Running barefoot, or now I know how the dog feels


SavvyRoomie and two neighbors stared at me in disbelief.  “You… went for a run this morning?” one neighbor asked.

It’s true.  My dislike of running is well documented.  And yet out of the blue on Monday morning I asked Mr. Savvy if he’d like to go for a barefoot run with me.

Mr. Savvy is always game for a round of exercise, and within ten minutes we had tied our feet into our LEMing footwear (the irony of wearing “barefoot” shoes is not lost on me) and were out the door.

I ran The Mile too many times in high school to enjoy the thought of jogging — The Mile was hot and sticky and I always wanted to puke afterwards, even the year I had a paper route and was strong from riding my bike up and down the Connecticut Valley’s hills.  These memories creep up despite SavvyRoomie’s and the neighbors’ constant praise of running.  But Monday morning was different.  I wanted to move.

It was shaping up to be a beautiful mild day and we both felt it as we breathed in the sunshine.  With no set time limit, a g00d posture, and Mr. Savvy’s jokes and giggles, our run was gorgeous.  It wasn’t perfect or fast or long, but it felt good and left my calves tingling.

Later in the day, we took Lily to the park with the neighbors and their two dogs, and we humans settled down on the grass to kick off our shoes and turn our faces to the sun.  Several other neighbors appeared with their dogs and we all let them loose so they could run in one joyous pack.

And then Luna showed up.  Luna is a mixed breed dog, wild, bouncy and excitable with no manners on leash or off.  She’s about the size of a Cocker Spaniel, yet she pulls her timid owner around the park, lunging and jumping at the end of her leash.

On this day, Luna’s owner chanced letting Luna run free to see if that would take out some of Luna’s energy.  Bad move.

Luna danced across the field at the lead of the flock of dogs.  She pranced and leaped, circled the trees, circled the owners, and dashed for the far corner of the field.  The other dogs followed, galloping full of exuberance on this most beautiful day of the year.

Cornered, Luna stopped.  The other dogs paused at some distance away waiting for Luna’s next move.  Luna’s owner began trotting towards the dog, who (we could all see it) suddenly contemplated the open park gate five feet away.

“If she takes off –” Mr. Savvy began, but he was too late.  Luna did.  She darted through the gate and into the street.

One of the neighbors bolted for the corner, following Luna’s owner who was older and a little unsteady on her feet.  One neighbor ran to the fence and called to an oncoming driver to stop.  I ran too, toward a second opening in the fenceline.

Part of my brain was occupied with hoping I could intercept Luna if she headed this way down the street.  The rest of me was unexpectedly suffused with joy; I had left my shoes back in the park and I was running — really running — barefoot.

I was a kid again.  My summer sundress bounced and twisted around my knees as I left the grass underfoot and sprinted onto sidewalk, then road, my feet giving me sudden sensory memories from childhood.  The wind was in my ears, the sun at my back, and I was running.  This wasn’t exercise any more.  This was easy.

I reached the corner.  “Did you see her?” I called to one of the neighbors.

She pointed up the street and there, not thirty feet away, was Luna, crouched behind a tree.  Traffic stopped as all eyes were on Luna and I moved to the middle of the street.

“C’mere Luna,” I said, crouching down and clapping my hands.

Luna came to me with her ears back, tail lowered, perhaps glad to see a friendly face.  I scooped up the dog.  Then her owner appeared, clipped on Luna’s leash, and crushed us both in a hug before I could set Luna earthside.

“Thank you, thank you thank you!” Luna’s owner said with her hand over her heart.  “I don’t know what I would have done.”

“No problem,” I answered.  And it wasn’t, because I was still flush with the thrill of running as fast as I could on my strong feet, feeling sturdy and straight and proud.

The neighbors and I walked back to where Mr. Savvy had kept the rest of the dogs from chasing after us.  “Running again?  How are you feeling?” someone teased.

My calves no longer tingled pleasantly but contracted and throbbed as the adrenaline wore off.  I was sore.  I knew I’d be in trouble later.  “My legs feel like jell-o,” I said.

Jell-o doesn’t cover it.  Later, I read LEMing Footwear founder Andrew Rademacher’s personal story which it explains things perfectly:

My strides were shorter and “springier”.  I was propelling forward with thrust coming from my calves and achilles tendon.  The incredible thing was that no one had to coach me, it just came naturally with minimalist shoes instead of running shoes

That night and the next day my lower calves were incredibility sore, but it made sense.  For the first time I had done an entire run the way the human body was meant to run.  My calves had simply been underdeveloped my entire life.  I came to the realization that even with all my strength training throughout my entire track career, I had never developed my calves and achilles up to the level that they were meant to be.  They were my weakest link.

Yup, that’s it right there.  It is several days later now and my calves still hurt.  Underdeveloped?  Sure.  Rademacher didn’t describe the dog-like exhilaration from running barefoot, but he’s got the pain part down.  And yet it’s this happy-go-lucky feeling that I’ll be chasing from now on.  I think I’m a running convert.


©2012 at Simple Savvy, the simple living blog where I live in my sundresses all summer and I can’t believe it’s starting this early.  What happened to the winter?

One response

  1. Two years ago, I discovered the enjoyment in runnning. I love how it makes me feel. I’m so excited that you like it too! Now we can talk about it! Pregnancy curbed my running and now I am trying to find time to start up again.

    Also, way to save the day, dog whisperer! You are some alpha dog!