As I was running barefoot in Ladywell today, my mind wandered to why I have found it so easy lately. Last year when I stopped and had to start from nothing, I had cramps and numerous niggling injuries that wouldn’t let me continue to build up to a standard three miles. (On one occasion I even managed to garner an injury on a 1 mile walk). This time round, nothing. I have done everything barefoot and I have not had a single twitch or twang anywhere. I have made mistakes. I let my feet get too wet and a sharp stone scratched my heel. And you do get the occasional discomfort from those metatarsal twigs under giant elms. They seem to settle themselves into the tonsures between the struggling tussocks under the canopy. These ‘eeks’ are easily offset by the changing landscape that you can feel beneath your feet, from the cool dewy grass in the shade, to the moist warmth of that which has been in the sun.
I don’t know why, but it made me think of Robert Zemeckis’ 1997 film Contact (from Carl Sagan’s novel) which tries to imagine how first contact with alien life would play out, politically. Ambient research continues for years with Jodie Foster’s character working tirelessly listening in on the galaxy for whispers of life. After seemingly endless work a data signal is discovered, containing blueprints beamed across the galaxies to any intelligences smart enough to read them. The plans provide detailed instructions for how to construct a pod that will transport one human to who-knows-where. The suits and safety technicians construct a chair and a safety harness for the pod, but Jodie’s character is mindful. She wants to trust the plans which say nothing about any contents in the pod, except a person. As the machinery around the pod boots up, comms go down, weird magnetic fields are created outside the pod, but Jodie whimpers that she’s ‘OK to go’. The floor of the pod starts to become translucent, a wormhole is opening up beneath her feet ‘I’m OK to go’. The pod is dropped and she is travelling faster than the speed of light. And it’s a rough ride. Jodie starts to judder like buggery. The vibration becomes so severe that it sounds like the pod will fall apart. At the end of one wormhole she enters another. The vibration now becomes life-threatening. Then she sees that her necklace has come off; it floats, buoyant in the air. She decides to detach her chest harness from the seat and, she too floats. The screws and hinges of the chair rattle so hard like they will explode. Then the chair breaks, and it floats, too. All is peaceful in the land of pod. The deafening noise is silenced.
I wondered if running shoes might not be a little bit like the chair in the pod? For the body’s biomechanics, and especially that of the foot, are already incredibly technologically complex. Our feet have cushioning, sprung mechanisms, a 100 moving parts; they are already built to do exactly what they are supposed to do. Their design is the best that nature has come up with over millions of years. The spongy motion-control shoe is like the chair in the pod, it is a clunky safety mechanism designed by the suits because they know best. It introduces all kinds of statistical noise into what is already a highly complex mechanism.
One of the many attractions of running, for me and for many, is that I can step out of the door and run. I don’t have to remember to take my gym membership card, carry a towel, remember my shampoo, rely on a friend to hit the ball back over the net. Running barefoot means that I have got this list down to shorts, shirt, door key. And this time round, at least, instead of being injured, or nagged by niggles, when the air beckons, ‘I’m OK to go’.