Born in Arkansas, raised in Texas, I have always hated to wear shoes, which doesn’t exactly ‘splain my Imelda Marcos-like closet of footwear. Nonetheless, my preferred shoes are no shoes. At the peak of my professional career, you could find me wandering the halls of my research suite barefooted – much to the chagrin of the chairman. My white coat and dress shoes were for committee meetings only! One of the great things about living in the Southwest – most of the year one can go shoeless, except for worrying about stepping on scorpions and stones and cactus spines and, well, you get the painful picture.
In 1994, we traveled to the Copper Canyon area of Mexico and learned of the Tarahumara Indians before they were made famous by many books. We would catch glimpses of the very shy people running on sandals made with soles of tires and leather straps to hold them on. Our guide told us about their amazing long distance races kicking balls until they fell apart and how a tribal leader, offended at the short distance when asked to provide representatives for a marathon, sent teen girls. Although I couldn’t relate to that type of running, I knew that barefoot running made sense – especially anatomically.
With my aging body, a nice bunion on my right foot, feet that are exactly 1 size different from one another, and slow recovery from myopathy, I had been toying with the idea of walking barefoot. After two weeks of being able to walk again without aggravating the myopathy too much (YAY!), I invested in a pair of Vibram FiveFingers KSO. The KSO stands for Keep Stuff Out – important because I prefer to trail-walk. Finding a fit wasn’t easy. I have big feet but teeny 5th toes. I took the first pair back to the store, but after a week in the smaller size, I am happily walking (almost) barefoot again across the trails surrounding our neighborhood. This means through deep sand, across gravel, over stones, around cacti, over roads and cobblestones to get to the trails, and back again.
So, how does this compare to walking in my professionally fitted shoes? Feels like my own darn feet! I am perfectly balanced, no pain anywhere, a little discomfort in my hips that is probably just the myopathy squawking, but no real adjustment. I live in a pair of Merrell sandals that have almost no soles, so when the marathon runner who fitted the KSOs warned about slowly breaking in my feet and calves, I suppressed a chuckle. First, I don’t run so going from heel-strike to fore-foot was not an issue. Second, I had been walking barefooted and in my sandals everywhere for the past 3 months. Third, God did not create shoes on the 7th day. Fourth, well, there is no 4th. I’m just glad to be walking for exercise again!