Barefoot running blog by Joe Rooney
They call him Barefoot Ted, an American hero who has run marathons all over the states on all kinds of terrain in his bare feet. Ted says the first time he ran without shoes it was like his feet were “fish jumping back into the water after being held captive”. I read about him in “Born To Run” a book that anyone who hangs around running clubs will hear about sometime. The author tells of a hidden tribe in Mexico who run barefoot for ultra marathon distances over rough terrain, every man woman and child. It tells of the damage running shoes do to ankles and knees by increasing the uncertainty of when exactly the foot strikes the earth thus making the knee unprepared to brace for the impact. 
 
Ted may be the reason I’m sat here in the car by the Mornington dunes. I don’t want to get out. I sit for a while procrastinating, the car a cradle gently rocking in the breeze. In my running shorts and top I browse the internet, check Instagram, Twitter, Gmail. I listen to the end of a podcast; postponing the inevitable. Preparing, readying. I get out and feel the angry breeze on my legs, goose pimpled and complaining. I take my runners off and throw them in the back seat and step barefoot through the vast sand dunes . Protected from the wind I tip-toe fifty paces, then fifty on my heels and repeat three times til I get to the beach. On the strand exposed to the breeze I twist the creaks from my ankles and at-tempt to stretch my fused calcified hips with a pigeon pose. I don’t know why it’s called the pigeon pose. It’s more like an injured wren pose. One day a concerned lady approached me contorted like this and asked if was okay. She presumed I had fallen and was stuck there like an origami skeleton unable to get up. “I’m exercising, I’m fine. I meant to do this” 
 
Enough warming up, I start my run. Running barefoot I feel the slap of my feet against the million minuscule stones. The sureness of the stride. The textures beneath my sole. This is my foot striking off of the land. No uncertainty. No millimetres of rubber insole or Nike air bubbles masking the impact. Why do we need shoes when our feet are ready made? 
 
I first walked barefoot in these dunes when I was suffering from plantar fasciitis; a tight-ness of the muscles in the legs and feet that causes severe pain in the soles of the feet. It made running impossible. I tried rolling my feet over rubber balls, empty bottles, cylinders with bumps on them, but nothing was making my feet better. I couldn’t run, The frustration of not running, not being able to run is known to every injured runner. Passing runners as I drive my car infuriated me. “Feck them, the lucky bastards!” “Feck my stupid feet”. 
 
For the first few strides I’m sure this running is easy, “just stretch out your legs and run”, but 30 seconds in my body protests, “more air, more air”. I have to open my mouth to in-hale, suck it in as another breathe rushes out. My breathing is arrhythmic and scattered. My strides are self conscious . “What is this?”, my body yells. “All day sitting and now this? Why? There’s nothing to run from. Nothing to chase.” 
A minute or two and the body recovers. Again the precocious confidence “ah this is easy! I’ve got this” . I must be one kilometre in to a five kilometre run and I feel great. My mind scatters to fleeting thoughts, chores to do, deadlines to meet, random tune fragments, lyr-ics from songs, scenes from films, no pattern, awkward strides. My Garmin vibrates. One mile done. Almost one third complete; not bad. 
 
On one of my many Googles for plantar fasciitis cures I came across advice to walk bare-foot on rough ground as a cure. I took myself down to Bettystown beach in East Meath a few minutes drive from Drogheda, took off my shoes and went for a walk. I loved the feel of my feet on the ground. I felt I was doing something I’d done as a child. 
 
“If I am walking barefoot then why not break into a jog? If I am jogging then why not go for an all out run? Will it be dangerous? Will it be sore? Do our feet not need protection from this cruel earth with its sharp edges, splinters and stones?” I ran and I was surprised how good it was. My feet weren’t bruised or bleeding. I didn’t break a toe or cut my soles. My feet were free, in contact with the naked earth, feeling it’s curves and uncertainties, every step sent information into my body; grass, rocks, mud, puddles; all earth, mother earth. 
 
This is why I got out of car. To feel alive on Mornington beach in a winter wind. From Mornington, through Bettystown to Laytown then turn to head back, I realised a light wind which had been blowing me down the strand was now my foe. My breathing was deep and loud. I seemed to be running through treacle, I felt every stride. I began to look for land marks conscious of my distance from my destination. I was fighting my body and mind to keep going and then a hit of dopamine left me elated. I could run forever. If heaven is an eternal run I could die now. Maybe I will die now. What if I have a heart attack? You hear about it. Isn’t that how Rik Mayall died? Stop thinking!!!! Just run. Then the mantra “just keep running”. The fight with the brain that every runner knows, that lasts for hours on a marathon. The reason we run. To always beat the brain. To persist . Then that other joyful thing when running just becomes running, at one with the body, breathing, moving, thrust-ing, striding, sucking life fuel, the very air around you into the body. Sometimes in the sun or rain or wind or mist you just fall in love with running. The rain on your face, the solitary battle with life, the struggle and the reward. Maybe it’s the dopamine but sometimes you’ve just got to whoop out loud to yourself or to the universe “Whoohoo I’m alive!” . Two miles done, just over one to go. The third mile broken up into parts, one more and one more and one more step and then it’s over. 
 
What about glass? Is there really glass on the beach? I didn’t think so. I had been running for 6 months on the beach sometimes in the twilight when I couldn’t see my feet, trusting my sense of touch without a care. One morning in the bright sunlight as a I ran I saw a glint on the sand. Something green. I stopped to pick it up. Could it be? Yes it was a small piece of bottle glass. I picked it up and put it in my pocket. A little further on I saw another, this time a triangle of transparent glass and further on another sand worn opaque piece. I had been unaware but now as I ran with head scanning the ground I would pick pieces up and put them in my pocket. They always lay flat and I thought if I did step on one they would just be pushed into the sand. The glass I collected I would throw into an old straw hat in the boot of my car. I eventually had quite a collection. I took a photo of my glass haul beside my bare feet and put it on Instagram with a warning not to throw your glass bottles into rivers or streams and hash tagging #barefootrunning. An hour later I check In-stagram to see that none other than Barefoot Ted had “liked” my photo. It was like David Bowie recommending your song. I was elated!! I was part of the barefoot running commu-nity officially. 
Share this post:

Leave a comment: 

Our site uses cookies. For more information, see our cookie policy. Accept cookies and close
Reject cookies Manage settings