... from Sofa to Barefoot

Like many guys my age fast approaching 40, I have enjoyed my 30s ... probably too much; the best food, the best drink ... and lots of it. Once svelt, now blurred ... very blurred!

I finished my smoking days at 30 and so have decided to get on top of my weight and fitness for my 40th. The catalyst was a short break to North Wales where I mused that if I lived down there I'd walk up my nearest mountain once a day ... laughter from my wife.

It occurred to me that we actually live at the top of a mountain, so to speak, and all around the elevation drops impressively; not to mention the moorland and woodland right there ... THERE ... on my doorstep.

No point procrastinating ... just get on with it.

I set out with three goals - a holy trinity, if you like:
I decided that I would begin by walking and maybe in a few months I might have the stamina and fitness to be able to run sections of a regular walk. I began with a short walk of just over half a mile over farmland on public right of way and bridleway - the route took in a serious drop of around 400 feet and a similar ascent although more gradual. I was shattered! My calves hurt, my shins hurt, I was out of breath ... but felt invigorated! I had crossed the first hurdle. Okay ... more of that ... several more days of that short route and maybe then start to think about a longer route.

Footwear? I wore some safety boots. Don't laugh! I didn't have any dedicated walking footwear and was not putting this off until I had some ... so I used what I thought was the most suitable. It has been a couple of decades since I last properly exercised and the last time I even thought about what the right footwear might be was probably back in school. I'm walking ... I need boots. By the second and third day the pain was too much and I'd found another route I liked which was more on the road with a good return up a track. I switched to some trainers.

As it happens, these trainers had a very flat sole and I found myself walking slightly differently with shorter steps ... it hurt less to do this ... and, I thought, I'd get more exercise with shorter steps. Able to push a mile now without pain it was clear that I needed to do some research and find suitable footwear for the routes I'd found - some road, mostly track and some moorland.

Gosh! Things have moved on since I last bought trainers or boots!

Whether right or wrong, I was immediately attracted to the whole minimalist thing.

I love the offbeat style of footwear and I love the ethic; more so, I found out about huaraches which appealed very much to my DIY attitude from my punk days. Steven Sashen's website at http://www.invisibleshoe.com and Ted McDonald's (Barefoot Ted, or BFT) at http://www.lunasandals.com inspired me. Before showing you my first steps into protected barefoot walking I should show you the minimalist shoes I actually owned and began to walk in ... with great ease and to great effect.

Reebok Travel Trainers

Reebok Travel Trainers
Reebok Travel Trainers

So, to huaraches ... I was intrigued ... surely you could feel the laces ... surely they felt odd. Without hesitation I cut up a car mat as a proof of concept:

Proof of concept huaraches
Gallery: http://www.pjgh.co.uk/gallery/huaraches_poc 

The laces did not catch, did not rub or dig in ... in fact, they felt quite good. Both Steven and Ted use Vibram soling and the Cherry sole at 4mm or 6mm was prescribed as "known good" and "the right one" ... but, I could not find this soling anywhere in the UK. Importing from the US was largely as expensive as the material itself and so I looked for alternatives and a brief experiment with gasket rubber pushed me towards biting the bullet and importing a sheet of this Vibram soling.

More on that in a minute ... first, my own huaraches cut from 6mm natural rubber:

Natural rubber huarches - 6mm
Gallery: http://www.pjgh.co.uk/gallery/rubber_6mm

Huaraches work so well! I am able to walk and even run down steep hills which have my toes jammed against the front of boots and I'm able to walk up those same hills. Mechanically, they work ... and it feels fantastic! Utterly liberating ... and curiously, not at all tiring.

I'm not saying the protected barefoot thing is for everyone - it might take some training, but I am lucky. Lucky? I am not a runner. I do not own running shoes. I do not own walking boots. I am barefoot around the house and garden almost all the time and wear flat, thin soles shoes for work. Fashion footwear is often flat or low soled, also. Taking on protected barefoot was easy for me and after the natural revelation that adjusting my walking style meant the pain went away I later found out that bio-mechanically that is what I should be looking to move towards.

Joy! My Vibram Cherry soling arrived from Steven at Invisible Shoe. Having made a proof of concept and made my first pair I was happy with the drill and more aware of cutting a more suitable shape, not to mention understanding that the recommended hole punch was the best tool for pushing the holes through - I am just waiting on the punch:

Invisible Shoe 4mm Vibram Cherry
Gallery: http://www.pjgh.co.uk/gallery/invisible_shoe

Invisible Shoe 4mm Vibram Cherry
Gallery: http://www.pjgh.co.uk/gallery/invisible_shoe 

I live in the North of England - high up. It is often colder, windier and wetter than most and so huaraches are reserved for fairer weather until I am more confident in them for muddy, windy and rainy walks. Sticking with Vibram I have a pair of Treksport which are now my daily walking shoes:

Vibram KSO Treksport
Gallery: http://www.pjgh.co.uk/gallery/vibram_treksport

It takes only a couple of minutes to acclimatise to spread toes and when out walking you fast forget that you are wearing them. Another few minutes and you get a jolt when you realise that you are walking over terrain which your brain tells you that you need boots or heavier shoes ... and you can feel the earth beneath you ... connected! The sensation is utterly liberating.

Within a month I am now walking 2 to 3 miles a day during the week and 3 to 5 miles each day of the weekend ... and running sections of my routes!

So, "Sofa to Barefoot"? Yes, I lifted the title in respect to David Csonka, author of 'Couch to Barefoot' and blogger at Naturally Engineered.

You can read all about it at ... and download a PDF at:
http://naturallyengineered.com/blog/couch-to-barefoot/
http://naturallyengineered.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/CouchToBarefoot.pdf


David tells us all about why barefoot and protected barefoot running is good.

I love it! It feels comfortable, it feels right, it feels natural and ... I'm gaining in fitness and stamina, losing weight and ... having a lot of fun!