Exercise at least 2-3 times a week, and notice how it affects your energy level.
I never liked running when I grew up. I tried many times — I ran with my basketball friends, I ran with my father (who ran all the time), I ran at school, in the army, in the forest (orienteering), alone, in races, to get fit, to get somewhere, to learn how to love running. I ran a lot. It never helped. I never liked running that much. (It didn’t help that I was quicker than most at short distances, but always ended up at the very back of the pack once the distances were measured in kilometers.)
Running just wasn’t my thing. And yet it was.
You see, my mind was tuned in to endurance sports, even though my muscles weren’t. I always preferred the long, slow pain to the exploding, short pain. I never liked to give 100% for one minute, but I seemed to almost enjoy giving 80% for an hour. To be exhausted after hours of playing semi-intense basketball was preferable to be exhausted after playing one über-intense hour. And I much preferred playing basketball outdoors, whenever I could. Indoors the air was thicker, the sounds were more menacing, and even though I loved playing, I always got a slight hint of claustrophobia in gyms.
I was a long-distance runner in my mind, I just didn’t know it.
One day, though, everything changed. I took off my shoes.
True, I had tried to walk around without shoes before. My father told me that some people wear no shoes at all, and that they get thick skin under their feet — but when I tried, I felt naked and I didn’t like the sensation of crushing ants with my soles. So it was a short-lived experiment. But some years ago, I decided to try it out anew.
One morning, I stepped out in our street with all the usual running gear, except shoes, ran slowly and gently a couple of hundred meters, and hurried back to have the ritual post-training shower.
That’s how I became a long distance runner.
By taking off my shoes, I discovered that my running technique had been terrible all along. I suddenly realized that the reason why my running and the running of proper runners felt like two different sports, was because I did about everything wrong. But no-one had told me, and it took some feedback from my naked feet to make me see it.
By taking off my shoes, I discovered how much I really liked running. Because it’s more fun to run when you do it properly, of course — but most of all because every run is a symphony of sensations from the ground. I step on asphalt, on pebbles and twigs, run through puddles and over sand. I skip over rocks and jump over dog poo. In shoes, the symphony would have been muted and much less enjoyable.
When you come back from a barefoot run, you feel elated. You smile for no apparent reason, and you somehow feel that you and your body are one. You feel like a child who has to come in because it’s bedtime: even though you’re tired and need rest, you just want to stay outside and play some more, run some more, have some more fun.
One morning this winter I went for a run in shoes, and when I came back, I felt like I had done a job. I ran slightly faster, but I also ran shorter than I usually do, and I didn’t smile when I came back in. It will be many years till I run with shoes again.
My energy level rises slightly when I run with shoes; it triples when I run without. And whenever I go weeks without running, I tend to become cranky and irritable. A wise old man needs to be fit, right? And for the foreseeable future, running is my thing.
So for as long as my body will let me, I will continue to do my thing. I’ll run. Barefoot.