It’s an unavoidable part of running: other runners. I take a firm and consistent line when I come across people out doing their thing: I am unfailingly polite, always offer a smile and, provided I am not gasping for air or choking on a fly, will try and squeeze out as cheerful a ‘hello’ as I can muster. The response varies, although I would say most people are happy to reciprocate. A few will be caught a little bit unawares, and respond first with a look of amazement, then a spluttered and slightly too loud “HI!”. And then you have your iPod runners. I don’t have a problem with people that want to listen to music while they run. Personally I can’t bear it. I tried it once and it wasn’t for me. And I am someone that plays music nearly all the time at home, in the car etc. But while I’m running I like to let my brain idle and wander. Ok, idle and wander even more than normal. I find that very difficult if I’ve got something wedged in my ears.
But whatever. I have nothing inherently against people who wear iPods while running. Except I clearly do, or I wouldn’t be writing about them. Well look, some of them (nearly always the women) are perfectly fine. They are listening to music but will still find the time and energy to say hello. But the men? The men will mostly act as if they have just spotted something fascinating on the floor, just to the right of their right foot. Whatever it is, it’s moving at exactly the same speed as they are. They will proceed to stare at that spot in a manner that suggests that they could not ever be deterred from staring at it. They will stare at that spot as if their lives depend on it, and who can blame them? What’s the alternative? Saying hello to a stranger? They would rather be encased in concrete and hurled into the sea than do that. So I will offer up a greeting as we pass, and they will affect not to notice. I will then fight the small but insistent urge to pick up an acorn and lob it at the back of their head for a few seconds.
However, things have changed since I started wearing Luna sandals. You effectively become impossible to ignore, as nobody (so far) can resist looking at your feet and running through the following mental routine:
- What has he got on his feet?
- Does he run in them?
- That was a stupid question, since he is clearly running in them.
- Are they flip-flops? They look a bit like flip-flops.
- How come they don’t come off?
- Don’t his feet hurt?
What’s interesting is how that mental routine manifests itself in different people. Some will really want to talk to you about barefoot running, either because they’ve read Born To Run or (more likely) they’re just naturally inquisitive and keen runners and would just like to know more about it. I’ve been lucky to talk to some really nice people over the past couple of months, in some cases for ten minutes or more. And it happens every week. When you think about how generally disconnected from strangers we’re conditioned to be these days, I think that’s bloody marvellous. Last week, while running on the road close to where I live, I had a three or four minute conversation with a guy in his car. He was at pains not to disturb me (I know, because he must have said “I don’t want to disturb you, but…” about fifteen times), but he was a runner, he’d read a little bit about huaraches and wanted to know how I was getting on.
Warms the cockles, I’m telling you.
Of course, not everyone is so keen to engage you. iPod man will usually clock the sandals and proceed to concentrate on that spot near his right foot with renewed vigour. I’ve even come across one guy who, having seen what I was wearing on my feet from about twenty metres away, was actively engaged in a bit of hardcore sneering by the time we reached one another. I still said hello. On my return leg, we passed again. Only this time he was hobbling along, before stopping altogether to massage his calf. I stopped and asked him if he was ok. He mumbled ‘no’ without even looking at me. Then he changed his mind and said ‘yes, I’m fine’ and hobbled off. Weird.
Listen, I’m not trying to say that running will make you a better person, or that barefoot running will improve your life. But what I am unequivocally saying is that running has made me a better person, both physically and mentally. And running barefoot has made the whole experience better and has improved my life. Barefoot runners are often dismissed as Chris McDougall fanboys, nutters, even fashion victims. But let me tell you something: I used to be like iPod man. Except even worse, since I couldn’t even pretend to be particularly engrossed in a bit of music.
Changing to Lunas shifted my focus and helped me to stop obsessing about, well, me. They did something I hadn’t expected, but I’m not saying it’s the only way to make a change. As McDougall has said, ultimately it’s not about what you wear on your feet, it’s about how and why you run. Get those things right and you could be in just about anything.
Final point: I recently read a thread on an online running forum wherein the author related a story about being asked for directions while out on a training run. Rather than stop and help this person, the author (can’t remember if it was a man or a woman) shouted that they couldn’t stop and carried on running. They then received some abuse from the lost person, and subsequently decided to post the experience on a forum in the assumption that most people would agree that they were justified in not stopping. Some did, some didn’t.
I’m not saying it’s ok to shout abuse at someone. But if another human being asks you for help, and you’re too busy to stop because it doesn’t fit your precise agenda at that precise moment in time, you’re doing it wrong. And I don’t just mean running.
Until next time…