by Carol Willis
Well, my ambitious plans to up my training for a full marathon in July have been seriously hampered. But then again, maybe not…
I’ll elaborate – with the increase in weekly mileage, focused interval training on the field and much enthusiastic cross-training, I ran into every new runner’s nightmare. ITB. What started with shin splints, which I gradually got over, became the terribly painful ITB which flared up during a 15km event in Pretoria. After practically crawling the last 5km’s I decided to have a good hard look at what could be causing me such discomfort.
It appears that the answer is very simple. I’m a barefoot runner. During the shin splint phase, my coach had encouraged me to run barefoot during interval training and I suffered no discomfort at all. After the appearance of the ITB problem, I wasn’t happy with the standard response “it’s common in all new runners, too much too fast” because something just didn’t feel right. So I hobbled to the field one painful day and took my shoes off…and ran. No discomfort, no pain – only the exhilarating feeling of being free to just run.
There’s been a host of theories hashed out, amongst my running buddies, about this strange phenomenon but the prevailing theory is that I am a barefoot person. I mean, I never wear shoes. Ever. Not even in Winter, where the most constrictive footwear you’ll find on my feet are my Havaianas. Put someone like me in running shoes and all sorts of weird things go on in my legs, and it’s got to a point where even walking in my running shoes is painful. I can dose myself up, or look for stability shoes for my over-pronating feet but it seems the answer is much simpler than that. I have the perfect mid-foot strike without shoes, meaning my knees never lock completely and I don’t land on my heel. I need to find a way to run barefoot, even though the thought of pounding the tar with zero protection makes me nervous. My feet may be tough, but I think that may be pushing it just too far. So I’m looking into the various minimalist or “barefoot” options out there and I’m sure I’ll find one.
In the meantime, reduced to a slow walk, I’ve discovered a new love. Trail running! Taking on the Loskop Wild Half Marathon Challenge last weekend in soaking rain, I got a taste of what the trail running phenomenon is all about. The route at Loskop takes you completely off-road and through a lush nature reserve, up a near-suicidal hill and through several rolling dirt tracks. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and even in the slick mud and chilly wind on wet clothes it was the single best experience of my life. And all I wanted to do was get my shoes off and just run for the complete experience.
I’m still on a journey of discovery and I’ve discovered that maybe a full marathon on the road isn’t for me, which is actually ok too. I can still complete my bucket list and see the country, but from an off-road perspective rather. There has to be a way for me to enjoy trail running with a “barefoot” solution! What better way to express myself than to run free through the wilder parts of the country in the most natural way possible – honouring my body and the sport and taking me back to a time when mankind did little more than run through the bushes.
So I’m feeling it. It’s the Call of the Wild and everything inside me wants to answer.