Footloose

You’ll want these for all your Natural Running

Work gloves for the feet, that’s what they look like, at least at a first glance. Fashionable if a little eccentric, well-cut certainly, but all too easily dismissed as just another gewgaw you don’t really need. Until you put them on and take a few tentative steps.

Already Leonardo da Vinci told us that “the human foot is a work of art and a masterpiece of engineering.” It comprises 26 bones, 33 joints, 20 muscles and hundreds of sensory receptors, all working in harmonious fluidity, reading the ground, adjusting to it. If you let them, that is, and most of the shoes we wear do not. They keep the feet locked in a state of sensory depravation, making them feel like clods.

Most of us love to kick off our shoes on the beach or a lawn, and walk barefoot, feeling the graininess of sand or the softness of grass with our soles. But what if you could walk barefoot anywhere you like? Around town, in the forest, even along a mountain trail?

The Vibram FiveFingers – those gloves for the feet which evolved from non-slippery boat shoes – make this perfectly feasible, protecting your feet and toes from harsh surfaces while maintaining the sensation of walking barefoot.  Continue reading

Introduction to slacklining

Put some slack into your life and regain your balance

Like many good things, the slackline came to me through a friend’s recommendation. I was having issues with my balance. Nothing major, but annoying enough to notice. A wobble here and there, a fizz of vertigo, unexplained dizziness. Next, I could no longer stand on one leg to put on a shoe. Hopscotching from one river rock to another, or using a fallen log for a footbridge, I would invariably end up getting wet.

Balance goes with age, my friend, a body therapist and martial arts practitioner told me, and we all have a choice to either let it deteriorate or to arrest the fall. The latter was best done with exercises and slackline was the preferred tool. The good news was that it was all more fun than hard work.

Slackline is like a tightrope only that, well, it is not tight, and it is not a rope but a length of webbing, most commonly either 50 mm or 25 mm wide. You string it between two trees, posts or other solid anchors – even between tow bars of two vehicles – tension it just so, and then you try to stand up on it and walk.

Of course, it is impossible, at least it feels like it. The line wobbles out of control and it throws you off like a catapult. Then, when you’re just about to give up, a minor miracle occurs: you manage to stand on the line for a few seconds. A couple days later you take the first baby step, then another, then you learn to walk backwards. After a month or so you begin to think: how can I turn around on this thing?

“So what?” I hear you say. Why bother with such circus stunts? Well, here’s the secret. After you’ve trained your body to walk on this piece of nothing coming back to the ground, walking on earth, feels like a joyful dance. Easy, whether you’re walking a city footpath or a mountain goat trail.  Continue reading

Natural Running workshops

Last year I wrote a story for New Zealand Geographic magazine titled RUN FOR YOUR LIFE about the natural running revolution. As part of the research for it I attended a natural running workshop with James Kuegler aka Kugs in Queenstown.

The workshop happened as about a dozen more people joined the one-on-one session I was to have with Kugs and it was a memorable day. We all learnt a lot.

I have just heard from James that he will be doing a series of natural running workshops around the country beginning on November 23rd. He will be visiting 18 towns around New Zealand presenting his Natural Running Workshop, and Off-Road Running Workshops. The locations are: Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Mount Maunganui, Rotorua, Gisborne, Napier, Taupo, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Wellington, Blenheim, Nelson, Christchurch, Queenstown, Wanaka, Dunedin, and Timaru.

If you are into running, whether as a weekend jogger or a serious athlete, such workshop is a must for you. There has been so much misinformation about proper technique of running  there is no wonder that almost everyone who runs suffers from running-related injuries at one time or another. It doesn’t need to be so. Running is the most natural way of movement for humans. As Christopher McDougall wrote, we are Born to Run.

For more background on why you want to learn – or rather relearn –  this natural way of running see my NZ Geo story. I enclose the snippet below:

RUN FOR YOUR LIFE

Maybe it was the lengthy book project or the endless music rehearsals, both of which entailed untold sedentary hours, with the heart rate elevated only by coffee and mental athletics. Or perhaps it was just normal ageing, proceeding on schedule but unacknowledged, if not outright denied. The worst thing was, in my mind, I could still do it.

In my mind, I could still run up mountains where others had to walk. No matter how temporarily slothful I became, I always had enough residual fitness to be up for any adventure with anyone. Alas, my self-image was seriously out of date, and the strength of the delusion only made greater the shock that followed.

There is a hill called Mt Iron on the outskirts of our town, shaped like a Sphinx and clearly the work of Ice Age glaciers. In other places you might call it a mountain, but in Wanaka, on the edge of the Southern Alps, it’s merely a hill, its zigzagging trails a jogging loop for townsfolk of all ages. In the past, I could easily run up and down this hill, twice in a session.

But this time it was different. As soon as I reached the bottom hairpin bend of the climb, I knew something was wrong. My heartbeat had a subwoofer quality and the tick of a runaway metronome. I couldn’t get enough air and my legs felt as though they were not my own. By the time I climbed to the third bend, my body refused to go on. I stopped, bent double, hands on knees, feeling like I might faint, sucking air like a man drowning.  Continue reading