I had a great run yesterday. It was the best run in 2 months. Everything once again was working in perfect synchronicity: breathing, arms, hips, legs and feet.

I was finally over the Achilles Tendonitis problem and my feet, because I got the sandal midsole finally dialed in, were now impervious to all the nasty sharp rocks that blanket my running circuit through the devil’s playground here in northwest Michoacán.

I went out for a planned 2 hour run but ended up doing closer to 3 hours. I had a minor epiphany midway through my run and it started with ‘let your feet be your feet – let them move like feet [should move]’.

The moment of clarity was preceded by reminding myself that my right foot was healed and that I needn’t run in protective mode anymore. And so I opened my run up and let my feet play over the ground. Over the next couple of minutes the run opened up further and became more loose and carefree in a way that I had seemingly forgotten all about. I thought about the why of this as my feet began touching the trail now mindfully unconscious and without hesitation.

When I was running while recovering from the Achilles problem I reverted to a more tentative and heavier running style much like what I did before I switched from wearing shoes to sandals. And that got me thinking about the fundamentals.

The foot approaches something in the mechanical world that implies full articulation whereby its parts can have motions and movements that are independent of each other. And with its vast array of sensors the feet are fully capable of maintaining a light dance across any terrain and do so independently; meaning, without any conscious effort from the runner.

I am going to use a computer analogy with an example that I apologize in advance for. When you are in the zone – running – forward movement becomes effortless; all of the different operations between the various body systems are carried out on the back channel whereby during that time the sensors talk directly to the subconscious. This continues to happen until either pain injects a system interrupt or sensors malfunction; then and only then does the conscious mind have to switch back on to do an over-ride and start running systems checks.

So I wondered if it was possible that when we wrapped our feet in shoes if we were in effect blinding them spatially by what amounted to disrupting some of the sensory inputs? Could it be that those sensors responded to being covered up by sending an ‘I can’t feel (see)’ message to the brain? I say that because after having run in sandals for a few months I know unquestionably that I run different when I lace on a pair of shoes.

So the more I thought about that the more it sounded possible that shoes could affect the rotational and articulated aspect of foot movement.

This is probably a gross over simplification, but looking back, it seemed like whenever I went running in shoes that some informational exchange must have happened between my feet and my brain. Just the simple act of putting on shoes made my feet act differently. This was in part due to an old foot injury that I was working through at the time but it was also that self same foot injury that made me aware of how tricky feet can be when it came to protecting themselves. I’ve personally witnessed that they will scream and lie like little girls just to pass the pain on to somewhere else. They don’t care if your hip hurts or if you walk funny as a result; they just want the hurt to go elsewhere. And they’ll relay any number of false signals to the brain just to shut down their pain channel.

I’ve read that your feet have as many nerve endings as your genitals (and you can’t tell me that those things have never lied to you).

So keeping with these same cross-pollinated analogies – the feet, when they sense the wombness of shoes, fire off 2 messages to the brain – ‘we’re protected (because we’re surrounded)’ and ‘we must restrict our motions to up and down/front to back because we’ve lost the sensory input to activate a fuller articulation’.

I reckon that the brain isn’t enormously interested in the feet to begin with (unless its actions directly imperil the head) so it probably responds with something very casual like ‘Okay. Restrict your movements as needed but know that you are not protected so be careful’. So the foot quits being a foot and becomes more of a stump like appendage. And so the running dance never gets activated and instead the running becomes more of a pounding like movement.

Think about it. Don’t you ever wonder why on your runs – especially in minimalist shoes – you have to pay almost complete attention to every single footfall? That you have to consciously manage individual foot strikes? I know that I did. Running in minimalist shoes, especially on hard surfaces, became all about pain management.

I transitioned to minimalist running a couple of years ago while living on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC and I did it in the New Balance Minimus Trail shoe. I loved them and my feet responded well to them and it wasn’t until I started to up my mileage that I realized that I needed to look for another solution; my runs, as I said a moment ago, started to become more about pain management.

After a long look around I decided that I needed to take a less conventional path. And sometimes it is best to throw out all of the assumptions and start from scratch. After all, shoes are shoes and feet are feet so how hard could it be?

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