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All you need is a bandage

After three years I have finally become a true barefoot runner. I have finally accepted that sometimes to succeed all you need is a bandage.

The road to being a barefoot runner is long and sometimes tortuous.  The transition period is well documented and can last a long time. It takes time, patience and dedication.

In my case it took nearly three years.

Let me clarify. I have been running barefoot and in minimalist shoes since May 2009. I started running barefoot on the local indoor track and when I ventured outdoors, I took my Vibram Five Finger KSO’s onto the trails.

However, my quest was always to be a truly barefoot runner. I didn’t want to wear minimalist shoes. I wanted to feel the damp ground and debris under my feet. My goal was always hampered.

The outdoor road was never easy.

First, it was hit by my own lack of confidence. The idea that I would run on something I didn’t like. Glass, stones, twigs, dog-poop, you name it – it made me shudder.

It took me a while to realize that, in fact, these items did not exist. On the carefully cleaned sidewalks, there were no dangerous objects. My imagination and the occasional bit of gravel were most dangerous parts of the pavement.

I again took off my minimalist shoes and tried to run barefoot.

Then two years of experimenting began.

No matter how I tried, I always seemed to get blisters on my toes. I shifted my body weight, altered my form and tried every suggestion given to me via the forums. Within a couple of kilometres of running barefoot, my middle toes would always be ripped raw and bleeding.

I had at this point begun experimenting with different minimalist shoes and terrain. Not content with running roads, I began to run trail.  I found a new passion that didn’t require me to take off my shoes. In minimalist shoes, I could run them fast and have fun and still get the ground feel I was desperately seeking.

Being a barefoot purist was not important.

Last summer, I was injured during a trail race. My broken knee was enough to dissuade me from technical mountainous trail for a while.

It was back to road running.

It was about this time I read Ken Bob Saxton’s book, Barefoot Running: Step by Step.

Ken Bob Saxton is a true veteran of barefoot running.  No matter how long you have been running barefoot – or how much you think you know – Ken Bob, knows more than you.

As I read his book, I had an epiphany.  Okay, one of many epiphanies.

It was all to do with flexing the toes as you land.

When I was seven, I had operations on my middle toes to rectify growth issues. The procedure at the time was fairly brutal. Since then, I have had little flexibility in my middle toes. Whenever I walked, they would bend at strange angles and I would dislocate them frequently.

After two years of running in barefoot and minimalist shoes, my toes are straighter and rarely dislocate, but I still have poor flexibility.

I realized that this was an issue I was never going to be able to fix. The only way I could prevent rubbing of my toes was to tape them. No amount of  “Re-learning your A,B,C’s” would work.

Then winter fell on Vancouver; the temperature dropped and I was forced back into minimalist shoes.

After a long winter – or so it seems – the Spring sunshine has hit Vancouver and this weekend I managed my first barefoot run of the year.

I taped up the middle toes on both feet and I ran. This was going to be the validation that my issues weren’t running form, but something structural that I could not fix within myself.

This was a lesson in acceptance.

I ran 8K. I took the new Vibram Five Finger Seeya with me just in case.

I didn’t really need them. I ran 3K to the trail, barefoot on the pavement without any issues. I then ran along the trail in my Seeya’s. At the end of the trail, I took off my shoes and ran the 3K back home.

I had not one blister or hot spot.

I truly became a barefoot runner. I had listened to my body and with much effort, I had realized that my body did need some minimal protection – in this case six fabric bandages on my middle toes. I accepted this and moved on.

After nearly three years, I have transitioned to a true barefoot runner.

To those who are still battling with the barefoot transition:  The journey is sometimes long – longer than you anticipate or expect. Listening to your body will always work and is worth it in the end. When it happens, the smile on your face will make you realize it was all worth it.