June 13, 2011

Adventures in Minimalist Running. ~ Heather Church

I was thinking the other day about life and how the activities we choose define it. I’ve been exploring a minimalist lifestyle for the last several years, examining everything – or so I thought. I’ve made changes to my wardrobehomefood choiceshair and skin care, personal belongings and more. I never even considered the activities I choose on a regular basis until recently. And what I found was that they too were already minimalist.

For many years my two favorite activities have been yoga and hiking, and recently I added running to the list. For each of these you really only need yourself. Other objects (yoga mat, clothing and shoes are optional. I believe this even more now!) When I first started running, I wore a pair of trusty Nike’s that saw me through hundreds of walking miles over the last few years. Once I started running in them, though, my body told me to think otherwise. I had extreme joint pain everywhere – knees, hips, ankles, low back. Thinking this was a normal thing, I began taking a natural supplement called Glucosamine Chondroitin, which supports and maintains the structure of the joints.

I remained in pain.

Not wanting to give up running, I read more about minimalist running. Do a search on the internet – you’ll find both proponents and those who call the movement crazy. At its most extreme, participants run in their bare feet. In the end, its just about reducing your running shoes. I’ve talked to several runners who say it doesn’t make sense for them. Maybe they’ve already worked through all the pain and don’t want to start the cycle all over again? Maybe they don’t even notice it anymore? For me, though as a yogini and yoga teacher first, I know and trust that my body always tells the truth. I decided it was worth it to explore the idea further.

I purchased a pair of Vibram 5Fingers – the Sprint. Why not go as minimal as one can get? I never do anything halfway. I got them home and did as the product suggested: wore them minimally for the first few days so my feet could get used to them. They were difficult to put on initially, separating the toes and placing each one inside the proper hole. Wow! What “toe liberation” as my friend Lisa calls it, once on and walking in them! (Check Lisa out at LifeUnity.)

Then I went running and to my surprise – NO JOINT PAIN WHATSOEVER. And more than that, I literally felt like the energy of the earth was moving me along. (I wrote to Vibram about their Affiliate program since I’m such a supporter – don’t you think they should accept me?) I intended to go for a half mile run that day and went a full two miles. (I realize this might not sound like much to an avid runner but I’m a new runner and typically now only run 2 to 3 miles per day. It’s all I really want to run.) Running in them feels great every time. Each time my mind goes back to the first few months of running – not only physical pain, but mental anguish of my own doing – I bring it back to my feet and the earth and how we are working together to achieve this beautiful outcome – everything in perfect harmony and rhythm as intended.

I’m reading Born to Run right now by Christopher McDougall. So far it’s a great read about how we were literally MADE TO RUN and how in the last fifty years or so we’ve re-enginered running shoes to our detriment, altering our running strides based on the shape and structure of *new and improved* running shoes. If you are considering taking up running, do some research first. I also purchased my second pair of 5Fingers yesterday – the TrekSport. I went for a short run in them last night and can tell I’m going to love them even more. They have an awesome mesh top that absorbs sweat, and a bit more traction on the soles. I’ve found my niche and will keep on running. In the spirit of Christopher McDougall AND Lady GaGa, baby I was born this way!

My next step may be barefoot running. I’m not sure yet. I just joined the Primalfoot Alliance – a group dedicated to barefooters everywhere. Join me this Saturday for an event they are sponsoring called Your Day Without Shoes! They support the right to be barefoot everywhere. Why not? I agree – yet society has somehow decided it is inappropriate. (In my mind “No Shirt. No Shoes. No Service. sound more autocratic than democratic.) They also support minimalist footwear – the type that doesn’t alter the foot. As a yoga teacher, I’ve been advocating for this for a long time too. I’m either barefoot, in flip flops, rainboots or Uggs. I go from one to the other during the changing seasons. Plus its pretty minimalist to have only a few styles of shoes – all of which allow for “toe liberation”. What about you? Are your toes free? And how much “stuff” do we really need anyway? Aren’t we further complicating our lives with it?

{The thoughts and opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. They are not intended to offend or change anyone’s mind. I’m also a firm believer in “to each their own”. Namaste.}

Stay tuned for more posts on this topic. I’m planning one for Minimalist Running and Yoga – How They Compliment Each OtherYoga for Runners and more!

Heather Church is a yoga teacher, writer and web strategist.  She teaches at a local college and writes passionately about sustainability, minimalism, yoga, yogic philosophy and mindfulness. Heather also works for a rockin’ location independent technology company where she develops websites, provides web and social media strategy and writes in all forms. Beyond the professional labels, her passions include outdoor adventures like hiking, kayaking, rollerblading and minimalist running. When not on the mat, putting pen to paper or on an adventure quest, Heather is happiest at home living a quiet simple life with her husband, daughter and two dogs. Find her at namaste*heather,  and connect on Facebook and Twitter.

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