I’ve always fund Tuesdays inspiring. There’s too much pressure on Mondays, Wednesdays are too late and so forth and then it’s the weekend and there’s a different kind of inspiring going on.
But Tuesdays, well, they are just perfect for seeing the world in a new way.
So, as luck would have it, I felt lucky when Deri Reed, AKA The Ethical Chef, AKA, the Barefoot Runner, agreed to meet me on a Tuesday. I say agreed because I basically badgered the beautiful soul that is Deri until he said ‘come to my restaurant for 9.’
So, that’s what I did, on a wet, miserable Tuesday morning I made my way West for a date with my barefoot destiny.
I first came across Deri when he was training for the London marathon – barefoot! My good friends over at Wales Online had run (boom boom) a story on his efforts which activated my stalker switch quite nicely.
Deri, the chef, was going to run 26.2 miles barefoot!
At this point I had simply wanted to cover 26.2 miles, so to imagine running that distance with naked feet seemed as ludicrous as ludicrous could be!
But was it?
Sometime after Hannah the Runner was born and I was having issues with daps, I vaguely remember a conversation with Sioned, as in Run Wales Sioned, where she told me that evolution had softened us as runners.
‘We were designed to run without shoes.’ She said simply. ‘But we’ve softened ourselves.’
Of course we had! It made total sense really.
I, like others before me, had read Born To Run, but I imagine, not like me, that’s all they did.
Read it. Marvelled at it. Maybe even mentioned it down the pub? Me though? I became obsessed with the idea of barefoot running. The science behind it, the feel of it, the idea of me doing it.
But to become an actual barefoot runner? To go out, minus my shoes? I just didn’t know…
And then as chance would have it, myself and my colleague, fellow run activator, Andrea, were musing over a pot of tea in the Llynfi Valley when she said, ‘There’s a bloke in Carmarthen that runs bare foot!’
‘I know him!’ I shouted. ‘Well, I know of him.’ We laughed.
As I popped my head into The Warren, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like a Lycra clad Alice.
In the heart of Carmarthen, tucked into a little crevice on Mansel Street, the Ethical Chef’s restaurant felt as familiar to me as my own living room, such was its welcoming ambiance.
‘Hello?’ I called in far more confidently than I felt.
I heard Deri before I saw him, he bounded down, what I assumed to be the stairs and I couldn’t help but wonder whether I was meeting a spaniel or a barefoot runner, it quickly became apparent I was meeting an absolutely gorgeous creature quite immediately but that’s completely irrelevant on a running blog; she blushes.
‘Hi.’ He said and my next thought went something along the lines of, ‘why didn’t I have my eyebrows done?’ the next, next one was, ‘Why have I agreed to run with this beautiful human?’ the next, next, next was ‘Remember Hannah, you are married!’
Deri looks athletic. He was wearing a Crossfit Carmarthen t-shirt and, I couldn’t help but being disappointed, that he was wearing shoes. He’s tall and broad and walks with a confidence of someone who knows themselves well, which, given he pounds the pavement barefoot, I suppose he does.
‘I’ve never been headhunted for a run before.’ He told me happily, whilst pouring me tea from an actual teapot.
He told all me all about how a doctor had advised him not to run, after various rugby injuries and then key hole surgery and general niggles in his knees.
‘And of course, once he said I couldn’t, I definitely was going to.’ He laughed.
He told me about his technique and how hard he found the training for London, on his own, in the winter, barefoot!
‘My mood dipped for prolonged periods.’ He said and all I could think of was, what state must his feet be in?
Luckily, I did not have to wonder long because boy wonder whipped his surprisingly pretty looking size 11’s out for me to ponder. ‘Feel them?’ he gestured and I’m telling you now, his feet are softer than Andrex’s’ finest, quilted, amazing, ‘kisses ones bottom’, toilet roll.
‘Wow!’ I said, thinking about my own battered, skinless, ugly looking trotters.
‘It’s like having a natural pedicure every time I go out.’ He said pleased.
And then it was time for us to run.
We set off from The Warren, me still in trainers, Deri still in normal attire minus his shoes. We plodded through Carmarthen and I was amused by the double takes and widened eyes that followed the barefoot runner as he, unaware of the attention, comfortably told me about the route, about the surface our feet were running on, about how he feels about running.
By the time we got to a path that ran alongside the river Deri said ‘this is perfect for barefoot running.’ Gesturing at the wet, in my opinion, dangerous looking tarmac. I sighed, bent down to untie my laces then panicked that the beautiful human would be knocked out by the odour my feet were bound to produce, having been stuck in sweaty trainers for the best part of the morning.
If he did smell them, he was too polite to say, and that was one thing I noted about Deri, he is lovely. So, lovely, you would totally trust him when he says, ‘Go on, take off your shoes, go on run just under three miles in the rain with naked feet, oh go on, and just up this small incline!’
He’s trustworthy and the type of person that makes you feel you are actually capable of anything and I couldn’t help but wonder that was a possible credential to run barefoot?
The ground felt, dare I say it, nice. Fresh, damp and natural.
‘You need to just kiss the ground with your feet.’ My Jedi told me and I cooed and told him he should write a book with descriptions like that.
‘Bend your legs and don’t push off with your toes. It’s all technique and practice.’ He said before telling me to slow down. That’s another thing about Deri, it’s hard not to get carried away by his enthusiasm.
He told me which surfaces are nice to run on, and which ones aren’t, he mentioned that the police had stopped him more than once for legging it across Carmarthen with no shoes on and that he doesn’t always run in normal attire and a flat cap like he was today. ‘I do wear the gear.’ He laughed. When I suggested that he did look like a smidgen bit dodgy wiggling his way across the various surfaces that a normal urban route has to offer in normal clothes and no footwear. I was tempted to tell him about my very own balaclava story but thought better of it.
‘I feel like a kid!’ I said, being nearly knocked sideways by nostalgia.
‘It’s great, isn’t it?’ Deri replied and had I been sure he wouldn’t have immediately phoned for a restraining order I would have grabbed his hand and swung his arm to the sky, just like a child would.
We walked the final stretch back to The Warren, Deri explaining, that the cool down walk is essential for recovery.
And as my heart rate slowed I was overcome with how great I felt, not just a normal after run feeling either. I felt, amazing, happy, cleansed even?
‘I loved that.’ I told my new friend as I helped him carry a load of fresh produce through to the kitchen still minus shoes. ‘Like really enjoyed.’ In fact, I was dreading putting my trainers back on.
My feet were weirdly unscathed, they felt fine, strong, and happy, like that penguin.
I had another cup of teapot tea which was almost as exciting as a barefoot run if I’m honest, whist Deri chatted easily about his transition into barefoot running, what books or articles I should read and that perseverance is key.
So, what did I learn on my barefoot jaunt? Here’s my top ten;
- Running barefoot is weirdly spiritual. (I would say I'm reasonably cynical when it comes to these sorters of things but it's the only way I can describe it.)
- Barefoot running is liberating but not in the sense you may think. Having no shoes on firstly reminded me of being on holidays but then it was like being a kid again, as I’ve mentioned above.
- I run wrong. There's nothing to hide behind when one takes their daps off so when I got home after said jaunt and found huge, purple, blisters on most of my toes it highlighted that I push off my toes when I trot which might explain why I've never got skin on them!
- Running barefoot correctly will make your calves hurt. I never ache, never suffer, but three miles in Carmarthen with no shoes saw me literally have to crawl out of bed for the next few days.
- Like most things running, barefoot running is all in the confidence! (And a bit in the technique!) Google it a lot before you have a go and definitely read Born To Run. But, and this is the awkward bit, try not to overthink it. My next barefoot run is taking longer and longer to do because as the days pass my nerve is fraying further.
- Transition is key! So, I’ve done one proper barefoot run and I’ll start gradually incorporating them into my training. On smaller runs to start! I will, I definitely will…
- Talking of transition, apparently this is the bit that can take a while and I can see why. I’m not confident to go out with no shoes again, but I am willing to work on my technique and practice, also, the thought of my calves hurting the way they did does make me slightly twitchy!
- Go with someone! Having someone hold my hand was key. Having someone explain what was what and what I should be doing, feeling, experiencing, made the entire thing far easier than I imagine my second guessing would have.
- My feet did not hurt during the run. My feet though, did get blistered, HOWEVER, in hindsight, I’m pretty sure this had nothing to do with being barefoot and lots to do with the fact I’m still wearing the wrong trainers! Although, I suppose, only time will tell on this. I will keep you posted.
- People will be horrified that you took your shoes off and the only real interest they have about it is whether you stood in dog poo or not! Keep your mind open. It really was one of the greatest runs I’ve had.
Anyway, here’s some links to some useful reading and info that you may want to pursue should you want to take your shoes off to run.
And what does the barefoot running future hold for me? Well, I’m thinking about running Cardiff half minus the daps…
Let me know your thoughts?
Thank you Deri Reed! Diolch!