Although I love to read, I don’t have the opportunity to read as many books as I would like. That probably leads to the excitement and enthusiasm I get every time I actually have the opportunity to sit down and read a book. For a good month or so after reading a new book, I am all excited to carry out ideas or things that I have learned or been inspired by.
A couple of months ago, I went through a book titled Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. It was a great book about a tribe of Indians living in the Copper Canyons of Mexico whose entire culture was built around running. For thousands of years they had run, sometimes ultra long 100-mile journeys between villages to socialize with other tribes. Christopher went down to the Copper Canyons to discover their secrets of running, and learn more about their culture. It was a fascinating book and one that I really enjoyed.
One component of the book discussed the mystery of how tribal members would run well into their 80’s with no major injuries to speak of. They would run across rough terrain in nothing but sandals or barefoot, and not suffer the typical knee and hip injuries that American runners face regularly. To make a long story short, Christopher makes a thesis that the majority of our running injuries are due to the running shoes we wear, and how they have promoted poor running form. He goes into considerable scientific research on how the cushioned shoes we wear have made our feet lazy, and casted our feet to hit the ground poorly.
Once again, I read a book and I was inspired. My wife listened to me and rolled her eyes as I told her I wanted to run an ultra 100-mile endurance run in barefeet through the Copper Canyons.
Due to a heavy bike racing season, I had not run in over 8-months, and I was itching to get back out there and go for a run. I was the perfect test subject for this barefoot running thing. I didn’t have any running races to train for, I had no intention of pushing my pace, and I had the patience it would take to retrain my body to run barefoot. I went out and bought a pair of shoes that would do nothing more than protect my barefeet from glass on the road. I dusted off the running gear and decided to hit the road like the Copper Canyon Indians.
I went on a ‘short’ 4 mile run to try the new technique. “Just a short four miles,” I thought.
As I limped home, my calves felt a sore burn that would last for a week. Running barefoot taxes your calves as they act as your natural shock absorbers against the road. My shock absorbers were spent. This new running thing was going to take a lot more time than I thought.
I dialed back my enthusiasm, did some more research, and started to run shorter distances until my legs built up the strength. Surprisingly enough, the typical running pain that I was used to in terms of sore knees, hips, groin and upper body was non-existent. My legs were getting stronger with every run. I loved how liberating it was to be more connected to the ground and the surface I was running on. Even the actual movement of running felt easier than before. I can’t say that I am a crazy disciple of the barefoot running movement yet, but through some trial, effort, and education, I am really enjoying the new element to my athletic life.
I was reflecting on this the other day, and thought how similar barefoot running is to our spiritual journey. God designed us a certain way. He designed us to love Him, to be connected to other believers, to love others and to live a disciplined life. We have done everything we can as people to ‘cushion’ our lives. We hide behind money, behind hobbies and activities, and come up with every excuse we can to avoid responsibility. “I don’t need to go to church because…, I don’t have time for the homeless because…, I am a good enough person and that’s enough because…” We put shoes on and go for our run through life and pray that it won’t hurt too much. In the process, we are often masking our inefficiency and weakness, and actually bringing pain to other areas of our lives.
What we really need is a little disciplined form work to strengthen our spirits, minds and bodies. Form work that requires us to step back, get back to the basics and spend the time to start doing it right. Sometimes the high road takes a little more effort and pain, but at the end of the day you will be much stronger, suffer less injury, and be much more connected to the world we are in. Take off your shoes…
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.