You might have run for years or maybe just a few weeks, then you stopped thinking “I am not good at running, running hurts, running is tiring, running is boring.” Now something inside of you (or maybe just your doctor) is telling you that it’s time to figure out how to run again. There is just one problem: you’re afraid you’re gonna fail once again and it’s definitely going to happen, unless you keep on reading.
Look back for one second
Once upon a time, if you found yourself running it was probably because you were either chasing a potential source of food or you were trying to avoid being turned into food. Running was a necessity. Nowadays, we start running for some reason (health, our partner makes us do it, etc.) but after some time it can happen that we stop because we don’t see the point of doing it, rightfully so. Where is the tasty reward? Where is the furious mama boar chasing us? Where is the village we have to reach by sunrise to warn our allies about the approaching enemies? The more you keep searching for an answer and the more hopeless you get. In the worst cases, not only does running feel pointless but it also feels painful and overly tiring. Basically, a disaster.
How is it possible that an activity that was part of our ancestors’ daily life, an activity to which our body and mind adapted over the centuries has become a method of self-torture?
In pursuit of meaning
As I said, in the past, running mostly meant food and safety, and in both cases the outcome corresponded to either an immediate reward or an immediate loss. The psychological consequence of this was that most of the time, at the end of the effort you would know whether you were done with running for the day and could enjoy the reward, or more running was expecting you. There wasn’t such a thing as a running weekly schedule or a 3-month preparation for a 10K. Every day or so you knew that your reward depended on both your legs and your mental preparedness. What about today? Well, most of us consider running as a valid form of exercise and it certainly helps stay healthy. Yet, since our brain hasn’t changed much in thousands of years, psychologically, the idea of getting fit can hardly be compared to that immediate reward I mentioned earlier, since such a goal takes time, commitment and consistency, otherwise you’re unlikely to see any significant improvement.
Based on my long-time experience in the running world, broadly speaking, there are two types of runners: 1) the ones that always have a race scheduled in the following months and all their motivation depends on it, and 2) the ones
that don’t really like running but do it just because running is the easiest form of physical activity there is. Not even in the runners from the first category have I ever been able to spot a clear form of immediate reward. To them running often seems to be a sort of continuous and silent battle between the desire to reach the race day and the struggle to minimize the physical (and psychological) harm running itself was causing. To me finding out all these hidden realities was disappointing because it indicated that the essence of running had been totally distorted.
Your brain is a greedy creature
Let me ask you a question: what do we usually associate food with? A good answer is likely to be pleasure. How often do you happen to eat something you don’t like? Hopefully, only when your friend decides to experiment with a sophisticated French dish… Our ancestors had to run or at least work hard to get food. Flavorful, caloric and nutritious food was their reward and undoubtedly, after all that running and perhaps days spent eating just tasteless roots and acorns, the pleasure associated with it was unbeatable. If we take immediate reward (that is, immediate pleasure) out of the equation, running almost becomes aimless. If you didn’t stop because of an injury, I would say that this is a likely reason why you did.
Pleasure arises from the act of running itself
If you want to run again in today’s world and stop failing because of lack of motivation, you need to provide your brain with that sought-after sense of immediate pleasure, and at the same time feel that your body is benefiting from every step you take. It sounds like a difficult task but years of experience and research led me to the conclusion that the only way to completely flip the perception of running is by focusing on the act of running itself. Essentially, the act of running itself becomes the main source of immediate reward. This sounds like an even more difficult task but behind it lies an extremely simple action: ditch your current running shoes and learn how to set your feet free.
Most of the disastrous yet truthful description of running I provided can be ascribed to the shoes you’ve been wearing. It sounds strange because in the end, you were born wearing shoes and kept wearing shoes till now with two main ideas: feet need protection and comfort requires shoes. Well, what you have actually been doing is over-protecting your feet and getting used to a fictitious sense of comfort. The repercussion of this has been an almost complete detachment from your feet at multiple levels (as I also mentioned in my previous article). Feet truly represent the foundation of the body thanks to their wonderful bio-engineering design and the thousands of receptors in the sole plus the ones inside the foot itself that are responsible for an incredible series of physical and mental responses.
By wearing modern running shoes, you turn off proper proprioception (perception of the self) and effective communication with your feet. Till now, it’s as though you had been sitting in a dark cave unable to move: here, the dim light coming from the entrance projected distorted and blurry shadows on the wall in front of you; as the time passed by, these shadows became your sole reality and you forgot that you are endowed with the perfect tool to set yourself free: that is, knowledge. Whatever most foot experts and running shoes companies have been telling you about the way feet work is a lie, for the most part. Lots and lots of money has been revolving around the modern running shoes business thanks to a powerful lobby that over time took control over the footwear market. They have been using this power to make runners addicted to their products by introducing shoes that injure their body and weaken their feet. They flood our brain with sexy ads and show us flashy and “ultra-technological” shoes because that’s the only thing they’re really good at. In reality, the most serious yet subtle outcome has been the disruption of the idea of running as an act of pleasure and self-care.
Reawaken yourself with minimalist shoes
This original idea of running can be restored only if you understand and experience the fact that feet are built to sense the world and stay actively engaged. This path of self-discovery begins by including so-called minimalist shoes in your daily life which are shoes that have been stripped with all the unnecessary protection and oddly-shaped insoles. This way you provide exactly the right amount of protection you need (not much is needed) while allowing your feet to talk to you with (almost) as much freedom as bare feet.
By combining minimalist shoes with the right amount of barefoot running, every step turns what used to be struggle into pleasure on multiple levels: 1) sensory pleasure: your feet are now fully engaged in the motion of running and no longer encased in a dark cave; the receptors on the bottom of your feet finally wake up and start talking to you, telling you about the world you’re moving on; your whole body responds to this myriad of stimuli by readjusting itself and spontaneously dealing with pains and posture issues; 2) psychological pleasure: your brain receives new stimuli from the feet and from the rest of the body which turns running into a never-ending learning experience (and the ability to learn is the main feature that makes us human); you feel relieved because you thought you were not meant for running and this made you feel guilty, whereas now you realize that the type of shoes you used to wear was to be blamed. Overall, all this massive and unexpected amount of information you accumulate just by unchaining them gives you the sensation that exploring the world means first of all, being part of it. Starting with your feet.
Walking comes before running
The beauty of this newly-acquired knowledge about running is that it can be easily applied to something even more basic than running, that is walking. Simply put, turn walking into an unpleasant, risky and/or boring activity, and you’ll see that people will prefer sitting on the couch or driving rather than using their feet to walk.
The immediate reward of walking can derive from walking itself, only if we give our feet the possibility to experience pleasure once again. How many times do I see people of all ages in museums, on the street, on the mountains, etc. complaining about foot pain, uncomfortable shoes, back pain, knee pain, and so on? My impression is that millions of people are totally discouraged to maintain a more active life because they’ve been convinced that there’s something wrong with their feet and their body, whereas in reality, they don’t know that the source of all these problems could be right at their feet.
Again, the easiest and most sensible solution to these problems consists of switching to minimalist shoes.
No matter how long you’ve been struggling with running or walking, it’s never too late to jump into this journey of self-discovery. Feet first.
Live wise. Live in motion.
PS check out the best minimalist shoes and share your thoughts with me, my friend.