BAREFOOT: Time trial on tarmac

10 days ago I suffered 5 bone-bruises on “Run the Rock”. Two days ago I brushed one of them against a rock bad enough to flare it up for 24 hours. 72 hours later, I’m running barefoot across the gritty tarmacadem between Djouce Woods and Ballinastoe car parks. Great Sugarloaf mountain covers the horizon to my right, Djouce and it’s outliers my left. I noticed that I possessed only two pieces of gear: the broken watch I held in my hands and my trusty old pair of shorts. “This is running stripped down to the bare bones”, it occurred to me.

Race preparations

Why do this? Firstly, let me dispel any myths that I was suffering. I had some slight initial difficulty adjusting. The Wicklow roads are not slick and smooth like Dublin pavements or the nice roads of the city. In my personal ranking, this type of road is just below an actual rocky trail and completely broken up tarmac in difficulty.

I am doing a 10km race bare foot shortly. Tony Riddle asked me “what’s the surface like” and I answered “most is national road, so should be slick, but could be some rougher bits.” We talked and I said “there’s no worse tarmac than around here." He replied:“Then that is where you must train.”

Extreme methods, extreme results

It takes extreme methods to get extreme results. You do not turn around a guy with 33 injuries who could not manage to run more than 200m in a pair of Vibrams with a few calf raises and some insoles. It's easy to forget that for the best part of 4 years, just walking around was generally painful for me, much less running.

So walking off that tarmac yesterday, my conception of “extreme” is forever changed.  That's the case every time you truly challenge the limit of what you can do. Most champions do this every day. The human mind is so plastic. It literally physically changes as it experiences. And a workout like yesterday, 8.54 undulating kilometre run at an average 4:57min/km, fuses the three components that we teach of the skill of running like few others: physical, technical, mental. Especially the latter. I did not grow a big pair of pads overnight nor have I radically changed my body structure. The majority of the change has come in the mind and manifests in the body through a greater ability to maintain higher quality of movement (technique) for longer.

Movement gurus like Ido Portal refer to this as "self-dominance", I like the image of the "unassailable mind" and historically you would call this the "Mastery of Self". Comfort is never the point, despite what some marketeers will have you believe, because no improvement happens in the comfort zone. Comfort is not even standing still. It's going back.

Purpose and the Hard Way
To quote JFK, I was not doing this because it was easy. I was doing it because it was hard. When in one weak moment, I suggested that perhaps the preparation time for me was insufficient for the task at hand, Tony's response was simply “anti-fragile”. Nothing else needed to be said.

“You soles will regenerate” commented Brian O’Murchu on Facebook. Unlike a pair of shoes which wear out. But it’s better – nature regrows stronger than before. Shoes, gear, gadgets, artificial joints, they all wear out and need to be replaced. Nature’s handiwork comes back stronger, more resilient, more adaptable. But only if you play by the Laws. Ignore them, such as by using a big cushioned heel on your shoe, then one day you have to pay the ultimate price – breakdown, hip replacement, the “old age gait”.

We tell people that it is not the hours you put in. Or the miles. It is the purposefulness of your practice. How intensely committed you are to the learning, how focused you are at what you are doing. Yesterday’s road did not give me a choice – it said “be in this moment 100%, or I’ll beat you down or cause you to bleed”.

It felt to me like stepping into the ring for a key fight. One man stepped onto the tarmac, another stepped off.
No experiment could have helped me discover what I learned yesterday.  You make your discoveries in the real world, not in a laboratory. Researchers do not teach birds how to fly, they study why they fly. But we have gotten that mixed up when it comes to humans. If I had waited for the theoretical debate to settle, I fear I would have been old and grey before having this experience and acquiring this skill. Next week? Another time trial; hopefully longer, faster, smoother.

Next up: We’re going to Manchester…