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Baring my soles!

I’m a fan of McDougall’s book ‘Born To Run’ – as a result of which I went in search of chia seeds, and dabbled in minimalist running. I have been wearing Vibram Five Fingers for a year and a half now (three-quarters of that while expecting Dragon Babe!), but never really gave a thought to trying to run completely barefoot – not while still shedding post-natal pounds anyway! However, when the Bare With Me group organised the first ever Barefoot Running Clinic & Fun Run, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to bare it all (footwear, that is) and take to the road. A controlled environment, medical help on hand, fellow newbies to relate to, Malaysian barefoot running sifus hailing from Kuantan and Shanghai to provide guidance – what could be better?

No, not the audition for penguins on Happy Feet.. just something for the resilience of your ankles!

No, not the audition for penguins on Happy Feet.. just something for the resilience of your ankles! (Source: Photo by Rich Chai, accessed on the ‘Bare With Me’ Facebook group)

I got to the Boathouse at the Lake Gardens a little late after finally finding parking by the pavement outside the now-under-construction Bukit Aman carpark. I had missed the initial session by sifu Wah Sing, but was in time for the talk by sifu Seow Kong on the mechanics of forefoot striking, posture essentials (looking up, and relaxing those shoulders!) and on running (and landing) light. An interesting fact that has never occurred to me until the point was made by way of a participative demo, is how the body naturally switches to shock-absorbing mode when we land on our feet. Upon landing after a jump, you would land on your forefeet/toes first, and your knees bend to absorb the impact. All in all, you land lightly so as to not jar your knees and other joints. This momentarily brought me back to the basics taught in ballet class during my childhood days – this is exactly how dancers land!

The mandatory group shot! (Source: Photo by Chuah Sakura)
The mandatory group shot! (Source: Photo by Chuah Sakura, accessed through the ‘Bare With Me’ Facebook group)

We then got onto our feet to try some walking exercises – on the balls of our feet, on our heels, with feet internally rotated, with feet externally rotated – the goal in the long run being to develop ankle stability. Other exercises included running on the spot (on the forefeet, of course) while kicking the free leg towards the back upon landing, leaping and landing on one leg (a’la ballerina), and skipping. Strong core muscles would also be necessary. In fact, a strong core is necessary for running in general, not just minimalist running – backaches would set in if one doesn’t hold one’s upper body up properly. (A reminder to self to try not to skip pilates sessions!)

Don't we love the quality tarmac at the Lake Gardens!
Don’t we love the quality tarmac at the Lake Gardens!

The last exhortation was to focus on picking up the legs at the knees, and thereafter on switching to the opposite leg, rather than thinking of how you are landing. Not dissimilar to what to watch out for in rhythm tap dance when it comes to executing, say, a series of flaps, I remember telling myself. Ballet, tap, running. It felt as if the universe of physical activity was suddenly all falling into place.

Armed with these tips and instructions, we then proceeded on a 2.36km run – one round around the Lake Gardens. I ran holding my Vibrams in one hand, and probably raised a few eyebrows along the way. The experience on the lower limbs was very similar to running on Vibrams, though definitely more liberating – there’s nothing quite like the feeling of your toes being in direct contact with your running surface, feeling the changing textures and temperatures of the ground.

Love the ankle strap - complete with a reflector

Love the ankle strap – complete with a reflector

Goodie bags were distributed at the end, with mementos including an ankle strap for affixing timing chips during races (‘cos barefooters wouldn’t have shoelaces or straps to fix their chips on to!). Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the breakfast. All in all, I felt that the workshop was probably the best RM50 ever spent.

Nowhere near being Hobbit-like yet.

Nah, nowhere near being Hobbit-like yet.

Did I get any blisters, you may ask? No, I didn’t. The toes, balls and heels on both feet have been looking a little reddish but there are no pains or aches. Which is a good thing as I have a series of rhythm tap dance flash-mob performances going on this Saturday.. but I’ll leave that for a different blogpost 😉 Am now quite inspired to start going barefoot on short-distance runs (a 5K would be a good start), aside from my road-to-21K training. Anyone up to joining me?

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About speedshuffle (73 Articles)
Wen Li is a runner, blogger, mother, educator and artist. She is the Co-Founder and Cartoonist of Malaysia's first comic strip on running, Running Toons (facebook.com/RunningToons) and is a Compressport Ambassador. Her running story was featured in Marie Claire Malaysia's April 2016 issue alongside several other notable women running bloggers. She runs wherever the road takes her, come scorching sunshine, stifling humidity or relentless rain (and preferably to a Nasi Lemak breakfast!). Apart from pounding the asphalt, she also enjoys hiking and pilates, and is now attempting CrossFit!

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