Relax, Relax, Relax!
Ken Bob's repeated reminder to relax, relax, relax is more than just a cliche. I think there's a reason his recommendation is usually expressed in triplet. Here's my philosophy on the meaning of "relax-relax-relax."
Relax - the Body
Shod runners are trained and practice to build up their tension-based muscles. They feel the need to be able to "push off" with tremendous force and whip their legs forward with staccato speed.
Barefoot running is a whole different mind set. We learn to relax our body, let nature take over and do the hard work. Stress, effort and tension waste energy and invite injury.
Instead of thinking about the "trying" of running, we feel the "doing." Falling to go forward. Natural loading of the built-in springs in our feet, ankles and legs. Taking shorter and quicker steps that reduce stress, impact and friction. Running from the core.
Relax - the Mind
When learning to run barefoot, there is a tendency to think, re-think, analyze, formulate, evaluate, focus, compare, and so on. The best part of barefoot running is learning to un-hook the mental processes and allow the body to learn to speak for itself. We are conditioned to fear and avoid mistakes, so we panic when trying a new thing and want to analyze the heck out of it, hoping to become pros at it immediately.
Barefoot running is much more than just doing certain movements or placing the feet just so. Its about re-growing weak muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Its about re-shaping arches and muscles. Its about quieting sensation-starved nerves that initially scream from overload when starting out going barefoot. Mental analysis does not grow new cells, experience and effort do.
Barefoot running is also about putting aside fears, prejudices, social embarassement, self-doubts, and self-limitations. We fear the pain that we will and do experience in our muscles and on our feet when starting out. We fear stepping on that rock or glass that might injure us. We hesitate and tense up when trying something new. We tell ourselves we could never ..., we will not be able to ..., its too far to ..., etc. We worry about how we will look and what others will think of us.
Little by little, however, we vanquish each fear, doubt, hesitancy, and limitation. Each step of success builds confidence to take another step forward in our progression. Rocks and glass can be avoided or can be stepped on without consequence. Yesterday's stopping point can be today's half-way point. We receive the harsh comment or word as not being given in malice, but evidence of someone's own misunderstanding and feelings of inadequacy -- and we forgive them.
Relax - the Spirit
Barefoot running begins to open up a new attitude and acceptance of life. The process is as fulfilling and important as the goal. A bad run is still good. We learn from setbacks as much or more than from success. In fact failure is only a new learning opportunity, and it is also good. We find that we are not really competing with or against others. We only compete with the self we were yesterday, we strive to achieve the self we want to be tomorrow, and we are aware of and enjoy the self we are today. Other's successes are not our failures, so we rejoice when others progress. Progress is great, whether its learning to run that first block or two without pain, or running a second marathon the very next day after the first one. We focus on "what's next?" instead of "what might have been."
So, remember when running barefoot, whether you are just starting out or you are aiming for yet another ultra run - to "relax, relax, relax!"
See you "out there!"