My woman recently put me onto this website/blog called “Mark’s Daily Apple” (http://www.marksdailyapple.com/). Its run by this dude in California named Mark Sisson who advocates a primal lifestyle. I don’t know too much about the eating part of it (although I would assume its similar to the paleo or caveman diet) but I found myself reading lots about the physical fitness aspects of the primal lifestyle. The idea of natural movements that exercise the whole body (without isolating a specific muscle group for aesthetic reasons) has great appeal to me. This is one of the main reasons I like parkour; it brings out my inner primate. A major tenet of this movement is bare-footing and as I read more about it, I found myself positively enchanted by the concept. Since I was young I have always been inclined to walk with bare feet and I am starting to think that perhaps this was not a fluke but an expression of my genetics.
When it comes down to it, a shoe is an unnatural augmentation to what is a highly-evolved mechanism: the foot. Sisson argues, and I concur, that we are doing ourselves more harm than good by constantly wearing shoes. He illustrates the point with diagrams from a study conducted in 1905 (that’s how long we have known about the detriment to our feet caused by most footwear).
When I saw this first picture my first thought “wow, that is a weird-looking foot.” Since it looked dissimilar to mine I naturally assumed it was a set of feet that had been damaged by years of poor footwear. But much to my dismay, the article pointed out that this set of feet was the healthy one, belonging to an individual from the “bare-foot sample.” Notice the wide spread of the toes, almost as if each has developed to play an active role in walking?
The article then shows an individual from the perpetually shoed (sic) sample:
Shit. While I wouldn’t say my feet are that mangled, I (and most people I would guess) share a similar deformation of the toes. The big toes point inward, which is apparently wrong, and the other toes have been cramped to the point that they look atrophied and shrivelled. Most dismaying about feet like this and is that they seem to be a milder version of feet like these,
These are the feet of a woman who was exposed to the imperial Chinese practice of foot-binding. While the deformation of the toes is far more pronounced and effectively crippling to the woman, the comparatively benign deformation of my feet is still scarily reminiscent.
What to do about this dilemma? We live in a society where we wear shoes. End of story! But the shoes we wear, even athletic shoes are having a detrimental effect on our feet and our joints (Read more about this here: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/flat-feet-treatment/). I can speak first-hand about this. Recently I have gone from running 4 times a week or so, not including running to commute, to not running at all, due to chronic ankle pain. The impact from heel strikes, even with the cushioning of a “quality” shoe has proven too much for me. Having heard a while back that man in nature typically has stronger arches from running unsupported on the balls of his feet, I suspected that I should perhaps look into “toe-running,” as it would have a lesser impact on my joints (It is no coincidence that uphill running is my favourite, less impact and its all on the toes). However, during my most recent session of ankle physio I asked the therapist about getting into this type of activity. Skillful as she was with active release therapy, she seemed really unsure about how to advise me. Essentially she said “whatever you do, take it slow.” I didn’t find that incredibly encouraging so I sat on her advice until yesterday when I read the article linked from Sisson’s website. Now I am convinced that I must rectify the years of damage that have been done to my feet by literally airing them out.
To that end I took a long barefoot walk that included terrain such as concrete, asphalt, cedar chips, grass, gravel and wooded trail.
Throughout the process I made a conscious effort to spread my toes with each step and really feel the ground I was walking upon. Basically, it hurt after a while, but that doesn’t really bother me: As I have been told during my tenure in the military, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” As I sit here writing this I feel the same kind of soreness you feel on your hands when you stop using gloves at the gym; both soreness from abrasion and tiny muscle soreness. My goal is to keep walking around barefoot until I lose the sensitivity in my soles. When that happens I will attempt toe-running barefoot.
What is equally exciting and daunting for me is the implication that barefooting would have on my upcoming trip. My backpacking boots are incredibly good at what they do: providing support for my ankles and arches. But wearing them for the next six months seems like it will negate any progress I make in the next few weeks leading up to my departure. As I walked I could not help but think that I may yet be able to train my body to carry a load whilst barefoot. I would have to stick to a strict training regimen and re-evaluate things before I left but going around the globe barefoot would be an interesting thing to do. I’ll keep you updated.