Hey folks, sorry for another blog on injury and barefoot running, but this is my experience right now and it’s closely tied to my sobriety, which some days seems tenuous at best and others seems strong as ever and ready to kick some ass either on the roads or in my practice of The Steps – some days I feel like giving up, drinking a piss load and returning to that old way of living and other days I see myself competing for a top spot in some of the world’s biggest Ultras – that’s just the way it is right now.
Studying barefoot running and just dipping my toes in so to speak, has been much like those first few weeks and months in AA. I remember coming into AA and reading all that I could get my hands on. AA was a whole new world and I was trying desperately to wrap my head around its history, principles, and practices. I remember thinking that it would take a lifetime to learn and by golly, I was right – thank God. After getting a third stress fracture in the span of twelve years, I felt alone, spent with fear and disillusionment, and racked with frustration much like when I came into AA. And so I began to study barefoot running and its history, principles and practices and lo and behold, I realized that I would never be done with the process of learning it. One of my favorite passages in the Big Book is about the gaunt prospector who tries “to hug the new treasure to himself. He may not see at once that he has barely scratched a limitless lode which will pay dividends only if he mines it for the rest of his life and insists on giving away the entire product” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 129). As in AA, when we’re given the undeserved and unearned gift of sobriety and usefulness to God and to others, it seems to me that in barefoot running, “the deal” is also to accept the gift and to practice it, while giving it away to those who seek and want it for themselves.
And just as with the principles and practices of AA, barefoot running is gifted to a minority, often the most desperate ones who have suffered under the lash of conventional shoes and the havoc they’ve wreaked on our form and our bodies’ synapses. Like AA, the barefooters are often misunderstood – they are outliers, misfits if you will. But man, when you are on the inside and have earned your spot there and try to learn and practice it, there’s a certain magic that’s possible, an excitement that is both life-giving and rewarding, in that it can be passed on for fun and for free, like in AA. As lives are truly and often saved in AA, so barefoot running has the potential to resurrect running careers that are facing sure suffering and death. Never to follow the norm, the AA way of life and the barefoot running way of life tend to shun societal expectations and practices – counter intuitive becomes the path for us to tread and we tend to get better, as long as we are honest, open-minded and willing, as the AA maxim goes.
Although not in AA literature, “when we know better, we do better” comes to mind here as well. I don’t want to go back to a life of drinking and its eventual destruction and death – I realize that my wellness is only good for today which is why I try to practice AA’s principles from the time I wake up until I lay my head down at night, some days more successfully than others. The point is, that I know better now – I can look at my past and not regret it, I can be useful to others and I can know the peace and serenity of a Higher Power in my life. These gifts make it difficult to turn my back on and pick up a drink once again – I certainly couldn’t enjoy it now that I’ve been on this side of recovery. Similarly, going back to a traditional shoe can never be the same again. To tread lightly and with more efficiency, to feel more connected to my body and the earth – these are the gifts of barefoot running that I don’t want to turn my back on now that I know better.
Though we aren’t promised trouble-free sobriety in AA (in fact, we are sure to face more challenges), we are promised a freedom and a happiness that we can work towards daily through The Steps. I believe it to be the same in running and especially barefoot running – we’re not promised faster times or injury-free years ahead, but we’re given certain tools if you will, that are laid at our feet – all we have to do is pick them up daily and practice with them, so that we get to know a new freedom and happiness in our running that will carry us longer and more inspired over the many miles ahead.