I recently got a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, an athletic shoe that offers the "barefooting alternative." Essentially, they conform to your feet, protecting them from the ground and the elements, while allowing them to move freely, almost as if you aren't wearing shoes. Supposedly, this is a superior way to move.
It took a little work to get them on--you have to wiggle each toe into its enclosure individually. They're kind of silly-looking; as the eight-year-old I spent the weekend babysitting for said, they look "like you stuck your feet in the tar pits and somehow managed to get them out." That said, they're amazingly comfortable--it's easy to forget you have anything on when you're wearing them.
I had yet to wear them on my nightly run. I'd been nervous that the hard concrete of my neighborhood would be too much for them and that I would injure my feet. Still, they weren't doing me any good sitting in the corner of my bedroom. Tonight, I decided, would be my test run...literally.
It was, in a word, amazing. I could feel every inch of pavement as it hit my feet, but it didn't hurt--I just knew it was there. Without an inch-and-a-half of rubber between my feet and the street, as with regular running shoes, I could actually feel my feet hit the road--heel, ball, toe, heel, ball, toe...I've never been so aware of how my feet move. My stride actually changed as my comfort increased--from quick, pounding trudges to light little leaps. The shift changed the way my whole body moved--to the point that my yoga pants went cascading down my hips a few times.
It occurred to me as I sailed down Valencia Street, that the barefooting alternative might be a good way to live--in the bigger picture. Beyond running, the idea of feeling everything, increasing my awareness of my surroundings and how I move, behave, speak and feel, with the goal of getting in touch with how I naturally exist in the world seems like a pretty good one to me.