Better & Bolder, the Blog

Sexy MF Shoes


I want to be sure I’m clear on something. A good-looking pair of shoes is pure joy. Wearing boots with just the right amount of lift in the heels feels powerful and sexy. I like shoes quite a lot.


I just can’t wear them much anymore. They don’t feel good, instantly, and like a toddler, I want to tear them off. If I keep them on, they feel normal again. Then, an hour or two later, my body aches, and I remember why I can’t wear them anymore. 


There is one place, however, where high heels belong, and that place is the bedroom. I used to think, well, I’ll wear higher heels to a party. Everyone sees me in my killer heels for a nanosecond, and then I’m in pain for hours for a nanosecond of “whoohoo! me in my hot-ass heels!” So, whatever, I’ll play up the cleavage instead. I’ve got options. 


In a recent Glamour magazine poll about shoes (yes, the magazine ran an entire article featuring women’s collective responses to shoes, and if you don’t understand why they’d do that, then I’m sure I lost you the moment I began this post), women were asked if they “ever had sex in just heels.” An astounding 63% responded “no, that sounds silly!” rather than “yes, it’s hot.” Glamour readers, wtf? It’s totally hot. 


I keep a pair of heels just for this purpose. Okay, I’ve worn them out a few times, which increases the hot factor since they are now inextricably linked to sex. I don’t know that I could ever abuse my body that way again, teetering around, praying I don’t twist my ankle or break my foot (32% of poll respondents had twisted their ankles and 5% fractured their foot due to their shoes). But I totally can put on heels for a quickie. Heck, I don’t even have to be standing for all that time anyway - and they’ll still look hot. 

Just keep hurting yourself, and we’ll make money off of you


Shape.com has an article on “healthy” high heels. Yep, they put the word “healthy” in quotation marks. One pair, featuring 4 inch heels, they say is just tall enough to make them feel like dancing. It gives them, you know, just a little bit of lift. In fact, the article warns against flats -- no, the horrors! -- because they don’t offer enough support. 


Our feet aren’t boobs. They don’t need support. Our feet aren’t deficient; they’re just out of shape.


The human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 250-thousand sweat glands and more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments. Most of that doesn’t have the opportunity to function when crammed inside shoes. 


In Adam Sternbergh’s article http://nymag.com/health/features/46213/ “You Walk Wrong,” he explains that all shoes are bad for our bodies. “Natural gait is biomechanically impossible for any shoe-wearing person,” wrote Dr. William A. Rossi in a 1999 article in Podiatry Management. “It took 4 million years to develop our unique human foot and our consequent distinctive form of gait, a remarkable feat of bioengineering. Yet, in only a few thousand years, and with one carelessly designed instrument, our shoes, we have warped the pure anatomical form of human gait, obstructing its engineering efficiency, afflicting it with strains and stresses and denying it its natural grace of form and ease of movement head to foot.”


Women are chopping off parts of their feet to fit into high heels (“Women undergoing surgery to fit into heels better”http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-204_162-57556021/women-undergoing-foot-surgery-to-fit-into-heels-better ). One doctor who performs such surgeries explains she won’t do this for “cosmetic purposes,” only for pain. Whoa, doctor, I know how to relieve the pain: stop wearing high heels that don’t fit the foot. 


The article continues, “There are plenty of other things you can do besides undergoing surgery. Spielfogel (head of podiatry at a New York hospital) advocated taking some anti-inflammatory medications before you wear a painful pair of heels and icing your feet as soon as you are done wearing your shoes.” This is insanity. I could also take Advil before hitting myself repeatedly on the head for several hours, but most doctors would recommend that I stop hitting myself on the head. 


This is part of why it boggles my mind when people question whether my going barefoot is too hard on my feet. Compared to what? It’s like someone wondering whether exercise is too hard on my body. Well, yes, a bit, and that’s how I get stronger. I’m not gonna get stronger sitting on a cushy, comfy couch. Your feet aren’t going to get stronger in cushy, comfy shoes. And they aren’t going to be healthy and happy when stuffed into painful shoes. No doctor should be explaining how we can continue to make ourselves suffer. It’s like a doctor saying, well, sure, you can spend all day on your couch. Take Advil to fight off the stiffness that comes from not moving. Yeah, that’ll work.

When is a Shoe not just a Shoe?

This article, "Swept Off Her Feet," http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/06/swept-off-her-feet/, is jaw-dropping in multiple ways. 


This happens often when I read something from the New York Times. The people profiled in these articles often lead lives so different from mine that I find it difficult to grasp. Their wealth astounds me. It disturbs me. 


Let’s start at the start: “When is a shoe not just a shoe? Why, when it’s a love object, a fetish or an alternate dream of self, of course. Shoes, like handbags, have grown in cultural stature over the last few decades, sending out coded and not so coded messages about the women who wear them: I am sexy, chic, kooky; I can walk without falling down in four-inch heels; I can afford to spend gobs of money on elusive brands and esoteric leathers.”


The shoe as fetish. The shoe as status symbol. The shoe as an indicator of wealth.


Is that what’s happening when I take off my shoes? I’ve taken my status down a notch?


I was out with my daughter and, bless her, she had no concern when I decided I’d rather be barefoot as we walked the outdoor mall, Uptown. It’s not a big deal to go into Lululemon in my bare feet and I kind of forgot what signals I’m sending by the time we walked into Anthropologie. One of the sales associates came up to tell me she loved everything about my outfit (a black cotton maxi dress with a little black 3/4 sleeve sweater over it). Everything, she said, even in bare feet. I couldn’t tell if she just realized at the last moment that I was holding rather than wearing my shoes. Was I still an appropriate Anthro customer? Yes! because she’d assumed my feet hurt because of the shoes (which, of course, is totally acceptable -- fashion before pain, ladies!). Later, she showed me an adorable pair of flats that has just come in, and would I be interested? Cute, yes! Too stiff, though, like putting on a slab of wood. I’d be able to move from the hip and knee but nothing was going to happen in my foot, no movement there, once I’d strapped on those adorable flats. 


Something about bare foot is just incomprehensible. When I asked Chase at Lululemon how he was enjoying his Newton shoes, he said he loved them. He naturally strikes mid-foot and these shoes gave him a spring and made him feel faster. Fun! He asked about my shoes and I said barefoot. Then we talked about minimalist shoes and it was clear when I said barefoot, he heard minimalist. I couldn’t possibly really be running without shoes. 


For sure, there are places I don’t want to be barefoot. Sticks and stickers are so prevalent in some parts of the path that I can’t go one step without pulling something off my feet, so, yeah, I wear some kind of shoe. The chip and seal road is too hard for me feet now. I need something pretty smooth, like the bike path, so, yeah, I wear some kind of shoe there too. Some of the time, though, I’m running bare. People’s reactions are funny, as if I’m talking about walking on the moon, something so clearly impossible and crazy that most people couldn’t be expected to consider it. 


So, back to the article. One pair of shoes, priced at over a thousand dollars, has heels 6 and a half inches tall. Even the saleswoman admitted they’re like walking on stilts and the woman trying them on was teetering. Isn’t that a deal killer? If the price didn’t stop her, wouldn’t the fact that the shoes are unwearable stop her? These are shoes that don’t enable movement but hinder it. I suppose all’s fair in fashion; function can be considered secondary. Was this her fetish? Was it about status? Does this person have so much money that she no longer understands that spending $1000 to buy a pair of shoes that will hurt and hobble her is not a sound economic choice? 


It’s madness. It’s maddening. Is this the same group that says we can’t possibly raise the minimum wage to a living wage? Is it the same group that explains if we raise the minimum wage, then people won’t aspire to make more money, that paying people decently is a disincentive? That’s an actual argument against a living wage! Apparently, wage workers are wage workers because they are lazy and must be whipped into shape by being offered jobs that pay so little that working full-time leaves them in poverty. Meanwhile, this article explains that some women come to shop for shoes twice a week. They aren’t in the kitchen, the salesman explains; they’re at Bergdorfs. 


I’m not in the kitchen, either, guys. I’m at work. I’m working in my sensible shoes, earning a livable wage. I’ve got a Masters degree. Oh, I forgot. I’m a “taker,” not a “maker.” If I don’t own a factory, if I don’t employ others in my business, I’m a “taker.” I’m unsure how those employees would fare without an education, though maybe that’s the point. If we keep an uneducated working class, the wealthy can continue to justify the huge disparity in pay. The wealthy justify it without reason, using instead fear and propaganda, name-calling and lies. When the wealthy explain they can’t possibly pay more in taxes because it wouldn’t be fair, what they mean is that they have no desire to be fair. They are interested in status, in high heels and couture gowns that are painful and hideously expensive and, God help us, worst of all, aspirational. The six inch heels can be bought for $25 at every PayLess shoes in the country. We can’t all buy the surgery to alter our feet to fit into shoes. 


Back to the New York Times Magazine article. One woman, who had spent six months looking for the perfect pair of shoes for a bridal party, complained, “They’re forcing you to buy $1,000 shoes, you don’t have a choice, we’re doing it and we’re insane.” Jaw-dropping. Really, lady, you can’t force yourself to make do with a $100 pair of shoes? “She ended up choosing an ivory satin-and-lace Valentino pump with what she described as a ‘moderate platform’ (with a four-inch heel) for the daughter who’s getting married.” 


I like shoes. I like fashion. I like shopping. I like looking at pictures of incredible and intricate shoes and dresses. It stops there because I’m not crazy. I crave movement and health. I know my own worth. 

Sex, Heels, and Men in Heels


Humans have been wearing shoes since ages ago (the oldest surviving shoe is dated 3653 BC http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/science/10shoe.html?_r=0, though shoes may have been worn much earlier). Shoes protect against cold. Shoes protect against sticks and stones. Okay. How did they get so high?


In Adam Sternbergh’s article http://nymag.com/health/features/46213/ “You Walk Wrong” article, he explains that all shoes are bad for our bodies. “Natural gait is biomechanically impossible for any shoe-wearing person,” wrote Dr. William A. Rossi in a 1999 article in Podiatry Management. “It took 4 million years to develop our unique human foot and our consequent distinctive form of gait, a remarkable feat of bioengineering. Yet, in only a few thousand years, and with one carelessly designed instrument, our shoes, we have warped the pure anatomical form of human gait, obstructing its engineering efficiency, afflicting it with strains and stresses and denying it its natural grace of form and ease of movement head to foot.”


What’s interesting also is how normalized shoes have become that we express delight, disgust, and amazement that someone would, gasp, go barefoot. How much of that is related to class? Only the rich, the “well-heeled,” could afford shoes that hindered their walking, their work. The Romans saw clothing and footwear as a sign of power; slaves were barefoot (source: Wikipedia -- hey, it’s good for general stuff like this). Wikipedia also says in 2007 the shoe industry was worth $107.4 billion world-wide. That’s powerful. 


Shoes are powerful in other ways. I was taught not to buy shoes second-hand because Jews don’t wear the shoes of someone who’s died. Throwing a shoe, we now know since the infamous 2003 incident with Bush, is a huge insult in Arab culture (the ground is dirty and shoes that touch the ground are dirty). I’m not sure why our earth is dirty in a moral sense. Listen, the things I touch with my hand are far more dirty and dangerous than anything my feet or shoes touch there on the ground. 


Most shoes up until the 15th century were flat, and people switched from shoes to bare feet easily. Even still, there is some evidence that when we began wearing any kind of covering, even loose skins, the bone density in our toes lessened (a change that occurred over 4000 years ago).


Early heels, called pattens, helped keep feet off a dirty, cold floor or muddy streets, supposedly keeping women’s long dresses from dragging. I don’t buy that. Make the dresses shorter and they won’t drag. Women in pattens walked more slowly and more daintily. They walked as if they were frail. This, I think, is what was happening. Gender and class issues determine heel height.


Heels for men, in contrast to women's heels, were big, sturdy things, originally designed for the Persian cavalry in the late 16th century and then adopted by poseurs (oops, I meant aristocrats) who wanted to look virile (January 28, 2013, “Why Men Stopped Wearing High Heels” http://jezebel.com/5979108/why-men-stopped-wearing-high-heels ). The article sites a BBC report (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21151350),  “As the wearing of heels filtered into the lower ranks of society, the aristocracy responded by dramatically increasing the height of their shoes — and the high heel was born.” That is, men wore heels to work well in stirrups. Then it was to look as if they were the men who needed to battle on horses. Then it was to look like the men who had the money to look like they battled on horses. Then the heels got higher so the higher class were distinguished from the lower class, at the same time rendering the shoes even less functional. Think of the baggy pants trend, called sagging. Originally brought out from prisons, this tough guy look went from gangs to Justin Beiber, who looks like a silly punk with so much money it doesn’t matter if he can’t run away. Impracticality, explains this article, is related to status. 


If heels are power, if height is power, if fashion is power, will men wear higher heels again? Elizabeth Semmelhack of Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum “believes that if women achieve equality in their power and social status with men, men may start wearing heels again.”  More women work full-time (hey, keep restricting the minimum wage and women will have fewer choices working part-time; think on that, Conservatives who support women staying home to raise kids). In addition, the proportion of men and women in the workforce has been evening out (for the first time in winter 2009, more women than men were employed, though that was brief). Thus, the economic differences between the majority of men and women has lessened (though women continue to make 82% of what men make, no matter the occupation; see http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2012/10/24/gender-pay-gap/1652511/ for more). More importantly, the power difference is lessening. If the woman is the only one in the household who can get a job, then she has more power than when both work or when he’s working outside the home for pay and she’s working inside the home without pay. So do we see more men wearing high heels?


Men in heels gave way to women who wanted to look more like men, so women wore heels. Then men gave up the heels, which became linked to women and femininity (see the BBC article for more). With the advent of photography, men photographed women in heels, and this is possibly how high heels became eroticized. Or not. Heels hurt, and they look like they hurt, and that may be part of what’s erotic. Women sway in their heels. They walk differently. This may be part of the erotic appeal, too.  


Women are not giving up their heels because they see them as powerful. They give them height and, supposedly, make them look better and sexier.


Will men wear heels as cross-dressers or will high heels crossover to become a fashionable trend for men? One fashion-lover is dismayed by the sheer amount of prohibited wear, items women can wear in public yet men can’t (http://www.luckymag.com/style/2011/08/men-in-heels--its-happening).  Men in heels, writes one blogger, is sexy because it’s daring. The forbidden is sexy.

Purring, Springing

One source suggests these three key words: posture, rhythm, relaxation. So when I run, I think Prr, or purring like a kitty. That sounds soft.

Relaxation is key. Sometimes I am focusing so hard. The ground is so hard. I want to be lighter. I’m not supposed to bounce. It can turn into a nag if I don’t keep it at a purr.

So, check out the diagram above. Fascinating! not just what we have to do to remain upright, but how the heels, if we went with it, would force the lean.

A number of running sites suggest pulling one’s posture up and then giving just a slight lean. I wonder if this is what they sensed, in their shoes, that they need a little lean to maintain a straight posture.

Barefoot running sites, on the other hand, don’t suggest the lean. One video showed the difference when the runner looked down at the ground in front of him and when he let his sight rest in front of him, further down the road. I add that to my posture -- just look ahead -- though in bare feet, sometimes I can get hooked on looking down to see what I might step on next. 

Barefoot Running University ran a post called “Finding Your Spring: The Missing Link to Running Gait.” Think of your legs as springs. “The tendons and ligaments of the feet and legs store energy as the foot hits the ground. This energy is released as the foot leaves the ground. It’s a little more complicated, but that’s the gist of it.” The way I get to this sensation is what in Nia we call dynamic ease. Essentially, I need to be ready to spring and I need to relax. I drop into my hips, so there’s a bit of a sinking in, and I need to bend my knees to do that. My ankles have to stay mobile instead of locked. This is also the sensation in Nia when we do cat stance: spring-loaded. Next, I do as little as possible. In my upright posture (spine floats up, in Nia, per the Alexander Technique), with my legs spring-loaded, I relax and go with the rhythm.

We played with this today in Nia. I could see in the mirror that when I sunk into my hips, bent my knees, relaxed and ran in place, I wasn’t bobbing up and down. It didn’t hurt and it wasn’t hard. A woman afterwards said that’s exactly how she hits moguls when she skies: load the springs, relax, and go with it. 

It’s important not to work hard. It’s important not to stomp around in a hurry. It’s important not to try hard to spring. Picture Tigger, bouncing on his tail, and then get out there and enjoy yourself. 

Intention and Not Knowing

I wrote this Better and Bolder email this week:

Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford, notes that women often measure their success by outcomes. She suggests we’d do well to measure our progress toward our goals as well. 

From Health.com: "At work, women often measure themselves by the endpoint, rather than progress made," Dweck notes. Yet advancing yourself, whether in your career or level of fitness, is all about nailing small goals. A comprehensive California State University review of research on dietary and physical activity goals found that people were more likely to achieve specific ones—such as "walk one mile at lunch three times this week"—than grand, vague kinds like "exercise more often.”

If you haven’t checked in on your progress lately, consider some of the things you want to make happen in your life. Take a look at one of those and consider in what ways you actively working toward that desired end. Sometimes all we see is a tiny improvement, and it’s important to notice it’s an improvement. As long as we’re actively pursuing our goals -- learning, experimenting, noticing, and adjusting -- then we can continue with confidence. 

It’s important to focus on the progress and not get seduced into concentrating on what we think are failures. This year, after realizing I hadn’t been spending a lot of time doing one thing I love, which is reading Young Adult Science Fiction (such as Hunger Games), I set the intention to do it more often. I searched online for great series and started in on some. I’ve been keeping a wishlist on Amazon, too. 

For several weeks this winter, I had some library books waiting for me, and each weekend, I thought I’d dig in but didn’t. I wondered if I were failing at my intention to relax with fun books. Then a friend asked for suggestions, and I kept naming more and more books (Veronica Roth’s Divergent series is quite good, by the way, and right now I’m enjoying Caragh O’Brien’s Birthright series). I realized I really had been reading more this year. Instead of thinking about all the weeks I am not making time to read, I saw that I am making good progress in an area that’s important to me, relaxing and escaping with a good book. Reading these novels makes me feel like a kid again. This is not an area in which I want to set a goal (read a book a month!), so it’s especially important that I continue with activities that keep me moving toward my intention, including keeping those lists and sharing book suggestions with friends.

Whether it’s a goal or a broader intention, check in to see what you’re actively doing to make it happen for you. If you’re not engaged in making something happen for you, it’s time to set some short-term goals, enlist help from friends, announce your intentions to others, and commit to it in writing.  

It occurs to me, again, that there’s a big difference between setting a goal and setting an intention. When it’s a goal, I set up steps to get there. Getting there is important and it’s important to know where “there” is.


When I set an intention, I may not know exactly where I’m going or how I’m going to get there. One year I wanted to travel more. The opportunity to teach Nia in Costa Rica came up, and I was receptive and ready to jump on it. I couldn’t have planned that because I didn’t even know it was possible yet. 


The fun part about setting an intention is that it awakens my curiosity and sense of adventure. There isn’t a right way to do it, and there isn’t a timeline.


I like having running goals. It’s a bit disturbing instead to have a running intention. I have to say that I’m not even positive I’m clear on my intention yet. It’s not necessarily to become a barefoot or minimalist runner. Maybe I will. Maybe I’ll go back to shoes. Maybe I’ll stop running. Maybe I’ll settle in on running 3 miles a few times a week. Enjoy it, no injuries, no big gains but no big consequences either. No races, no timing, just an easy 3 miles. That could happen, and it probably would be good for me. 


The intention now is to explore bare foot running and see what happens. I’m noticing where I yield and where I resist. I’m noticing what I long for. I’m noticing what scares me. Having used Nia as a path to self-discovery, and having used motherhood in the same way, this is just a new path to the same place. That place is me. My intention is to discover me and to let go of whatever keeps me from me. 

Raw

feet base

Every day, it just sucks more and worse. 

My run three weeks ago was too long, and the skin on the ball of my left foot became too raw. I want to keep running. When I do, the skin on my foot gets sore, quickly, and I know I should stop. So, I put on my mocs. Sometimes I get in a mile barefoot. Sometimes it’s a half mile. 

The RunaMoc moccasins have, like, 2 mm of Vibram soles, really thin. I can feel every stone underneath, which is good.  My nervous system still registers: hey, we’ve got shoes on, so let’s go! My stride lengthens. I go faster. Then I notice my ankles hurt a bit. I hit the bike trail where it’s smooth, so I want to take off my shoes, and soon my skin hurts. I put on the Mocs again, and I don’t know if I’m able to maintain that same careful gait I have when I’m barefoot. 

I also stubbed my big toe, on my left foot, two weeks ago. It throbbed for a full 24 hours, and perhaps that’s because after I stubbed it, I needed to get back home in a hurry, so I ran, and then I taught Nia. It was getting much better, and then I stubbed it again. And again. It’s never my right foot, always my left. 

Last Friday’s run was kind of fun, but I got caught in the cold rain, and perhaps I stiffened up because after that run for the first time in a while, my achilles and plantar fascia hurt again. Not much, just a little “hey, we’re here” voice that reminds me that something is going on. I didn’t run on Sunday, thinking I’d rest my ankles and let the skin on my foot heal. See how good I am? See how patient?

So by today, Wednesday, I was chomping at the bit to run again. At about 1/2 mile in bare feet, that spot on my left foot was sore, and I put the mocs on. Then my ankles stiffened up. I adjusted my gait, shortened my stride, lengthened my sight so I was looking far down the road. Geez, this is a lot of work. I just want to put on some shoes and go run.

As I’m running, I’m thinking about the winter weight I want to lose and how much more I want to work out to lose it. (I know - I don’t want to hear it - I’m just saying that’s where my mind went.) I’m thinking about how far I’m running. I’m wondering about my speed. I’m not having enough fun because I’m worrying about whether I’m getting stronger or just beating up my feet. I’m feeling doubt.

I came around to a set of log steps that I run up and down as a fun part of a run. I hadn’t run these in months and never in the mocs. I’m either out of shape or stiff or sore, but I misjudged the length and I -- wait -- you know what’s next, don’t you? -- stubbed my freaking left toe. Gosh freaking darn it (not the exact words out of my mouth, but you get the picture). 

No more running. I walked back to the bike trail. Then I took off my shoes, and, you know, this part is almost freaky. It felt much better and easier barefoot. My toe hurt less. Then, I slowed down. I slowed way down and let my hips roll and eased the tension and slowed down. Did I mention that I slowed down? I was walking very slowly and then I was crying. I was crying because I DON’T WANT TO SLOW DOWN and I cannot get where I’m going in a hurry. I was crying because my ego is invested in being fast, and now I must be slow. Okay, I’m choosing slow. I’m choosing pleasure and ease. I just thought I could have that while still going fast. I can’t. That makes me cry. It makes me sad and it stuns me. 

After the walk, I was making lunch and I was moving slowly. I could go faster, and I could stub my toe again. So I did everything more slowly. This is going to take forever.

My feet will never ever toughen up. My toe will never ever heal. I will never ever go on a carefree run again. I will never ever be BadAss again. I will be slow. And old. 

Okay, only one of those things is true. I’m old. Not old old, but old. I’m nearly 50, a half century. I’ve got a kid in college, and that girl’s a few weeks away from being legal. So, yeah, I’m old. Not bad old. I get that 50 is the new 40 or the new 30 or whatever. It is not the new 20. For every 50 year old wearing a tight dress and dyeing her hair brown again, I’ve got news: you’re still old. Your hormones are shifting. You can’t sleep either. Some days you feel dry; some days you feel crazy. Let’s face it. I can be in great shape for 50 and look really good for 50 and come May 3, 2013, I’m 50 years old, and every bone in my body knows it. 

So there it is. Apparently, bare-footing for me doesn’t mean slowing down a little. It means everything. It means when I walk with a friend, I have to say, well, this is the new me, and this is my pace. You go on ahead, or slow down with me. I’ve never ever said that in my life. Bare-footing means I’m devoted to sensation in a new way. Shoes means I can keep rushing around.  I can put on sandals to go outside, quickly, or I can go barefoot, slowly. Will I continue to choose sandals, and rushing, or will I just relax and stay in my bare feet?

My runs will be shorter. I have to just get over it. My progress will be slow, and sometimes it may feel as if I’m going backwards instead of forward. That’s what it feels like this week, though I recognize I’m actually not sore. I’m cautious. I’m stopping at mildly irritated, just before sore. I can choose to see that as being stalled or I can see it as progress.

My hair is greyer and thinner, and my eyelashes are short and sparse. Get over it. I gained five pounds and I don’t like my muffin top. Get over it. I can enjoy a slow walk or fight with my body on a fast walk. Choose, and get over it. I wish I were running a half marathon this spring, which this November is where I thought I was heading, and I’m not, not even close; more than that, I have no idea if I’ll ever run a half. Get over it, and enjoy what running I can do and just wait to see what happens, what evolves, what develops.

Better, Bolder, and Barefoot

Last spring, I started running. I put on my minimalist shoes -- those are shoes that are more flexible and have less cushioning than most shoes -- and hit the bosque trails. It felt great, but my feet and ankles got really really sore. I had thought it would be easy -- after all, I dance Nia barefoot -- and I assumed my feet and legs were plenty strong. Though I’d seen some sites that explained it’s really best to run barefoot and then add in minimalist shoes, I thought I was special. Since I practiced Nia, I would be able to sense how I was running and sense how my feet were hitting the ground. I read a few books and looked up some sites and watched some videos. I thought -- and this is important, that it’s what I thought -- I was supposed to run on the balls of my feet. That’s what I tried to do. And it hurt, a lot. 


I went from wearing a Merrell “barefoot” shoe to a Vibrams five finger shoe to a Inov-8 minimal heel drop shoe. I tried an Altra (get it? that’s four shoes I bought). Finally, I decided “barefoot” wasn't the way for me to go. I read an article about Newton shoes; they’re supposed to help runners find a midfoot strike instead of a heel strike. I went to the Newton store in Boulder, Colorado, got fitted for a pair, and within a week of running, my pain went away. Though I missed the closeness to the ground that I get when I was running in minimalist shoes, I could run. 


I had a blast running. I was exploring the trails and finding my own limits. I learned how to push myself and run a bit faster. I used Nia to keep me mobile. I used what I've learned from Nia to help me sense my body as I was running so I could maintain good form and a good gait and cadence. I ran my first race. I was planning my next one, though I figured I would take off a few months during the winter. Instead of training, I’d just run, however far and however I liked. No speed work. No tempo runs. I'd play around more on my runs, as I'd done when I first started running, stopping to do push ups or take a picture.


Then, I ignored my own plans, and I got injured. Instead of this rejuvenation period, I decided to push my miles up and train for a half-marathon (13.1 miles). Initially, I felt great. I loved the long runs. Then the pain in my achilles went from dull and something I could ignore to sharp, and something that demanded I pay attention before it got worse. 


One of my biggest mental and emotional blocks was that I think running should be natural, easy, and free, but I didn’t act on that thought. Instead, between finding the right shoes, getting yummy running clothes and socks, going to acupuncture and rolfing, and race fees, I turned running into something difficult and expensive. I became jealous of those who run with ease. They don’t injured. They don’t study books and fuss over shoes. They just head out the door. I felt embarrassed that running was not easier for me. 


I bought two more pairs of shoes and tried four different kinds of special inserts in order to ease the pain of the plantar fasciitis and be able to run. It sounds crazy when I write it, but it didn’t seem crazy at the time. I was sure that there was a shoe that would work for me. I was told the inserts would help. 


I cut down my miles. I cut them down some more. There was a funny pain on the top of my left foot, one that the guys in the running store didn’t know how to explain. The conventional advice was to cut back my miles until everything healed and then cautiously and carefully build up my miles again. The pain, I was told, was due to adding too many miles too soon. 


After a week or so, I didn’t like the way the inserts felt anymore. It felt as if they were pushing into my foot. I was locking up at the ankle. This couldn’t be right. The inserts were good for pain relief, initially, but they didn’t actually help my feet. Think of it this way. If I broke my leg, I’d need a crutch to get around. But if I never gave up the crutches, I’d always need the crutches and my leg wouldn’t get stronger. Inserts are a crutch. They serve a limited purpose. Then, they just get in the way.


The winter and the winter holidays had triggered emotions in me that have long roots. I also was pushing the edges of my abstinence; there are foods I avoid because they trigger disordered eating, and I have been less than totally honest with myself (read: in denial) about my ability to eat those trigger foods without consequences (addictive behaviors around eating). Running is like a savior: my blood sugar stabilizes, my happy hormones sky rocket. Without my long runs, I was feeling bereft, and my other issues got bigger in my face. My adrenaline and stress stayed in on-alert mode, and this led to feeling easily overwhelmed. 


Somewhere in my online searches, I found another idea: take off the shoes. Several runners said they healed bouts of PF and achilles tendonitis by running barefoot. At this point, I was miserable enough to figure, what the heck, I could try it. I went back to the barefoot books and this time when I read that I should run barefoot, not in minimalist shoes, I understood. I got it. Sort of. Maybe it hadn’t worked a year ago because I thought I could skip the whole barefoot part of running barefoot. I thought I could run in flat shoes and it would be the same. 


So on January 27, I headed out in my Vibram Five Fingers. The books all said to go really short, like, 200 yards and then stop. I ran down my street and back again. 


The next day I had the most intense acupuncture session I’ve ever had. The needles, all up and down my calves, caused stabbing pain. I couldn’t wait for the hour to end. I couldn’t relax. 


Four days later, I went for a run, wearing the last pair of shoes I’d bought. I think I was still hoping they’d work. I took off my shoes for part of that run, maybe a quarter mile, maybe less, I don’t know. I liked it. The bike trail is surprisingly smooth. Just as the books promised, if I stepped on a small stone or a sticker, I wouldn’t hit it too hard. I brushed the stickers off. 


I had more acupuncture, and it was better. 


Several books explaining how to start running barefoot said to spend time walking barefoot outside. Five days later, I took Lola for a walk, and found a patch of smooth sand, not too many rocks and stickers, and I took off my shoes. I walked slowly. I could sense when the ground was cold or warm. I felt calmer. Walking felt good. Why had I been running so much? Walking felt natural, rhythmic, whole. Walking settled my nervous system.


I had more acupuncture and then a rolfing session. I began new exercises. If I wanted strong feet, I’d have to work for them. I would have to do special “pick up the towel with your feet” exercises. I spent hours and hours online, researching how to heal and how to strengthen my feet and ankles. I found some stretches that make so much sense. They’re tri-dimensional, which means it’s not just flexion (open and close) in the same plane (up and down). Here’s how I knew they made sense: I did them. I felt them. My whole body said yes. I was beginning to see that I could think through everything, or I could find out what my body liked and didn’t. Thirteen years of Nia practice and I was still needing to be reminded that I learn through the body.


Four days later, I went for another run. The shoes felt terrible. I felt constrained. I ran a five mile loop and for a short time, ran barefoot. I wasn’t quite sure if I had the gait correct. But I liked what I felt. And it felt very, very different. I had been hoping I could run in my shoes for 4 or 5 miles and build up running barefoot in half mile increments. That way, I’d keep up my miles while I prepared my feet gradually to run barefoot. On this run, I realized, I didn’t even want the shoes anymore. Still, I was kind of pissed off about it. I like shoes. I like the way they look. I wanted to run and I wanted to run in shoes, like normal people. 


I would see runners on the bosque and get jealous. I was at the part where it’s difficult work, not difficult like going out for a run is difficult. Difficult like doing PT is difficult. Difficult because not running is difficult, and finding my weaknesses instead of crowing about my strengths is difficult.


I kept studying. This article is brilliant :http://trainingclinic.vivobarefoot.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/Proprioception-MakingSenseofBarefootRunning.pdf  For a few days, I stared at the pictures that are showing the differences in gait for walking, running, and sprinting. I get the sense that when I have been running in shoes, I use walking form (heel lead, stride in front of me), even to sprint. Check out the jogging diagrams -- hunched over, compressed, head jutting forward. The running form, in contrast, is totally upright while the sprinting form has a bit of a lean. 


Barefoot running seems to be whole foot while sprinting is ball of foot. Nobody sprints for long. Running for distances on the ball of the foot isn’t going to work. The running form shows tiny steps, right underneath the hips, bent knees. 


There are questions about whether we really were born to run, or whether we were born to out-walk our prey. Running is less efficient than walking. It’s possible we were born to walk and run for a while and sprint every now and then.  Our feet, says this source, were made for climbing and grasping. I do none of that in my life. I don’t hang from monkey bars, either. I sit in a chair a lot, though. I stand around and I rarely squat. 


I went for another short barefoot run. I took a few more barefoot walks. I had more rest days than usual. I stopped putting lotion on my feet so that the skin could dry up and harden. I bought a pair of truly minimalist running shoes, running moccasins with a very thin 2mm Vibram sole. 


I made one last attempt to run in running shoes. They’re beautiful shoes. They are zero drop (no difference in height between the heel and ball). They weigh four ounces. It’s easy to feel the ground beneath me. But I put them on, and my nervous system said, “Hey! I know what these are! These are shoes. And shoes mean hit the heel.” I took off the shoes, and my gait changed, entirely. Running barefoot is not like Nia. Running barefoot is not like walking barefoot around my house. And running barefoot is absolutely not like running with anything on my feet.


I took some advice from Barefoot Bob. He says to bend my knees and to relax. So I ran, and I told myself: relax, relax, relax. I ran right up until the minute that I could feel my feet getting sore, and then I did what all the books advise: I stopped. 


Every day, I massaged my feet and massaged my calves. I still had some plantar and achilles pain, though it was less. My heels were sore. I wanted to believe that barefoot running was possible and still wasn’t sure. I wanted to believe healing was possible, and I still wasn’t sure. Maybe I didn’t want to believe, but I knew I wanted to run.


With a friend, I went out walking in my four ounce shoes. My heels hurt. I took off the shoes, and my feet felt better. I’d been told my feet needed cushioning, and my feet were telling me something else. I apologized to my friend because I was so much slower. We’ve been walking together for several years. We’d go long and fast. Now, I wanted to walk with smaller steps and a slower pace. It just felt better. 


My barefoot gait is very different than when I’m in shoes -- any shoes, even minimalist shoes -- and it has been a very different experience than Nia and walking around my house barefoot. Did I say walking? I meant stomping, stalking, and hurrying. Just two short walks barefoot outside was enough to change my perception of my walking habits. I’d get out of my car in the morning and instead of rushing into work, I’d walk with pleasure. If I were going to the sound system to start the music in Nia, I’d sense I was rushing and I’d stop it. I’d slow down. There was no rush. There’s just the pleasure of walking without stomping. I had to remind myself. I had to speak it, too, telling my class, “Uh oh, I’m rushing, and there’s no rush. Watch me walk slowly.”


Then I had a great, tears-down-my-face moment in Nia class on a Saturday morning. Our focus was keeping our feet underneath us. When I hurry, I tilt my pelvis back and lean my head and chest forward. When I rush, I stiffen up, and I’m not rolling in my hips or releasing my feet. At the end of a nice, sweaty class, we were walking, then walking more slowly, then walking very slowly. My left foot was still sore from Friday’s rolfing session. I sensed my foot. I sensed instability. I sensed a little bit of pain. I realized that some of my issues on the right side of my body are about compensating for the left side.  You’ve had those moments in Nia, those moments of sudden insight that feel profound and helpful and obvious and necessary, all at once? I thought, I love Nia! I love that I have these awarenesses in class. And then I felt slow, delicious tears, gentle tears slowly rolling down my cheeks as I kept walking slowly to the music. There was so much sensation in so little movement, and I was slowed down enough to just be with it.


On February 20th, I went out in my mocs, ran the 1/2 mile to the bike trail, ran two miles barefoot on the smooth trail, and then ran that last 1/2 miles home in my mocs. I was elated. Running for a few miles let me find my gait. I was still wondering if I was doing it right and still telling myself to relax and still experimenting with landing on the ball of my foot or more mid-foot, but during that run, the gait seemed to be evolving. Or, I was discovering it by just letting it be. 


I got home and was walking, barefoot, down the hall of my home when suddenly I felt a sharp pain in the ball of my left foot. It was intense. I couldn’t tell if I was bruised, but what it seemed to me to be was that something was moving back into place. Something was finding its right home. I didn’t know if this were true, but it seemed as good a story as any. I went running two days later, and I made it maybe 200 yards. That was fine. The skin on my feet was sore. My heels were really sore. The ball of my left foot was still sore. Two days later, I went out again. Same thing. I ran maybe a quarter mile and walked maybe a half mile. Enough. 


Enough? Me? It’s never enough. This was. This was enough.


I’d read that a good way to add mileage is to add no more than 10% a week. In addition, after three weeks of adding, it’s good to cut back. So if a runner runs 10 miles one week and 11 the next and then 12, it’s good to go back down to 9 or 10 for a week before running 12 again and building more. That seems hard to do, to hold myself back that way. But here it was, happening quite naturally. I ran a hard run, those two barefoot miles, and my body let me know that the next week, I had to take it easy. There’s no faking it barefoot. 


One book says it can take six months to two years to shift to barefoot running, and I’m starting to get that. It’s about rewiring our brains, not just changing our gait, in part because our feet have so many sensory receptors and they are responsible for so much of our proprioception. 

Now, I can’t stand regular shoes. They feel terrible. Even minimalist shoes feel too tight. I hate arch support. In 30 days, my feet have spread. 


I went for a run last Wednesday, again the 1/2 mile along the prickly trail in my mocs, two miles barefoot, and then the 1/2 mile home. This felt easier and more natural. I wasn’t so sore the next day. My skin felt pretty good. I was looking forward to running again on Friday and wondering if I could do another 3 mile run. I started imagining how I’d add mileage. A friend asked about when I’d race again and suggested a May race. I said, well, I didn’t know and I was taking it one barefoot step at a time, but I’d think about it. I didn’t want to be tied to a goal. I want to keep discovering this.


Thursday was a busy day. I’d planned a walk with my friend and I didn’t want to cancel, even though I felt rushed and I knew I’d overbooked my day. We headed out and I was rushing to keep up with her. I was in a hurry to get back to be on time for Nia that night, though, so I didn’t ask to slow down. I just started walking harder. It felt terrible. I was overstriding and it hurt my heel, plus it just felt wrong to be rushing instead of savoring the walk.  I took off my mocs at one point, and I was walking faster than I wanted, but, by gum, I was going to keep up. That is, until I slammed my toe into a root. And it hurt, a lot. I was so frustrated with myself. I also was late, so I put my mocs back on and ran the last mile home. Then I taught Nia, hopping sometimes, or sitting on the floor to dance.


When I woke the next morning, my toe was still throbbing. It hadn’t been cut much. There are two blood blisters. The worst of it is sensing how my whole body compensates so I don’t put too much pressure on my toe when I’m walking. It feels like a monster walk, contorted and hitched. I have had to slow down my walking even more. Instead of running on Friday, I took a rest day. I'm itching to go run again. What will it be like this next time? What will I discover next?


I’d like to believe that I get it now, though I’m not positive I really totally do. I know what I do get, though: that being barefoot is changing me, not just my feet and not just my running and not even just how I walk around, as huge as that is. The pleasure of my bare feet meeting the ground is changing me. 

In the quiet


Winter, One (beginning of January)

Winter kicks my butt. 

I went for a run on a particularly cold day. I thought perhaps I was all badass and such because even though it was in the 20s, I was out there running. But I wasn’t really running so much as I was clenching every muscle and shuffling. 30 minutes later, I finally hit my stride but I had to wonder how much damage I’d done by pushing myself to run in the cold. I just don’t know.

I stopped writing my blog because I have gotten so freaking tired of the sound of my own (writing) voice. It always sound as if a) I know what I’m talking about or b) I’m almost whining or c) I’m verklempt about my kids. I couldn’t figure out who’d want to listen to that again

I also stopped writing because it takes energy, and I have had none. Some nights I need 9 hours sleep. Some nights I’m sooo tired and why can’t I just fall asleep then? Some nights I’m lying there, thinking about people or situations that make me made or that feel unfair. Yeah. That’s helpful. And I didn’t have enough energy to stop myself. 

I’m supposed to be grateful that winter reminds me to rest more. I’m supposed to enjoy sitting around reading, but I don’t have that much energy, so I spend a whole lot of time sitting around playing Free Cell on my iPad. 

My achilles is still upset, and now my IT band, too, and it’s the perfect time to not run for a while. It so wouldn’t matter if I took off 3 weeks. I can’t do it. I can’t let go of what is pleasurable when it’s warm. I can’t let go of wanting to get a bunch of stuff done instead of saying, well, heck, it’s January. Just do nothing. Or go to hot yoga. Nah. Or do nothing.

I am relentlessly cheery and an unflagging cheerleader. When a friend writes me and tells me her troubles, I can’t help but respond with how well she’s handling everything. While I’m writing, I’m thinking how annoying I must be. I’m annoying because I’m relentless. Want a dose of “you go, girl!”? Just tell me your woes. I feel like I’m missing something. I’m missing the deep empathy that comes from just listening. But, really, when someone emails me to tell me what’s going on (I asked), can I really respond with “I hear you”? That sounds pretty lame. Can I just write, “Wow, that sucks”? That sounds flip. All I know how to do is say, yes, that’s very difficult, and you’re doing such a good job at _______. And I mean it. 

Being tired makes me feel uncertain. I question all my choices. This should be the gift of winter! It opens the door for me to consider how I am in the world. I freaking hate this gift. F- you, winter, and your miserable gifts. 


Winter, Two (end of January)

In November, I wrote a blog each day. It was pretty yummy. I wrote less frequently but still a lot in December. Then in January -- not a thing. 

I’ve discovered this really strange new fitness concept. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It’s called rest.

know. Who would have thought? Sometimes I take a day off from exercise. Every now and then, I take a nap. 


Winter, Three (February)


Winter, Four (beginning of March)

Finally. 

I make no secret about my dislike of winter. Grudgingly, this year I will admit that this winter was transformative. Yes, I finally slowed the heck down this winter.

Step one. My feet hurt. Instead of powering toward a goal of a half-marathon, I ran less and less until I finally took off my shoes. 

Step two. I couldn’t focus. That darn cold. That darn perimenopause. So, I read some books. Then I read a few more. Though my To Do list got pretty big, I prioritized more: this has to happen this week, but, really, this can happen next month. Let it go. Folks, while it still weighs on my mind a bit, the ability to let go of getting everything done is a big step for me. So this blog didn’t happen for all of January and February. That leads me to...

Step three. Be quiet. Just, stop talking for a while. I focused in January on listening. When I had a conversation with a friend, instead of jumping in with advice, I just listened. What a relief. 

Step four. Give up the adrenaline. I noticed that my beloved Righteously Raw chocolate, sweetened with (supposedly) low-glycemic agave syrup was making me feel like yuck. I was craving it, eating it without savoring it, and then getting anxious for more food two hours after eating. I felt full but my head needed some simple sugars. Ack. I gave up agave for February. My  energy evened out within two days. 

I also got a few acupuncture treatments so I could sleep better. Instead of staying up to midnight (well, okay, except for that one time I didn’t want to put my book down and read until the last page), I got to bed between 10 and 11 pm. I stopped eating at 9 pm to fuel myself and drive myself later. Well, okay, sometimes I still do that. 

Step five. When I said I gave up my shoes in step one, I meant that literally. On the last day of January, I went for an itty bitty barefoot run. Barefoot as in bare feet. By the end of February, I was able to run two miles in my bare feet. Whoohoo! That’s been incredible, and I’ll blog about that later this weekend -- really, I promise -- unless, of course, I decide it’s better to sit around and do some of nothing. After all, we have a few more weeks left in winter.