argument here), I decided to investigate and see how barefoot running shoe technology was progressing. Last I’d left off, it mostly consisted of hipsters wearing toe shoes at coffee shops drinking out of mason jars looking down on everyone else who weren’t wearing toe shoes.
Upon researching it, I found that barefoot running shoes had captured a sizable portion of the running market. There was a wide selection of shoes, many articles on which barefoot running shoe was the best and even a thorough Buzzfeed quiz on ‘Which Barefoot shoe are you?’ The barefoot shoe had made it into the mainstream.
I began the weeks-long process of reading reviews, and eventually settled on a pair that many a reviewer claimed was as close to actual barefoot running as you could get without getting your feet all cut up and catching hepatitis from any human waste product on the sidewalks. And, happily, they didn’t look obviously like a toe shoe. I was already going to look fat, sweaty, old and red-faced trying to get back into running, I didn’t want to look smug, in addition.
The shoes made my first run back extra exciting. Would there be a difference between these shoes and the usual running shoes I’d always worn? Would they let my feet do their job to naturally protect my body from the abuse of running? Would I spend the next month in traction as a result of putting my body through this little experiment instead of just being a normal person and getting normal running shoes?
I wouldn’t find out until I tried them and tried them I did.
There was a noticeable difference in the feeling of the run in that I felt everything. It really did feel like I was running barefoot. At first it freaked me out, because I was so used to having my feet padded when I ran. But then I realized I felt everything, but it wasn’t bothering my legs or my joints. In fact, aside from the “I’m going to die” feeling I get whenever I start a new running routine, my body felt pretty good. The prehistoric bits and pieces that were intelligently crafted as the foot, before man started monkeying around with improving God’s design with the running shoe, seemed to be doing their job.
I’ve been running for several weeks now with no discomfort, aside from every muscle in my body screaming at me “Move to the Kansas side!” on account of all the Missouri hills. My feet, however, feel great. To think all the money and research spent on trying to make the various foot types “normal” with the plethora of running shoes and all they had to do was get out of the way and let the foot do it all on its own.
Man makes a running shoe, God laughs.