I started to get closer to the minimalist race, after just over a year that I had started to run, thanks to nothing less than a post in the group Runlovers. I don’t even remember what I wrote, I just remembered that it was my first post in the group – which for the record had less than 1,500 members – and I mentioned the fact that I liked running in the woods and especially that I did it with solid shoes that protected the foot well (they were Asics Nimbus 17 if I remember correctly). To make it short, he answers me nothing less than that Stefano Gregoretti who very simply asks me the question that in fact would change my relationship with the race: “why not try a lighter shoe that makes you feel more ground?”.
It all started exactly like that, thanks to a comment on Facebook! Now, a couple of years later, and a thousand kilometres of minimalist footwear, I want to reflect on the question that many people have asked me: why run like this? Why give up protective and cushioned shoes in favor of shoes like Fivefingers or sandals (among others)?
It may seem strange to you, but I don’t think I fully understand the reasons for this choice, even if I know three things:
- I know I like it crazy;
- and I know I wouldn’t go back;
- I know that it is a personal choice, indeed a very personal one!
On the barefoot runner’s bible (“Born to Run” by Christopher Mcdougall) we read that every year 80% of runners get injured at least once a year; well, I’m not one of those, I didn’t have to change my footwear because otherwise I would have had to face injuries. I have chosen to try a new experience, and only months later I feel I can say that the key word of this adventure of mine is precisely this: experience, understood as lived! Whether there are more or less scientific reasons, I don’t have the skills to say it.
Beyond the more or less well-founded theories on the cushioned shoe as a cause of accidents (a theme very marked in McDougall’s book) I have faced the transition, that is, the slow (I recommend!!!!) and progressive transition to accustom the feet and legs to the different mechanics that characterize natural running, with two objectives:
to learn a precise running technique, the so-called “natural running”;
experience the feeling of perceiving the road, the path, the surface on which I ran.
Now I can’t tell you with certainty if switching to shoes slightly more protective than the FiveFingers compromises the acquired running technique, but I don’t think so; on the contrary, I’m convinced that the compromise given by changing shoes – without marrying just one type – is winning. I also believe that in the race the foot wrapped in a good shoe can also enjoy an extra boost to which those seeking performance can come in handy, so said between us I distrust the hard and pure devotees more to the idea than to the actual functionality of the instrument. Embracing the barefoot should not mean demonizing other choices for taken party.
A different experience
What has pushed me so far – and continues to do so – to run barefoot is the very fact of living the experience of the road, the route. It doesn’t matter if I have to give up two minutes on my personal best on the ten kilometers, the same experience that I live in contact with the ground, with the asphalt, gravel, etc. is essential. So I think that at the base of the minimalist race there is first of all a different conception of the race as an experience that, in the case of the barefoot runner, is not focused on the chronometric result, but on the horizon of sensations that you feel along the way; it does not matter if it is a race or a simple run with a light step, it does not matter the distance you will run: the barefoot runner is devoted only to how you run and how intimate the relationship with the road will result.
In conclusion, every single step, every single breath, every stone or root that I feel under me, gives me back the sense of my fatigue; mine is no longer an athletic gesture, not only at least, it is the relationship with the road that, for every single time that my feet rest on it, it transmits something to me, it tells me about itself. I would no longer be able to renounce to this, to the stories that the road tells me every time I face it without filters and teaches me that running is not about talking about oneself, but letting the road talk, being silent and calm so that we can be the road ourselves, letting ourselves become the road and waking up from this experience always changed a little.