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Barefoot Running with a Difference

March 21, 2010

 

Barefoot RunningI have visions of running like a Kenyan or Ethiopian long distance runner over all kinds of terrain in my bare feet. Dreaming is one thing and reality is quite another. The truth is, the bottoms of my feet are rather tender and I probably wouldn’t last for more than a few steps without something to protect my feet. However, if a person wants the barefoot experience without landing up in a casualty ward, it’s now possible. My friend and Feldenkrais colleague, Susinn Shaler, is barefoot running with the help of Vibram Five Fingers she has set a goal for herself of running a half marathon before she turns 55 and is writing a blog about her progress. According to Susinn wearing the Vibram Five Fingers is the equivalent of putting on a pair of soft kid gloves. When I went in to the Vibram site yesterday I was mildly surprised that the "shoes" are quite affordable. I'm thinking seriously about getting a pair myself to wear this summer when I go hiking.

When I walk (yes, I confess, I’m a walker not a runner or a jogger) along the lakeshore promenade in my home town I watch the runners and joggers as they go by. Some are light on their feet and look like gazelles as they move through space. Others look like someone should call an ambulance to get them out of their misery. Aside from the obvious differences in technique, I’ve often wondered what the “secret” is to relaxed running. I came across an explanation in Yahoo! Answers . The question was asked, “Why are African athletes so good at distance running?” For one thing, according to the answer on the site, they generally don’t have cars or even bicycles so they run everywhere from a very early age. But it’s this next observation that was the most revealing:

“Like a young child when it first starts to walk, they sort of lean forward and then have to put one foot forward to stop themselves from toppling forward. Then they are off. It is just so relaxed and natural. And they grow up with that easy relaxed way of running.”

 The question is, how do you change from your present way to running to moving in this relaxed manner?  You don’t want to lay good technique on top of faulty technique because that will only compound the problem and if you try to consciously adjust yourself to the new system every time you run you’ll drive yourself crazy because as soon as you stop thinking about what you're doing you'll go back to your habit. It has to become spontaneous and part of your automatic movement repertoire. In other words, you have to begin to reprogram the neuromotor system (the part of the nervous system that deals with movement) so that the new habit begins to emerge organically.

As a Feldenkrais® practitioner, I have worked with many runners. Generally they come to me because their habitual way of running isn’t working anymore and are finding running difficult or some times impossible. Along with weekly private lessons I recommend that my students buy the book or CD program by Jack Heggie, Running With the Whole Body (you can access this book and/or CD from my bookstore). One of my students has read it from cover to cover, has done all of the Awareness Through Movement Lessons® many times and is now preparing for a triathlon this summer. He is amazed at the change in his ability to run. 




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