I’ve been a runner, on and off, since I was 12 years old – my favorite distance is 5K and I don’t run anything farther than Bloomsday. I’m at best a recreational runner, and I haven’t run a mile in a year.
I figured if I was writing about barefoot running, I had to try it, so on Friday I met up with Hank Greer, a dedicated barefoot runner.
When I start out alongside Greer, the first thing I notice is that his running doesn’t make a sound: no footfall, no thumping, no crunching, as his bare feet hit the pavement along Lincoln Street. We run about a mile, him in great style, me out of breath, and find a brick path in Riverfront Park where I bend over and untie my shoes, put my naked feet on the cold bricks and stuff my socks back inside the shoes. It feels, well, it feels odd, cold, hard, but OK. With a shoe in each hand I then take a few tentative steps.
“It doesn’t hurt,” I say, out loud, incredulous. “It doesn’t hurt one bit.” I can feel the rock I step on, but it falls off when I lift my foot for another step. Leaves stick to the soles of my feet, and when I run in the grass it’s so wet and cold that my feet turn numb. The numbness makes me uncomfortable, so I go back on the path, which is now asphalt – and that hurts. It feels like running on a carrot grater, ouch, ouch, ouch. I’m back on the grass and then on to the boardwalk.
I’ve walked this way a thousand times but never noticed all the nail heads in the boardwalk. I do now. But I navigate, taking shorter steps, and I don’t step on any nails.
“Watch for splinters,” Greer says, running a bit ahead.
I’ve run maybe a quarter-mile barefoot when I let Greer get on with doing his usual 3.5-mile loop out to the Kardong Bridge and back downtown.
We shake hands and I turn back, still barefoot, to the point where I took my shoes off. I honestly feel like I could keep going, but figure half a mile is probably all I should do. I lace up for the rest of the run back to the office.
The next morning, I had some tenderness on the top of my foot, over the arch, and a bit of tenderness low in my shins, all the way around – but surprisingly not a hint of the dreaded shin splints that are the curse of my running “career.” I was tender behind the knees but by no means any sorer than I’ve been after many other first runs of the season.
Would I run barefoot again? Absolutely.