My Barefoot Journey began in 2018. I’d been trail running for a few years already when the dual influences of losing nine toe nails after completing the Otter African Trail Run in Salomons, and simultaneously stumbling across the book “Born to Run,” set me off on the path of searching for a different way.
I believe that any behavioural change needs to be seeded by a strong intention - a "why". Although I couldn’t consciously verbalise it at the time, I now think that the reason barefoot or minimalist style running appeals to me so strongly is that it is a surrendering to the deep natural intelligence that runs through our human bodies. It is an acknowledgement that the human body is perfectly capable and designed for movement just as is, and it's doubtful whether the addition of any traditional footwear or sophisticated technology will be able to improve upon Nature's original design!
On another level, a barefoot approach to trail running is a yearning for a connection with Nature and the living environment. It’s a removal or stripping down of unnecessary clutter which brings one closer to the essence of moving in a natural way. So, it’s a trust in Nature’s design combined with a longing to move in Nature, naturally.
"...it’s a trust in Nature’s design combined with a longing to move in Nature, naturally."
For me, switching to barefoot shoes at age 37 meant having to undo a couple of decades worth of becoming accustomed to wearing shoes with fat soles and unnatural angles of support! I had to accept all the resultant shifts my body and mind would need to make in order to adopt a new way of moving through the world. It’s definitely not a quick fix for anything and my experience is that, realistically, one should allow about three years to fully integrate the barefoot experience into one's life.
Initially, it's a good idea to start wearing barefoot shoes in one's day-to-day life and general activities, allowing them to become one's new normal. Walking barefoot as often as possible assists in building foot strength, and there are various foot strengthening exercises one can do. Then very gradually, start to do longer and more frequent runs in them. The risk of switching to barefoot shoes too quickly is that it can be a shock to the system, and one can expect one's calves and Achilles to take serious strain for a long time! It’s probably not a journey that will suit everyone in today’s fast-paced, instantaneous gratification and rapid results based world. Patience and dedication to this lengthy journey are required, but the rewards are certainly there for those who persist. Long term, the benefits seem to indicate fewer injuries, a feeling of moving faster and more freely, and a connection to Nature. Yes, you will feel every pebble, but rarely will any hurt, and you will move gently over the Earth with incredibly sensitive levels of proprioception.
I recently completed the Mac Mac Ultra 100 Miler in Vivobarefoot shoes, six years after beginning my barefoot journey. The dude who pitched up to run in his strange "squash shoes" was greeted by many concerned looks and various comments of disbelief, before, during and after the run. But they were absolutely the right choice for me, and my feet held up beautifully with no blisters or loss of toenails. My experience in the Vivos was one of comfort, ease, effortlessness, and a feeling of moving light and free.
I had never considered doing an ultra of any kind up until a year ago, when the Mac Mac started calling to me. The furthest I had run previously were a few 42km Otter Trail races. I
had a great 7 months of preparation, spending a lot of time in the Magaliesberg and on my home trails in Lanseria. I drew on the past experience of friends and others who had done 100 milers before. I found doing plenty of back-to-back runs, long speed hikes and a few night sessions were beneficial. I went into Mac Mac feeling well prepared, mentally and physically, but still with some doubt (and intrigue!) as to where my edge lay. I was well aware that it was going to be a big journey into the unknown for me and, potentially, a very stretching experience. Part of the appeal for me though was the opportunity for a deep dive into myself - a sort of one-man retreat and journey of self discovery in a beautiful environment.
One factor that really stood me in great stead was that my overriding hundred mile intention was really about wanting to immerse myself in Nature for 35 to 40 odd hours through day, night, sun, rain, joy and pain, with the intention of running a prayer of song into the land. To be in full reverence to Nature and to move as wind and water do… effortlessly over the land. And that is how it unfolded… The experience left me in awe of how beautifully and faithfully our bodies carry us, in awe of the depth of the human spirit and with a deep sense of gratitude to the organizers of these events who enable an incredible experience of adventure and self-discovery for all of us.
Pierre Joubert, June 2023