Of all the thousands of photos taken at the Newton Challenge Run on 1st January 2012, the one that raised my curiosity & captured my imagination was a photo of runner, Cheryl Tan, running barefoot with her shoes tucked under her running belt and Cheryl’s facial expression was one of utter serenity. Until that point, I didn’t even know barefoot runners existed. My first reaction was to laugh it off, why would someone in their right mind want to run barefoot when it was hard enough to run with shoes. At the same time, I did like the idea of going back to basics of running barefoot because it reminded me of my carefree childhood when wearing shoes was unimportant. Moreover, I do enjoy the feeling of running barefoot along the beach during the holidays. Nevertheless, running on soft sand is miles away from running on an unforgiving tarmac of the city roads.
When I started asking some friends what they thought of me wanting to run barefoot, their responses and opinions were surprisingly clear and decisive – “What on earth would you want to do that for!?”, “You are going to cut-up your feet with the broken glass on the road”, “It’s unhygienic. You will catch something”. Their corresponding facial expressions ranged from one of bewilderment, consternation to outright indignation. All these opinionated reactions, got me thinking – why are people so against running barefoot when none of them has actually tried it?
I guess it was that rebellious streak in me which led me to go against the wishes of my friends and I decided to give barefoot running a go at the Multi-Purpose Insurance 12 km Run on 8th January 2012.
With butterflies in my stomach, I suited-up under the street lights of the Bukit Aman Police HQ parking lot. A guy called Mani asked me, “You running barefoot?” I replied with hesitation and uncertainty, “Yes”. Having arrived early at Padang Merbuk, I had plenty of time to warm-up & stretch before we watched the women flagged-off first.
As I waited nervously at the starting line for the men’s turn, some of the other runners were making fun of my bare feet. I did not let their comments fluster me as I knew this was their way of releasing nervous tension with some friendly banter. Another veteran runner asked me how many races have I ran barefoot. I looked him straight in the eye, and admitted it was my first time.
From the starting hooter, I was worried that someone was going to step on my bare toes especially at the start when all the runners were running shoulder-to-shoulder and jostling for position. Before the 1km point, I noticed another barefoot runner shoot past me which I found-out later was called Calvin. Determined not to step on any sharp objects, I kept my eyes firmly on the road. Before the 3km drink station, my buddy, Syed, overtook me as expected. Apart from keeping my feet injury-free, I was also determined to complete the full 12km. With every 1km covered, I was cheering myself on – “this is your 1st 1km run barefoot; this is your first 2km run barefoot’” etc.
At the 5km mark, I noticed another younger barefoot runner (later I found-out his name was Lee from Kuantan) speeding pass everyone along the grass patch. I followed his cue, and the soft grass gave my feet the respite I needed.
Around the 10km mark, the rough roads of the affluent Bukit Tunku was slowing me down as I hopped gingerly along. Looking for some relieve on the smoother pavements, I ran along a seasoned barefoot runner, Sumes. It was getting frustrating at the end because I had enough gas in my tank to increase my tempo but the painfully uneven roads meant I had to tread carefully and slowly. Crossing the finishing line was a great relieve, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a cold cup of sweet Milo.
Before long, I found myself surrounded by 5 other barefoot runners. We were merrily chatting-away, and enjoying the After Party, still high on adrenalin. I was really happy to befriend other experienced and seasoned barefoot runners like “Barefoot Sing”, Sumes & Lee who were kind enough to share their experiences and advice with an untamed rookie like me.
My first barefoot venture proved tremendously exhilarating and rewarding. More importantly, I walked away without any injuries to speak of. I was so glad that I went against the advice of my good-intentioned friends who almost persuaded not to risk running barefoot.