Hit the Trail, Barefoot Style!

I love discovering new places to run. This morning I did a quick trail run in a new location, Crystal Canyon Trail in Arlington, Texas. It’s nice little, semi-paved trail that is perfect for walking, running or hiking. The trail itself is about a half mile loop; great for beginners.

Only 3 years ago, I was working with a specialist to help with lower back pain. I discovered I have not one but TWO degenerative discs, bone on bone. While in those “I’ve tried everything and nothing works” phases, I learned about “barefoot” or minimalist running. It was a long and sometimes painful process, but over the course of a year, I slowly made the transition to minimalist running in Vibram Fivefingers. Starting with half a mile walks, then soon mile jogs, until eventually I was consistently running 3-4 miles every other day. Nowadays, whenever I begin to feel stiffness or pain in my lower back I know it’s a signal to get moving. The relief I feel running minimalist style is almost immediate. That’s what works for me. So my doctor now tells me “keep doing what you’re doing!” (Click here to see my behaviorist take on why I love running.

Now it’s your turn, get moving people! It doesn’t matter if you walk, run, hike, or wander in circles. It might be 4 miles, or to the end of the driveway and back. It might just be doing a few stretches. The only thing worse than little exercise is no exercise. Even a few minutes of daily exercise has benefits and your body will reap the rewards.

Barefoot Running an Educational Philosophy?

I know, I should’ve posted this awhile ago, but a really good run today got me to thinking about things. I think this will put my philosophy into a little bit of perspective…

A little over a year ago I started on a journey of self-discovery. I had sought to find ways to ease the pain of degenertive disc syndrome in my lower back and got few results. There were so many times when laying down would seem to best course of inaction. Through a friend, I learned about minimalist running. My first reaction was one of disbelief. Surely it’s some crazy like concoction dreamed up by some tree-hugging, carbon-footprint-reducing, go-against-the-grain, hippie cult members, right? Soon after I watched an episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO. The episode featured Christopher McDougall, author of the book “Born to Run”. I won’t get into the details of the book or the history behind it here, you can easily find information about it online (Google, YouTube). However, in the segment, he discussed the development of running shoe technology and essentially how the development of running shoes over the decades has led to our own weakness as runners.

I was amazed. First that people really did this and that the people doing it were indeed not some minimal clothes wearing free-spirited noncomformists, but your run of the mill everyday average Joe (or Tim, or Mary,…). Intrigued, seeking alternatives to surgery, and tired of just sitting around allowing myself to get worse, I purchased a pair of Vibram Fivefingers. I thought I’d give this a try, from my research it couldn’t make things any worse. I started off by wearing them to work over the summer to break myself into it. They were amazingly comfortable as I walked around. By virtue of the design of the shoes I changed how I walked. I almost immediately noticed a difference in my posture. My first major walk was when I walked with my daughter’s cheerleading team in the Fourth of July parade. Since that time I have steadily increased the distance I can walk and run in my Vibrams. I am now up to 4-6 miles at a comfortable pace of 8 mins per mile. I’ve had people asking me about them all the time. A gentleman asked me about the support they provide. After thinking about it for a second I told him, ‘they don’t provide me ANY support”. I told him that they actually have helped me become stronger because they provide only the proctection I need, the work is all done by me.

I thought about how correct Chris McDougall’s ideas are about running shoe technology. Releasing myself from the support of traditional running shoes has allowed me to develop my strength and independence. As a special educator, that got me thinking.
Technology can help us do some amazing things, but at some point we have to realize too much technology prevents us from the experience what we desire the most, the human experience. Sometimes we lose sight of the goal of special education. Technology and novel teaching strategies are great jumpstarts, but our goal should be to help children gain as much independence as possible (and ethical) from that technology. I’ve applied this philosophy to my personal and work life. I’ve even used my “monkey shoes” as props in my staff development to teachers and parents to demonstrate providing only what we need as opposed to providing too much support. This sparked the concept for “Barefoot Behavior”, developing training and sharing information that involves the use of low-tech behavior strategies for teaching and parenting.