I made a New Years Resolution January of this year to start running again. Surprisingly, I kept it, and most days of the month I go for at least a four or five mile run. When I set my goal, I was staying in Brooklyn with my grandparents – which probably provided me with some push because I didn’t know the area that well and wanted to feel more comfortable in the city. So for the month of January, every morning I woke up, put on my running tights, long sleeve shirt, wool hat, and gloves, laced up my Solomon trail runners, and ran off through the cold air and the snowy sidewalks. And it was lovely.
I ran through Brooklyn – to Red Hook down Henry Street, or along the park beneath the Promenade. Sometimes I ran over the bridge into Manhattan, across to the West Side Highway, and up the bike path, past Chelsea Pier to the aircraft carrier Intrepid. It was a great way to explore the city – I feel much more comfortable and at home here, and people have even started to ask me for directions when I’m standing at street corners. Running provided me not only with fitness but with a sense of belonging and home – because to run comfortably, you have to be able to put caution to the wind. I don’t ever want to have to stop repeatedly and try to figure out where I’m going. Some of the fun of running comes in putting your head down and going fast, feeling confident that even if you get lost, at least you’ll get lost quickly and hopefully find your way out just as quickly.
I am in Brooklyn for Thanksgiving, and the first thing I did when I got here was put my shoes on and go for a run around the Promenade. It’s pretty short, so I treat it like a track – I go around and around and around until I am too tired to keep going. I ran around Brooklyn the past two days, and today decided to do a long run over the bridge into Manhattan. And I noticed two things that I didn’t notice last time I was here because, well, I was one of the only people who wanted to run outside in the middle of January.
First, the prevalence of Vibram Five Fingers has increased exponentially. And the misuse of Five Fingers has increased as well. I have two pairs, actually, but I have made sure to use them appropriately and with proper form. They are incredibly enjoyable to run in – I feel like I can fly because my feet aren’t weighed down by heavy shoes. But running barefoot takes a huge amount of practice. I have read that it can take a full year to fully ‘break in’ your feet to the new experience. And as someone who injured the balls of his feet by overusing Five Fingers, I completely understand. When I bought my first pair, I liked them so much that I wore them all day, every day, everywhere. I didn’t even notice that my feet hurt until a friend pointed out that I was walking funny. I thought I had stress fractures, and I put the shoes away for two months before returning to them this fall.
It’s very important to run properly in Five Fingers. It is unlikely that you will purchase them and immediately be able to go as quickly as you can in your regular shoes. Focus on landing on the front of your foot, not the heel, and using your upper legs and glutes to provide forward motion. I saw many people today running just as they would in regular shoes, and every time a heel struck the ground, I winced, thinking of the shockwave shooting up the leg, through the knee and hip joints, and into the back. Five Fingers are not a magic cure – barefoot running takes as much practice as anything else to perfect, and I am not nearly at an expert level.
The other funny thing I saw today was simply the volume of people on the road. I felt like I was running a marathon – and I was almost in the lead, because I passed nearly everyone I saw. I think the other serious runners were waiting until the evening – or had run in the early, early morning – because when I went out, everyone and his family was enjoying a jog. People were trotting five-wide on the Brooklyn Bridge, and I had to angrily clear my throat and threaten to spit just to get people to move out of the way. Why do people wear iPods when they run in groups? If you are in a group, running slowly, turn off your music and talk to your partners! Everyone wanted to work off some of the incoming Thanksgiving calories. But from the looks of it, many of those people had taken their pristine running gear out of a closet, put it on for the day, and then were planning on returning it to the same closet tomorrow morning. I wish they would keep running – I did, and I feel so much healthier now that I run all the time. I hear people saying that they hate running, it’s hard, it’s boring, it’s not the best exercise. But I completely disagree – running is meditative and allows me to entertain myself with my imagination, I can explore new places, and I feel fantastic after a great run. And it’s so easy to notice results after just a few weeks of running!
To all the Thanksgiving runners I saw: keep your shoes by the front door! Go for at least a short run every day! You will feel great, and next Thanksgiving you’ll be able to eat more delicious Pilgrim noms than you ever have before.