Raised to go barefoot as much as possible, I’ve gone through each stage of life making some accommodations and concessions, but reaping some victories as well. While I’ve shed my shoes whenever possible at school and jobs, I know when to tuck my toes into something approved by society. Bare feet were usually okay under a desk, but not in gym class or at orchestra performances.
When pregnant I defied the obstetrician who worried my feet would “spread” if not contained. Nope, didn’t happen. Neither have I lost friends by slipping off footwear as a guest. Ok, once I got some unfriendly stares, but each to his own.
As a parent, my choices in clothing and shoes have sometimes been about a child’s comfort. I wore pretty flats to PTA meetings and visits with teachers, but often unconsciously kicked them off. Not surprisingly, this is something I still do as a lecturer and teacher.
Having luxuriated in barefoot running all my life, I’ve discovered a few things have changed a bit for me as I’ve aged.
I am 61. Somewhere around 59, I developed a hammer toe. This condition makes my high arches even more susceptible to issues (I’m told by a podiatrist). To deal with the condition, I use “Yoga Toes”— small latex cushions with holes cut for each toe. I also wear soft toe separators between the affected toes. Beyond that, I pull on the toe in an effort to lengthen and straighten it. These methods seem partially successful, and I can still run barefoot without having the toe top striking the ground. Additionally, my balance on that foot is better than on the other foot, and the podiatrist’s concern for my arch has yet to materialize.
Along with paying close attention to the condition of my feet and to take care of any issues, I now obey certain guidelines that I didn’t used to follow.
1) I run barefoot on grass, sand and pavement when it’s warm and even wet – but not when it’s frozen. In the past, I liked doing that — inspired by the scene from Bell, Book, and Candle where Kim Novak chases her cat out into the icy streets in her bare feet. If she can do it, so can I (I thought)… but not anymore.
2) I rock scramble barefoot by the sea and where rocks are dry and sun-warmed.
3) I run in minimalist shoes (rather than barefoot) on gravel, bark or where a lot of animal feces may be: dog parks, farms, etc. I used to take great pleasure in going barefoot over downed fields of hay on our farm in Oregon. The gopher snakes were huge but didn’t bite me, slithering underfoot, creating an undulating surface.
4) I’ve become more observant about moss, seaweed, oil or anything that can throw my (now less good than it had been) equilibrium off-balance.
5) Running in bursts and walking in bursts helps me stay in control of my forward momentum, making falls less likely, as well as missteps and stumbles.
Seeing seniors older than myself able to run (barefoot and shod) is reassuring. It’s worth being careful to keep this gift of movement.
~ Ariele M. Huff