Copernicus backs barefoot

TrailRunMag 12.05.2012

The beauty of awarefoot running is the ease, simplicity and freedom it allows you.  Running is the most uncomplicated of endurance pursuits.  As long as you are on the landlocked 33% of the planet  you need little more than whatever your local society dictates is acceptable.  No need for a bike, shoes, helmet and pump, nor a windsurfer or a fiberglass kayak.

When running barefoot all you need are a pair of shorts and, if you’re soft like me, a pair of sandals.  The freedom that this allows is total.  My sandals are always in my car, wrapped up in a pair of running shorts at various stages of fermentation.  All I need to set out is at least half an hour of time and a bit of terra firma beneath me.

This was all brought home on a recent run with another sandal runner, Roland Nelson.  Roland is a Copernicus, a man who reveals what will become standard knowledge but must first overcome the disbelieving masses.  Most of Roland’s truth-slaying happens in financial markets but it may be that his conversion to minimalist running is a signal that shod running will one day be thought of as akin to the planet being flat.

Roland and I ran together when I was drawn to Perth for the birth of my third child.  The city and I don’t get along too well as the almost total absence of trails in the big smoke gives me a sense of claustrophobia but there had been one run I have been wanting to do for years.  The Swan River splits the city of Perth as a spine, with the sprawl of suburbia spreading out in long wings.  I stay in Fremantle which handily hangs two bridges within a few hundred metres of each other, but your next opportunity to cross the river is a further twenty kilometers near the CBD.

I have been told that out and back running has its merits.  I can’t remember who told me which is a sign of how much stock I put in such nonsense.  Loop running is the freest way to run unless you are some sort of a slave to your training diary and the mantra of the negative split.  About seven kilometres out of Fremantle the river doglegs around and reaches one of its narrowest points at an iconic teenage hangout called Blackwall Reach.  The Reach is a notorious rite of passage where teens jump five to ten metres off the limestone cliffs into the city’s meandering river.  From there our plan was to make the 500 metres of freestyle across the river to the luxury mansions of Peppermint Grove.

We mosied around the southern edge of the river, past the army barracks, sailing clubs and nouveau riche McMansions, smiling kindly at the symphony of glares at our sandaled feet.  Just before Blackwall Reach the cycle path leaves the houses and ducks into some coastal scrub.  On top of the cliffs we looked down at the water below, leapt, and thudded into the water with our sandals breaking the surface.

While treading water it was easy to tuck our sandals into our elasticated waists and swim across the channel to the barbeque area on the other side (I have also done run/swims in Vibram Five Fingers which have the added bonus of not needing to be removed).  Once there it was a steep climb up to the driveways of Perth’s landed gentry perched on the river’s northern fringes and then back onto the walkway, through parks along boardwalks and around the limestone cliffs.

While the autumn sun was almost gone it still didn’t take long to dry us off and then replace that with sweat and by the time we got back to Fremantle the only reminder we had of the Swan was the brackish taste in our mouths and the feeling that the awarefoot runner really could go anywhere.

Garry Dagg, Trail Run Mag Barefoot/Minimalist Guru

As Trail Run Mag’s resident barefoot/minimalist sage, Garry Dagg will continue to write on issues, opinions, styles and techniques of barefoot/minimalist running. And he’ll test the bejesus (a sandal wearer) out of all and sundry modles now flooding the market. He’s on board not to convert, but to offer a perspective, much the same way our Shoe Guru, Simon Bright offers his. Agree or not, better to be aware, even if you’re not a fan of being bare. We welcome your opinions on the barefoot debate – fling them through on or Facebook them at Garry will also write regularly on the topic online, so sign up for his blogs and news feeds at Ed.