mundane adventures in running
I’ve been recovering from an injury again. I made the mistake of being a forty year old man trying to do too much fitness stuff too quickly and hurt my hip.
March started with ice packs and ibuprofen, and slowly segued into increasingly intense yoga*. By April I was running again.
It’s become a bit of a tradition for me that when i’m starting to run again after illness or injury I revert to barefoot. It’s primarily in the belief that barefoot makes you go gentle: how can you smash it when if you misstep you risk shredding your feet, how can you put too much strain on your legs when your feet feel the brunt of every footstep?
The road to recovery started with 5k runs round the park, mixing running across the grass with running on very rough concrete. My feet were pretty out of condition: I hadn’t run without shoes for a while. It took me a few runs before they started to harden up a bit.
I have mixed views on music whilst running. On the one hand it can be a distraction which helps you through the miles. On the other hand it can be a distraction which stops you from adequately experiencing a run in all its tedious and repetitive glory. On a third, unexpected hand, it can be a distraction which stops you from focussing on what your body is actually doing, how it feels, where the different bits are in relation to one another, what’s working and what’s going wrong. I’ve been trying to be more conscious while I run, so I’ve ditched the headphones.
Here’s the plan: short strides, midfoot landing, loose joints (especially hips), tight core, head straight, body pitched forward slightly, and lift the legs rather than push with them. That’s a lot to focus on. Michael Buble belting out ‘home’ on the headphones wouldn’t help. Ditch the headphones.
The combination of no headphones and no shoes is a curious one. being barefoot is an invitation to comments and heckling. It doesn’t make people want to actually initiate an actual conversation, but it does make it likely that they will shout something at you. This can be in a spirit of surprise, approval or disgust. Conversely, it turns out that headphones have very pronounced semiotic potency: they fairly scream fuck off to anybody who might otherwise be inclined to speak to you.
Ditch the headphones, and you get the barefoot comments in all their glory.
“Why hancha got no shoes?”
“Bruv there’s a guy running with no trainers on. Oh my days!”
“Well done wll done you, you barefoot man!”
Most of it is surprised or encouraging, but it still makes me self conscious. It seemingly puts me in category of person the comic book author Daniel Clowes excellently describes in his seminal comic strip “I Hate You Deeply” as “the urban exhibitionist.” You know; people who juggle in parks, people who do Poi, people with stereos attached to their bikes; probably the same people who play guitars and sing at parties. I don’t want to be that zany, whacky, self obsessed guy. Even if I could explain my compulsion to run barefoot to the public, and swear down I’m not doing it show off, I fear I still come across as unbearably smug. In trying to justify myself I might end up doubling down on my urban exhibitionism.
Sometimes comments borders on hatred. People suck their teeth, tut, admonish me, and occasionally call me a wanker. Maybe it’s because I look unbearably smug. Maybe they’d respond in the same way to people dong poi, people who play guitars and sing at parties etc.
Living in cities is difficult. We all have to rub along together. We all have to tolerate difference and diversity to a point. I think it goes both ways: it’s not just about tolerating other people when they do things of which you don’t approve, we have a civic duty to try not to piss other people off by doing things which annoy them, even if those things are fairly morally neutral, things which shouldn’t be a problem. There are some behaviours you should avoid just because they might irritate other people. I don’t want to be that guy.
Examples of things which should be ok to do in public but which aren’t:
Civic duty is sometimes about not pissing people off, even if they have no right to be pissed off. Being barefoot is potentially one of these things. It does annoy some people, even though it couldn’t be described as harmful in any meaningful way. Even though people have no right to be angry at my not wearing shoes, it’s still perhaps something I shouldn’t be doing, just out of civic duty, just out of a desire that we should all rub along, that even if they have no right to be pissed off, I have no right to piss them of.
So I feel like a bit of a wanker running barefoot in London. The positive comments make me feel like an urban exhibitionist, the negative comments make me feel like a dick.
Still. I love it. My reasons for running barefoot are inconsistent and mutable. But something about naturalness, connectedness on the one hand, and then the indisputable training benefits of going slow and careful on the other trumps anyone’s irritation. I enjoy it, my hip is better, and I’ve saved a bit of cash on trainers. So it’s all good, but still I want to be anonymous doing it, or at least more anonymous. So perhaps just putting the headphones back in but turning the music off is the way forward: maintain the barrier and act like the whole no shoes thing is no thing at all.
* I have been using this a lot. It’s a very relaxing and variably intense hop opener class. 45 minutes well spent.