Here's a photo from a group run of the Dayton Barefoot Runners. I'm in the center in the white shirt. From left to right, Trissa King, Sam Davis, Doug Brandt, Jevon Reynolds, Brian Chriswell.

by  Douglas R Brandt, PhD.

I started running again when I was 47.  I had run for fun as a child and young adult, but by the time I was in my mid to late 20’s, I stopped.  The pressures of life got in the way I guess. But by age 47, I realized that I needed a regular form of cardiovascular workout to stave off some of the effects of middle age.  I bought running shoes and, as it were, was off to the races.  Not that I raced much.  Not interested.  I didn’t need anything to get me to run or to keep me running.  I generally ran 15-25 miles a week and that was enough.

Like all shod runners, I experienced my share of running injuries.  I talked to various running folks about how to address shin splints.  They showed me exercises to help with the issue.   I bought the best running shoe boats I could find to help address my “over pronation.”  The pains continued.  My knees started to hurt.  My legs felt like lead after running.  I started to lose my toenails.  I tried bigger shoes, thinner socks.  Nothing helped.  So within two years of restarting running, I felt crappy after running, had knees that hurt when I ran and even when I slept, and had hideous toes lacking nails — runner’s toe. I looked online to find a solution and was lead to barefoot running.

I remembered how I ran miles barefoot in my youth just for fun. Spurred on by this, I sought out online support and joined Barefoot Rick’s Yahoo discussion group.  I started walking 1.5 miles barefoot after my 7-mile runs. I did this for a couple of weeks. Then one day I ran 1.5 miles barefoot on a sidewalk as fast as I could.  I was astonished to see that I had run a 6.5 min/mile pace. Soon thereafter, I ran same route shod but could only muster a 7.5 min pace. At this point, I figured that I was on to something.  Over the next 12 weeks transitioned to barefoot running.

I didn’t have anyone nearby to coach my transition back to barefoot running.  My body had forgotten good running form so my form initially was not that good.  I know this now because blisters on my feet were common.  I thought that blisters were to be expected, but now after 6  full years of running barefoot I realize that good form and coaching feedback can minimize their occurrence.  But my journey to minimal blistering took 3 to 6 months.

Recently, I have had the blessing of coaching two very special people to barefoot running.  I met Tris and Brian the summer of 2011; this encounter had a tremendous impact on us all. During the ensuing months together, we have become better barefoot runners,  started the Dayton Barefoot Runners group, and sponsored the inaugural 5 mile run/walk to benefit the fight against Multiple Systems Atrophy–the first ever race in the Ohio area that had a barefoot awards category.  But best of all, we have forged what I think will be a lifelong friendship.  I am ever indebted to them for what I have learned while coaching them.

The MSA race has had an impact on our community and the lives of people.  It was run in honor of Frank Cervone and other MSA patients who attended the race as well as families honoring their loved ones who had died from MSA.  Over 200 people participated in the race.  In May, We will be presenting the proceeds to the MSA Research program at the University of Western Michigan.  The race had many other impacts also.  I think of Mark from Cincinnati who has lost 30 pounds as a newbie barefoot runner.  The 5 Mile MSA race motivated him to train and participate in his first ever barefoot race!

I love barefoot running.  Why?  Because it is joyful, freeing, child-like, and delightful.  It forces me to deal with my humanity.  Many of my early barefoot runs were limited by my feet, not my legs or lungs.  My legs did not feel like lead after a long run because a) they were not lugging around the shoe boats I wore and b) the soles of my feet communicated to the rest of my body that we were all going to have to slow down because they couldn’t take it anymore.  You see, as a barefoot runner my soles and feet had to catch up with my legs and lungs.  I have observed that my feet grow ever stronger year after year, even into my sixth year of barefoot running.  I now have feet that are strong enough to allow me to further refine my running form and push my speed without sacrificing my feet and body.

Barefoot running is awe inspiring.  It allows me to see the capabilities that has been built into my humble feet.  For me this journey has been physical, yes, but it has been largely spiritual.  It connects me with creation directly and its Creator indirectly.  Each run is a reminder that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  I, along with many others, have experienced the truth of the statement:  “When I run, I feel His pleasure!”  May this ever be so!


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