The Best Christmas Present I Never Asked For

by Zak on February 18, 2011

I’m twenty six years old, and just now realizing how unhealthy my feet have been for decades. Every day I squeeze them into cotton socks and suede shoes with rubber soles, where they shuffle across padded carpet. Today I’m picking out callouses and blisters like they were continents on a map. Where did these sissy feet come from?

A few weeks ago, coworkers noticed I had been walking with a slight limp. “What happened to you?” they asked, having never seen me limp. In the office, I’m the bombproof youngblood.

“I got some new running shoes,” I explained. “They’re the ones that get you back on your toes, the way we’re supposed to run.” My calves were still adjusting to my new Vibram Five Fingers, a Christmas gift my sister and her boyfriend had gotten me.

Part of me expected them to know exactly what I’m talking about, like everyone who runs for fitness has some nagging problem that they can’t put their finger on. But they looked more confused than anything: something is wrong with how we run? By the end of my explanation, I had become even more of an enigma than two minutes earlier, when I was only “the guy with a limp.”

Now I was the guy with a limp who runs around in goofy shoes.

I can’t much blame people for skewed thinking on minimalist or barefoot running. Typically, seeing someone run down the street barefoot means that their cat got away—or worse, their child had taken off out the front door. No shoes means you’re in such a hurry that there was simply no time for putting on shoes.

In fitness circles, barefoot runners and those who wear minimalist shoes are the ones outside pushing and punishing their feet to the next level – some might even go so far as to call them “extreme.” Conventional running shoes ignore the fact that if we don’t do something about the 26 bones, 33 joints, and 100 separate muscles in each foot, our feet get very soft—and there’s a growing number of us who are dedicated to recapturing the glory and grit of our feet and the way they were designed to work.

I have a secret vice: I like the feeling of being a bit of a bad-ass. Ask any male and I’m sure his story is similar. Having grown up an athlete, there were plenty of times for me to hold on to that sentiment—as a leading goal-scorer for my soccer teams, a starting back for my rugby squad, and sparring without headgear at the local boxing studio. As recently as two years ago, I took up surfing, which means nothing in southern California, but everything everywhere else. I like bettering myself physically to be able to do things a lot of people can’t, and I figured I had run the gamut of physical exertion.

Running, on the other hand, was something I loved to avoid. “I’ve got a lifetime of running already built up,” I’d say, excusing myself around years of soccer and rugby. The truth was that I hated jogging. Nothing about it appealed to me, but I did respect the ones who were out on the road making it work for them. To each his own, right?

My sister must have known something when she bought me my Vibrams. She knew I hated running, and she also knew that I was already in pretty good shape and not looking for a new outlet. Whatever it was she knew, she was banking on the fact that I’d feel obligated to try out her Christmas present—even though I never asked for it—because I’m her big brother and I’ll do anything to make her happy.

She must have known that as soon as I left my front door, I’d notice something different. She must have known that as soon as I started running how free I’d feel, and how I’d run nearly three miles that first night, and my soft feet already bleeding after one mile, having never run for fitness in a decade. She must have known I’d go out again the next night, running four miles this time—feet still bleeding, calves still ablaze.

She must have known how bad-ass I would feel.

Photo Credit: daemonv on Flickr

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Marcus April 3, 2011 at 10:11 pm

You definitely need to thank your sister for getting you some Vibrams! I have been trying to get into distance running for a few years, but every time I get past 3 miles, I end up hurting my knee or ankle or something. I ran across the Vibrams last fall, and after several months of pain (from my muscles needing to strengthen up) I am training for a marathon in them. I just got done with a 17 mile run in them yesterday (I posted about it on my site: http://www.kd8itx.com/blog/2011/04/marathon-update-17-miles-mud/).

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