Happy Feet: Celebrating Four Years of Barefoot Running

Four summers ago I was staying in in the same eccentric roadside motel in Maine where I am now, and I’d brought  Chris McDougall’s Born to Run as my vacation reading material. I loved everything about the book—the colorful characters who take part in ultra-marathons , the Tarahumara runners, the settings from Leadville CO to the depths of Copper Canyon in Mexico, and of course I was fascinated by the research. Having spent much of my working life in either the fitness industry or in various colleges’ departments of Health Sciences, I paid close attention to the information on the development of the modern running shoe and on the mechanics of barefoot running. I had to try it.

I’ve never run on pavement except in my few races, even when I wore conventional shoes. I always ran trails and parks. This motel has a huge lawn all around it, a green perimeter bigger than quarter-mile track. One day I ran in my conventional, cushioned running shoes, and the next day I ran barefoot. Born to run? Born again! I didn’t want to stop. This lawn was the perfect place to run with no shoes at all. Most places have too much in the way of thorns, rocks, sticks or dog poop for me to want to run skin-to-earth, but this was a cool green carpet all the way. I knew better than to do my usual distance with this new technique, but my soul wanted to. Flying on the rebound from that soft landing reminded me of the way I felt back when I was a ballet dancer, taking off in a soaring leap or a springy allegro, wearing only those pliable slippers.

When I got home I invested in Vibram five fingers, and I soon felt like I’d gotten a new right knee. After running in the old cushioned shoes with a heel strike, my right kneecap used to stick so badly for thirty minutes or so that I could hardly go upstairs. Barefoot, no sticking. Because of that I couldn’t bring myself to transition as slowly as I should have, so I earned sore calf muscles and a cramp in my flexor hallucis longus (a big toe muscle) that I could feel all the way up the back of my lower leg. The scene in Shaman’s Blues where Mae overdoes her first two barefoot runs, with a cascade of consequences, was informed by that experience. I didn’t cramp my legs as severely as she does, but then I didn’t go to Santa Fe Bandstand and dance for hours afterward. The worst thing that’s happened to me running in my barefoot shoes has been stepping a big thorn that reminded me to update my tetanus shot. Compared to the sticky patella or the sprained ankles from falling off those old high-heeled marshmallows, an occasional thorn isn’t bad at all.

I celebrated my barefoot running anniversary today with four miles of mindlessly blissful laps around the grass. I did go dancing afterward, but with four years of training my legs and feet are up to it. Cap’n Frank Bedell and the Torpedoes were playing at Schooner Landing in Damariscotta. People of all ages, locals and tourists, partied to great old rock’n’roll on the pier with a view of the Damariscotta river and the boats on the blue water. I danced with happy feet.

 

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A Strange Beauty

New Mexico Magazine has recently been featuring items from its archives on its back pages. This poem from the June 1953 issue was resurrected in the June 2014 issue. There are lines in this poem that ring so true I wish I’d written them and others that sound forced or stilted to me. I’m sharing the whole thing so the gems can shine in their setting.

 

Where Whisper the Rocks

 

“Which state is your favorite?” the man asked

            “New Mexico …”

Sharp-clipped the answer came, and positive.

“Which part?”

            “The Southern part, the desert.”

As sharp the syllables, as positive as before.

“I love it. The Northern part, too—

That stretch, now, from Santa Fe to Taos,

The Sangre de Cristos, the Cimarrons—

There’s beauty and grandeur there—

But the desert …

That part from El Paso to Lordsburg,

And up to Santa Rita where

Prays the Kneeling Nun at nature’s rocky altar …

I’ve never known wherein lies its allure

Except that it takes hold of man

Like the spirit of the one woman he cannot do without.

A strange beauty the desert has

And a harshness that’s soft as love itself

To the heart that feels it …

            Yes, I’ll take the desert, friend

            And I’ll take it in New Mexico

            Where Whisper the rocks themselves,

            ‘Vaya con Dios, amigo.’”

By Sam Lesky. New Mexico Magazine Vol. 92, issue 6, p. 72

 

The words that grabbed me are these:

… it takes hold of man

Like the spirit of the one woman he cannot do without.

A strange beauty the desert has

And a harshness that’s soft as love itself

To the heart that feels it …”

It takes hold of a woman, too.

Here’s a picture of the rock formation the poet refers to

http://www.pbase.com/aw11mr2/image/87186372

A Comic Digression

 

This satirical doggerel was originally posted in a discussion on Goodreads. I received a request to post it where it was easier to link to it, so here it is:

 

The Author’s Patter Song

 

(With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan)

 

I am the very model of a modern indie authoress.

My editor is excellent, my formatting is not a mess.

I’ve hired top professionals for proofreading and cover art ,

And hope that that I will join the ranks of authors who discovered are.

 

I don’t engage with trolls or drive-by one-stars on the internet.

I’ve never said so far a thing on Goodreads that I might regret.

Real readers wrote my good reviews not sock puppets or family.

I hope this will promote me since I must not do it spammily.

 

I can’t afford for Foreword or for Kirkus to approve me

And if I were to push hard would-be readers would remove me

From their to-read lists, and so I keep my self-promotion minimal.

With marketing so subtle that it borders on subliminal.

 

I’ll hang on with obduracy and get discovered anyway.

To languish in obscurity would be a terrible cliché.

But …

I’m at the very bottom of the Amazon best seller list

Where almost every other model modern indie author is.

Crystals and Waterfalls

I just returned from a visit with friends in Asheville North Carolina, the spiritual twin of Santa Fe, the wet green version of the City Different. Like Santa Fe, Asheville is set in mountains, and has more eccentrics and creative people per square foot than other cities its size. I loved it.

 

As well as the company of the warm, loving people who welcomed me into their home, I had the pleasure of hiking in mountains full of waterfalls. I had no idea there could be so many in one place. Some are roaring, towering torrents, while another flows across a slope of rock in such a way that water forms patterns like shells made of lace. The sound of each fall is unique, a song as hypnotic as the ocean.

 

My friends’ five-month-old baby seemed to go into a bliss state in the woods. Indoors, he can fuss like a champion, like any baby, but on the trails he was in nirvana for mile after mile. Even when it rained, he either slept, or licked raindrops off his carrier. His parents take him hiking a lot. I like to think this is giving him a nature-mind, an affinity for the shapes of trees, the sound of waterfalls and the smell of earth.

 

We visited one of the local “gemstone mines.” I know there are real mines with emeralds and other precious and semi-precious stones in the North Carolina mountains, but this was more of a game, where you can sift a bucket of dirt tray by tray and see what shows up. Strangely, it was more fun than seeing crystals on shelves and shopping. I like mystery and suspense. When I got home, of course I looked up the healing properties of my new acquisitions.

 

I just finished writing my short story prequel for the Mae Martin series, set during her childhood in her native North Carolina mountains. It was good to visit my protagonist’s roots and be reminded of all its details, from waterfalls to emeralds to hot boiled peanuts, and to be around people who talk like her. I’ll have to take her back there in one of the later books. It’s an extraordinary place.

 

Rainbow Falls: http://www.romanticasheville.com/rainbow_falls.htm