Adventures In Barefoot Running: Or, How I Learned To Hitchhike

It’s amazing how many good stories begin with “My wife was out of town” and end with “I covered my feet in Neosporin and bandages.”  It was the summer of 2010 and the book Born To Run was sweeping the nation, creating a craze of barefoot running.  Earlier in the year, I’d written my review of the book and chronicled my dabbling in barefoot running.  At the time, I speculated that I would likely get a pair of Vibram Five Fingers and delve more into barefoot running, which never ended up happening.  Instead, I decided to just go “balls [of the feet] to the wall” and go on a purely barefoot run, outside.

With Rebecca out of town, there was no one there to say “Hey, Michael, let’s rethink this otherwise really good idea for a few minutes, shall we?”  Now, I preface what comes next by saying I really did know the “right” way to get into running sans shoes.  I knew I should start off with a very short run and gradually build up my legs and feet to the new demands of unshod running.  I knew that I had not done this preparatory work.  Despite this knowledge, I decided that it would be a great plan to go out on my usual 2.5 mile out, 2.5 mile back course in Andover, the only unusual aspect being my lack of footwear.

Through roughly 1.5 miles, everything was going just fine.  I was enjoying this new running experience and thinking “hey, what’s all the fuss about this being so hard?”  Little did I know what awaited me.  Soon thereafter I started to notice a burning sensation on the soles of my feet.  At this point, a rational person might have stopped to see what was going on.  You can probably guess, at this point, that I did no such thing.  Instead, I endeavored on, burning feet and all, eventually reaching the turn-around point, feet thoroughly in pain.

I lasted roughly another quarter mile or so before I just couldn’t take it any more and stopped.  I decided I had to take a look and see what was actually causing me so much pain, perhaps it was just a pebble or six that I could brush off and be on my merry way again!  Steeling myself, I checked on the status of my feet to discover they were, well, shredded.  It really was a none-too-pretty sight and I knew that I would not be taking another running step that day, or for several days thereafter.  The problem, of course, was that walking wasn’t exactly less painful than running was.  Who knows, it could have actually been worse as it prolonged the experience that much longer.

I thought grass would offer some reprieve, but instead I could feel every blade as if it was a tiny red hot poker going directly into my feet.  I eventually encountered a lone, dirty, grimy, disgusting-looking sandal on the side of the road.  I did some mental calculations, weighing the risks of infection via sandal versus prolonged foot fire via stupidity.  In the end, I went with the sandal, whereupon I knew I was going to land on the final act of desperation: begging a stranger for a ride home.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never hitchhiked before.  I had no idea how to go about it, other than what I’d seen in the movies, and wasn’t sure what drivers would make of seeing a dude in short shorts, a singlet, and no shoes, in a town like Andover, trying to hitch a ride.  At first I was tentative, barely extending my thumb out and keeping it by my side.  That, surprisingly, did not work.  As my ability to remain upright decreased, my urgency to acquire improvised transportation increased.  I finally worked up the nerve to apply the strength of my convictions to my new-found hobby of hitchhiking.  I convinced myself I was now a drifter, this was my new life.  I’d have to find a bindle and get used to sharing a bean with my fellow drifter runners.  As hope was failing, a kindly man, and his son, pulled up in a minivan and offered me a ride for the remaining 2+ miles home.  When I explained I was running barefoot and had hurt myself, he replied “why did you do that?”  Why indeed, good sir.  Why, indeed.  The ride was uneventful but, all the same, I have to think this man did not tell his wife he picked up a half-naked, barefoot guy on the side of the road with their son in the car.  Needless to say, I was walking somewhat cockeyed for the next few days, doing everything I could to walk without my feet having to touch the ground.  It’s harder than the description suggests.

Did I learn any lessons from this jaunt?  I can’t really say that I learned anything I didn’t know already about barefoot running.  Don’t run try to run 5 miles barefoot before your body is ready for it.  I’m pretty sure I knew that one before I started.  Perhaps the lesson really is: When your wife is out of town, just play some guitar loudly, eat a buffalo chicken calzone, and watch the ballgame.  It might be fattening, but at least you can walk the day after.


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One Response to “Adventures In Barefoot Running: Or, How I Learned To Hitchhike”

  1. Robin Says:

    This made me laugh because you did what we all have thought about doing, minus the hitchhiking. I would have probably crawled until I could flag down a police officer. 😉 Thanks for sharing. Thank goodness for you wife to keep your head on straight for most of the time.

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