Origins of a barefoot runner. Hopefully.

In Barefoot running by All This Running Around2 Comments

Hello! My name is Shaun, I’m a 37-year-old married father of two and, until recently, I was a grimly determined but barely competent runner. I’m still a barely competent runner, but at least I’m smiling! (It is a smile, I promise. I realise I often look like I’ve just been given some very bad news. That’s just my face.)

In order to explain what this is all about, I should probably give you a little bit of background on my running history. It won’t take long, because there isn’t that much to tell. Outside of playing rugby or football, running had never really been my thing. During my early years at secondary school, I was just about good enough at cross-country running to be sent to compete against other schools on what I remember exclusively as damp, wet Saturday mornings. I was never good enough to trouble the leaders. You could say that I was unenthusiastic, and that’s true enough. But actually it was worse than that: I was resigned. Miserable.

Not as miserable as this millionaire tennis player, but quite miserable












Why? It’s difficult to put my finger on it, but I considered running to be a completely joyless experience. Rugby I could understand – avoid getting smashed to pieces by the gorillas, score a couple of tries from the wing and get your name read out in assembly. But running? Slogging away in the middle of the pack, lungs burning, eyes streaming, toes freezing? And all this whilst losing? No thanks. I managed to extricate myself from the team by becoming progressively worse. I would like to say that it was a deliberate and cunning move on my part. It wasn’t. I actually was getting progressively worse.

And that, for many years, was that. I left school in 1993 and went to university. Once there I dedicated myself to those most admirable of student endeavours: drinking and smoking. I became quite adept at both. You could even say I was an inspiration to other, less capable drinkers and smokers. I was usually guaranteed to be, if not always the last one standing, certainly among those that collapsed only when the night was over (ie. the next day). Like many young men, I had absolutely no interest in what any of this was doing to me. Nor did I give any thought to how these habits might affect me as I got older.

"I'm gonna live forever!"













Now, fast-forward a few more years. Do you remember that guy you used to go to school with? Pretty good at sport, thin as a rake, plenty of hair? And do you remember seeing him in the pub years later, and noticing the unmistakable bulge of a beer belly? That was me. The trouble was, I never got huge. Perhaps if I had, I’d have done something about it sooner. But I found that by breathing in and sticking my chest out, I could quite effectively disguise my expanding gut.

In 2003, I got married. Not wanting to look Ade Edmondson’s fatter brother on the photos, I found that vanity was a surprisingly powerful motivator to lose weight. I enrolled at the local gym, went three or four times a week and hated more or less every minute of it. When we got back from our honeymoon, I think I went twice more. I’ve never been in a gym since.

In 2004, aged 29, I entered the Great South Run on a whim. My reasoning was simple: if I had a race to train for, it would force me to get out there and exercise. I had no idea how short-sighted that attitude was at the time. I went out and bought a pair of very expensive running shoes from a shop where the staff used words I’d never heard to describe the action of my feet. I trained. I improved. I ran the race, ten miles, without stopping. It wasn’t quick and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but I’d achieved what I set out to achieve. And yet, once again it had seemingly escaped my attention that I’d detested the experience. After the race, I stopped running.

Do bear with me, we’re nearly up to date.

In early 2011, following several more years of inactivity, I decided that enough was enough. Following my previous logic, I entered two half marathons, six months apart. Same idea; if I had races then I’d be forced to train. I did. If you’ve made it this far then hopefully you will have noticed the tortuous emergence of a pattern. I put the miles into training and I ran the races as best I could. But I still wasn’t enjoying it. In effect, my mindset hadn’t changed since those Saturday mornings over two decades previously. The only difference was my reason for running. Back then it was because I’d been told to, but now it was because I was afraid of what would happen if I did nothing. My interest in running was still practically zero, despite my participation. I was only interested in the results and the post-race pint, not the process. Running for fun or personal enjoyment was something that other people did, but not me. I didn’t get it.

"Running for enjoyment, you say ? Why yes, that makes perfect sense to me. Just look at my face."

















It didn’t help that it hurt. I’ve been pretty lucky with injury compared to a lot of runners, but then it’s not as if I’ve ever done serious, regular mileage. And yet, I could never quite shake off the pain in my shins and ankles. Races and longer training runs were effectively defined by pain, but it was something I’d come to accept. My wife took some video of me finishing a half marathon last year. I look like a man in the early stages of learning to walk again after a horrific boating accident.

Christmas Day, 2011. My sister and I had agreed not to do presents for each other this year, just our respective children. And yet she (to my enormous gratitude and slight embarrassment) did get me something. It was a book called Born To Run by some guy called Christopher McDougall. I started reading it that morning. By evening I was about halfway through it, picking it up every time there was a lull in proceedings. If you’re not familiar with it, buy it and read it. But let’s face it, the fact that you’re here reading this means you almost certainly are familiar with it.

I kept re-reading whole passages of text, and slowly became aware that my mind was being opened to a new attitude to running, an entirely different approach to what I’d assumed was the only way I’d ever do it. Instead of focusing all my attention on the end product, I started to see running as something that should be enjoyed for its own sake. Instead of setting short term goals that were for the most part arbitrary and meaningless, I began to explore the idea of running for pleasure. Perhaps that seems obvious to you. I’m notoriously slow on the uptake at times.

Almost overnight I went from being someone that had to almost force myself to put my gear on and get running to being someone that was thinking about the next run five minutes after finishing the previous one. It was a revelation, and I don’t use that word lightly. Mainly because I had to check how to spell it.

So, phase one complete. I had become a born again runner. But one problem remained; I was still hurting. As readers of Born To Run will be well aware, one of the main topics of the book is the potential benefits of barefoot, or minimalist running. I knew my form was terrible from the aforementioned video footage, and the fact that I was getting pain on a regular basis surely meant I was doing something wrong. So despite the fact that I still had huge running shoes attached to the ends of my legs, I decided to try and do something about it.

I scoured the internet for every article and video I could find. There’s a huge amount of helpful material out there for the budding barefoot/minimalist runner, and I’m going to have a page on the site devoted to linking the best of it. I’m going to save the story of my initial barefoot outings for future posts, but suffice it to say that there was an immediate effect, both in terms of pain (or lack thereof) and faster times. It was enough to convince me that this was something I wanted to explore, and then it occurred to me that it might be useful to document my progress.

So, welcome to All This Running Around. At the very least you can have a good laugh at my comedic attempts to become a ‘proper’ runner. And who knows? With a bit of luck it might bring a few like-minded people together and we can all laugh at each other!

More soon.