Barefoot in the Park
I decided a few weeks ago that barefoot is the way to go. I had just finished reading Christopher McDougall’s new book, Born to Run, an account of the writer’s adventures with the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico’s Copper Canyon. The Tarahumaras are a tribe of ultramarathoners, running 150-mile races for fun and outlasting some of the Western world’s fiercest athletes. They are also known for their athletic footwear–nothing more than sandals fashioned from tire strips. Halfway through Born to Run I was curious about barefoot-style running (ditching all the padding of modern-day running shoes for a more natural feel). By the end of the book I couldn’t look at my Nikes the same way. I had to go barefoot.
Of course, barefoot in New York City is just crazy talk. The shattered glass collection just outside my apartment’s front gate is enough to send any barefoot novice running back for her shock absorbers, gel insoles, and heel pads. Fortunately there’s Terra Plana–a British shoe company that makes sneakers that have the barefoot effect, minus all the abrasions.
I snagged a pair of Terra Plana’s Vivo Barefoot shoes. The idea is to strip the shoe down so that the foot can perform as it was naturally intended to–landing midfoot rather than on the heel. This shortens the stride and keeps the feet beneath the hips, which many argue is a healthier, more balanced form. In addition to realigning natural posture, the shoes also flex and strengthen muscles within the foot and stimulate all 200,000 nerve endings.
First, I headed to the Reservoir, knowing that the cinder path would be a good intro for my coddled modern-day feet. It had rained the night before so the track was covered with puddles. On any other day I would have sighed, turned lazily around, and looked for a more convenient path; not so with my barefoot shoes. I took to the path, leaping and bounding, paying special attention to my landing technique–definitely not on my heels.