Health and Fitness

Barefoot Training? Try it. Your feet, knees and back may thank you.

Like everyone else, on a frosty winter’s day I’d rather kick back on my couch watching the latest episodes of Moonshiners, and delight in the philosophical musings of my new hero Jim Tom, rather than suck wind on the running trail near my house, trying to eke out a 3-mile run. (Which is actually more of a 1-mile run, and 2-mile stagger. But let’s not split hairs.)

(Yeah, OK. Fine. I’m the ONLY ONE out there addicted to the antics of Jim Tom, Tickle and Tim.)

But knowing everything there is to know about the moonshining business, while certainly handy, won’t get me into top swimsuit season form.  Somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I fell off the wagon on the running routine I’d worked so hard to establish, partly because it got so damn cold in the mornings, I just didn’t feel like getting out there.  So I relied on my other indoor cross-training workouts.

Truth be told, though, my body – especially my core – hasn’t really felt the same since, and I miss that runner’s high thrown in the mix a couple times a week. After hot yoga, especially, there’s simply nothing like it.  So it’s time for me to suit back up, and stop being a weather wuss.  (I mean, really.  If someone started to chase me out of my house with a machete, would I pause at my front door because “it’s too chilly outside for running”?  I’m pretty sure, then, that I just need to stop overthinking it, suck it up, get my butt out there and just…start…running.   My body temperature will adapt.  I hope.)

Speaking of which, for those of you asphalt junkies who’ve never heard of or tried barefoot running, it’s something you may want to check out:

It’s funny, actually.  I only discovered and bought my first pair of Vibrams two years ago, out of sheer laziness.  I had just gotten into kickboxing, and after the first few classes realized my legs weren’t quite up to par for all the bag work involved.   So like a shipwrecked sailor in a leaky boat, I zeroed in on my heavy sneakers as the dead weight that had to be tossed overboard, in favor of the lighter Vibrams which I surmised would make it easier for me (read: lazy) to kick higher, faster and with more force.   Turned out they were so comfortable, I started keeping them on after class, and wearing them nonstop on errands all over town.  Caused quite a stir in the Costco checkout line.  Everybody – and I mean everybody, from grandmothers to bodybuilder types – stopped me to ask about them.  How long did it take to get used to them? Do they make your toes feel weird?  Where did you get yours?  (My primary advice to them, and also to you:  get fitted for the correct size at a local authorized dealer like City Sports or other sporting goods store, but then consider purchasing online at either Amazon or  Moosejaw, where the prices are often significantly cheaper.)

After wearing my Vibrams exclusively for two years during kickboxing and boxing training, and seeing my lower back, knee and foot pain dissipate, it felt natural for me to keep them on when I decided to add running to the mix. I hadn’t worked out in traditional sneakers for more than two years, and couldn’t see going back to lacing up a bulky pair just because the surface under my feet was shifting from rubber to pavement.

I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience, but along with yoga, my Vibrams helped to completely transform my stand, posture and gait.  My toes had a newfound free range of motion, and I liked the new sensation of the strike emphasis shifting from my sole, to my forefoot and midfoot.  I literally couldn’t bear to take them off, and did so only when the dead of winter drove me back into more traditional footwear. As a concession to the brisk fall weather, I invested in a really solid pair of ASICS running shoes, which worked OK, but…my running was simply not the same.  And lately, we’ve had some unseasonably warm weather here in the DC area, which got me looking wistfully at my beloved Vibrams sitting in the corner of my closet…

My beloved Vibrams, parked for the winter 🙁 …Time to dust them off, maybe?

I know it’s January. But the very next time I’m scheduled to run, where the mercury is hovering at around 45-50 degrees, they’re coming out.  (Or maybe I take the plunge with Vibram’s brand new insulated winter running shoe, the Lontra Trail Runner…??)

Bottom line:  I’m not a natural runner to begin with, and it took me way too much time, effort and diligence to build up my modest endurance gains to date.  I can’t lose all that ground – pun intended – on account of the weather.   More importantly, I miss the intimate relationship between my foot and the asphalt, and the lightness I felt as my legs and body coursed through the wind. And I just don’t think I can hold out until spring.

Open Letter to Jim Tom, Tickle and Tim:  Moonshining is a business where one needs to remain fleet of foot, at all times.  Might I suggest a pair of Vibrams, specifically the Men’s Spyridon model?  I’ve got this one myself, and while I’ve never put it to use running from ATF agents, I can assure you it performs extremely well on the type of rugged backwoods terrain you guys encounter daily.  (And did you note the military camouflage design?  How useful is that?)  Think it over.  Out there on your feet in the remote bush all day,  transporting stills, watching for wild pigs charging from out of nowhere, constantly looking over your shoulder for Agent Jesse.  There’s a lot of operational risk inherent in what you do.  I just don’t think inadequate footwear should be one of them.  (Just sayin’.)

Your biggest fan,

TM in Washington, DC

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