January 13, 2012

Summer Feet

Summer Feet

Today I am writing from the beautiful island of Barbados in the West Indies. I am – really  – here for work, attending and speaking a the Inaugural Caribbean Obesity Forum. This beautiful island nation, sitting near the equator, lives in what most of us would consider to be perpetual summer. It makes my home in Southern California appear to have “real” seasons.

For those of you who are runners, you have probably recognized in the name of this blog the title of the now-famous running book by Christopher Macdougall, Born To Run. If you are unfamiliar, the very well-written book tells the history and the story of the rise of the barefoot running movement – with a focus on the tie in to the Tarahumara people of Mexico. Even if you have no interest in running, it’s a great read.

I am not the right person to comment on the pros and cons of running with or without shoes – many experts are weighing in on this these days. But having just completed a second reading of the book, and having walked on the sand of a beautiful tropical island today, I am thinking about feet.

Growing up as a kid in Southern California, we always talked about our “summer feet.”

Every year, as the weather got warmer and warmer we would start to kick off our shoes and toughen our feet.  The rationale (at least when we were 9 or 10) was that by July, the asphalt and the sand and the other places we walked would be so hot, that to step right out of our sneakers onto the ground  would be really painful.  So we would start in the Spring – especially on hotter days – acclimating our feet to the hotter and hotter ground.  By the time school got out for the summer, most of us could comfortably run through the neighborhood, ride a bike or skateboard, and walk all day on scorching hot sand – without our shoes and without pain.

Summer feet. It still makes me happy to think about them.  Why? Because when I think of summer feet I think of all the things that came with them:

  • Running through the streets with a pack of kids
  • Chasing down the ice-cream truck
  • Playing for hours at the beach

We did everything outside. On summer mornings, we would wake early head out with neighbors and friends, and not come back to the house until our mothers were shouting out the door for us as the sun went down.

While Macdougall writes about the health benefits of barefoot (or minimalist) running, he often highlights the childlike joy of the runners he profiles. I can’t recall running being a joyful part of my childhood in and of itself, but when I think about all those long lazy summer days spent barefoot and carefree, I can’t help but to smile.

In commenting on the “secret” of the Tarahumara, Mcdougall comments:

…They’s never forgotten what it felt like to love running. They remembered that running was mankind’s first art, the original art of inspired creation.

None of us literally want to be children again. What we want is to have the abandon of our childhood self available to us as fully mature adults. Without the discipline and maturity of my grown-up self, I would never run. But perhaps there are ways to bring a bit of our child-selves into our adult world and through that increase our own experiences of happiness in otherwise potentially tedious tasks.

While personally not ready to give up my shoes, I am ready to tap into that sense of freedom and delight that came with the barefoot days of childhood.


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