I grew up running barefoot on paved Michigan county roads, graduated to marathon running in Converse Chucks tennis shoes, and had the honor of jogging with Micah True of Born to Run in Mexico´s Copper Canyon before he ran to exhaustion recently in New Mexico. RIP.
The effects of trotting barefoot as the author points out are obvious to anyone who has tried it both ways. The heel extends farther allowing the calf muscles and Achilles tendon to lengthen. Repeat this tens of thousands of times and there´s a physical change in the legs and gait. One notices the same effects in hiking long distance, say on the soft rather than hard soil of the Vermont Long Trail, or running the beach during low tide, or around that well-trodden track within Central Park. In all places, barefoot or not but better barefoot if the feet hold up, the effects all stem from widening of the unshod foot, and from a longer, more natural stride.
Here´s a story from Micah True´s lips after he threw a playful kick at me about four years ago to demonstrate his world ranking as a kick boxer. Most people knew him as a runner, then as a boxer, but he also had a stint as a full contact pugilist that has a sanguine ending. Micah had terrific reach at maybe 6´4¨ with arms and legs. He got into the boxing ring once and found that years of running barefoot provided the balance and stamina required to kept him in the ring long enough to win fights. He got a small time manager on a two-bit boxing circuit like Louis L. A’mour. He also started writing a fictionalized account in the buses and skid row hotels as he traveled, that was his shadow boxer.
He went on a winning streak, as the book reflected, and because he was so tall and Caucasian his agent got him a contract with the 2nd ranked in the world full contact karate champion. The bout was three weeks away on the Pacific Rim, but True had the boxing technique, and the savvy to know that if he threw the required half-dozen or so required kicks per round he could oust the man with his longer reach punches. He won, and for a few weeks was ranked #4 in the world of full contact martial arts.
With the notoriety, he fell in love, as the novel he scribbled between bouts reflected, he told me, with a beautiful masseuse who massaged him before matches and unlimbered him after. As sometimes happens in the sordid boxing world, she ran off with another boxer, and he was so distraught that he lost a pivotal match he should have won. His world ranking fell until it was no longer economically feasible to travel overseas for full contact karate, and he reverted to the second-rate American boxing circuit, riding in buses, sleeping in flophouses…
His novel began to mix up his mind so he could no longer identify between what happened on the pages and in real life. He wrote a happy ending but didn’t know if he could reach it. So he retreated from both to the California redwoods where he built a bonfire, lit a cigarette, and one by one fed the hundreds of pages of the novel into the fire.
Unbridled now, he returned to running distances. He picked out spots 25 miles away in the Copper Canyon that fifteen Grand Canyons can drop into, and ran there, and back, and this is what he was doing when I met him on a hike. Then he died and we are talking about the length of his stride.