How much of our other senses do we lose when we put on heavy cushioned shoes?
I am pretty much blind as a bat.
Honestly, it’s amazing that I am legally able to drive. When I meet up with friends at the local coffee shop, I could be standing almost next to them and still not see them.
I am also a really bad ball player – obviously.
However, when I hit those trails I see everything. With my minimal shoes on – I tend to run gravel trails and when I am feeling suicidal technical trails – I feel everything. I see everything in my path.
I am very conscious of my environment and space. I can see the rocks, roots, and changes in terrain. The faster I speed along the trail, the more of my environment I see. I feel my brain has engaged into a higher gear. The same awareness you hear from people who have been in a car crash — everything comes heightened.
I have often wondered how much of this is down to what I have – or in my case, don’t have – on my feet.
How much more aware am I, not only because I have to be vigilant of where I tread, but because of the neural-impulses being sent from my feet to my brain?
My questionable theory appears more validated when I run the popular, but fairly easy inlet trail near my home. The 6km trail is full of wildlife, but as I go past my fellow runners on the trail, it is very apparent they don’t see it. Almost as if the cushioning on their feet is also acting like a muffler to their other senses.
As an example: A few weeks ago on this trail, I spotted a heron fishing in the tide of the inlet. This beautiful bird was so graceful as it fished I had to stop. Another runner sped past me and looked quizzically — silently wondering what I was looking at. I motioned to the heron and even after it was highlighted to him, he barely shrugged his shoulders and carried on – not even breaking his stride.
This week, on a rare sunny day, I was again running this trail and a butterfly chased me. We flew and ran alongside each other. Racing. Yet, the other runners around me were oblivious.
How am I — a runner who is unable to read a sign-post 5 metres away — able to see such small details as I speed along, when others clearly do not notice?
I attribute some of this failure by other runners to see what’s around them, due to their noisy foot-strike. The wildlife hears them coming before they even turn the corner on the trail. As I try to silently run on the gravel trail, I make it my mission to creep up on the birds and mammals hiding on the bushes. I have a fairly good success rate.
I have developed this sub-conscious ability to examine my environment, out of a necessary need not to break myself. As my senses instinctively switch to this heightened level, my brain allows me to examine my surroundings in more minute detail.
I wonder how dull the senses of a runner in conventional shoes are. How much do they miss when they do not have to be so wary of the path they tread?
I partially experience this muteness in my senses when I run on roads. The monotonous terrain, the constant stride and cadence, lulls me into a sense of numbness. Instead of being super-aware of everything around me, I am completely oblivious to my surroundings – to the point where I run into posts, bushes and other general obstacles that litter the urban environment. Did I mention I am notoriously clumsy?
I freely admit I am a fan of trail running – my mind seems to require some sensory input when it needs to process problems, events and the general challenges of the day. I can only write in a busy coffee shop, I can only go to sleep listening to music, and I need the feeling of gravel under my feet when I run.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand or appreciate the sense of inert stillness my mind goes into when I run on the roads. The repetitive motion of my muscles as I propel myself along. My mind devoid of thought – just feeling the sense of movement.
Maybe this stillness is what people crave when they run. Perhaps the sensations underfoot are a distraction to their sense of calm. Yet, I wonder if people are missing out on so the joy of heightened perception when they refuse to remove the cushioning.