One Odd Look at Barefoot Running

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Barefoot runner Bobby Timonera says that thick callouses (kubal) result from prolonged steady pressure on the foot from a constricting footwear, and not from running barefoot. (Photo: Bobby Timonera)

by: Rex Godinez Ortega

ILIGAN CITY–THE barefoot child crossed the lanai, and as he took his first couple of steps onto the cement floor of the garage, there was a shriek.

“Yuri! Slippers!!”

The child is sent scurrying back to fetch his slippers. He knows all too well he couldn’t go out and play barefoot.

“Do you want to get worms?!” the mother would ask, exasperation clear in her voice.

This stubbornness of putting on footwear by the child, well, she could only shake her head at it… and so would the people reading this who have encountered the same resistance from their children.

However, do adults stop to consider the fact that there could be something that they are missing from this?

According to Mr. Robert “Bobby” Timonera, a legendary Iligan photographer and coffee brewer, and now barefoot running enthusiast, the feet are as sensitive as the hands.

“There are many wonderful sensations to be experienced through the feet,” he said. “You don’t know what you are missing!”

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Running with barefeet. (Photo: Junjei Lagapa)

Feeling the world through one’s feet does seem to be a forgotten human ability these days as the members of this species have encased their feet in shoes—or in Bobby’s words, “in a coffin”.

Ipatilaw pud na imo tiil og yuta [Give your feet the chance to taste the ground],” he exhorts.

This man, whose love for running was born only recently (June 2012), ditched his running shoes eight months later after reading Chris McDougall’s book, “Born to Run” about the famed Mexican Tarahumara Indians who ran barefoot.

Ever since that “life changing” literary encounter, Bobby has been enjoying the texture, and yes, “taste” of a host of surfaces that any biped could run on.

Thus, be that the hard concrete or asphalt highways baking in the sun or the wet, mushy muddy trails or the unpaved road with sharp rocks outside his home, Bobby runs on them all.

He seems to relish the delicious sensations of barefoot running so much that now he would even quip: “Running a marathon with shoes, where’s the fun in that?”

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Bobby running the Dumaguete Adventure Marathon barefoot in November 2013. (Photo from: Irma Pal )

Barefoot running could be fun as Bobby has found out, but would his testimony on bare feet sensations be enough to make people think differently about the subject of germs?

The argument of worms and bacteria entering the exposed feet is dismissed by Bobby. In fact, he dismisses it like one would do a stupid question.

“Unless you have cuts on your feet, then that’s the time you worry about microbes going inside,” he said.

And if Bobby says that with apparent strength of conviction, the gentle reminder that he is married to Miriam Roxas-Timonera might help explain things. Miriam is not only a medical doctor, but is a very sought-after cardiologist in Iligan.

If Miriam is confident worms and bacteria are not conducting their own fun run in her husband’s bloodstream at the moment, then that alone should allay fears of barefoot running being dirty.

And when the conversation invariably touches on foot hygiene, Bobby is quick to challenge anyone to a foot smelling contest.

“The inside of a shoe is perfect for incubating bacteria as it is dark, hot, and damp,” he points out. “Besides, the hot sun sanitizes the road.”

However, the lack of sun also hides perils on the road, like fine broken glass. Since fun runs and marathons tend to kick off very early mornings when it is still dark, Bobby has found himself getting a tetanus shot one time.

That experience only slowed him a bit, and had the effect of hastening the further development of  his eyesight.

“That’s what the eyes are for—to always be on the lookout,” he said.

There is no arguing that point. Even regular runners need to watch the road for sharp objects and obstacles.

The moment a runner takes his eyes off the road, injury becomes a very real possibility as Bobby had the misfortune of finding out at another fun run.

“I got distracted by the cheering crowd,” he revealed. “As I waved at them, I stubbed my big toe on a rock!”

Ouch! That must have been painful.

Even the act of watching someone running barefoot alone elicits pained reactions from spectators. It is only natural for them to think unpadded ground impact on hard surfaces and rocky terrain is painful.

Bobby, though, does not fault people for that. He understands that they do not know that it is all about technique.

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Odd looks and light-hearted jokes from amused folks not familiar with barefoot running are common at barefoot runs. (Photo: Junjei Lagapa)

“Barefoot running employs the mid-foot landing technique,” he explains. “Unlike regular running, we do not strike the ground using the heel of the foot.”

The claim of barefoot running is that landing on the balls of the feet first before the rest (heel and toes) follow is the better way to run.

It is a difficult technique to learn (one needs to unlearn conventional heel landing first), not to mention painful, too, Bobby admits.

Quoting Ken Bob Saxton, the acknowledged father of barefoot running, Bobby says for those interested to try barefoot running, they should “start learning to run barefoot on surface with sharp stones, so that when you master the difficult terrain, everything else will be dessert.”

“Just start really slow,” Bobby adds.

However, in the event one finds going barefoot immediately to be too much too soon, then Bobby recommends the use of very thin-soled sandals he calls, Huaraches.

Huaraches only have 4mm of sole padding and 1mm of leather. They are the next best thing to barefoot running as they help teach those interested in barefoot running to become a mid-foot striker, while still offering some protection.

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Changing the running world one odd look at a time! (Photo: Circle Productions, Inc.)

Bobby even finds himself resorting to them on very rare occasions when negotiating the toughest and sharpest of all terrains.

Most of the time, however, Bobby finds no need for the Huaraches. He has since moved on to 42-kilometer marathons and even logged 5 hours and 8 minutes for the last one he participated in while barefoot.

For the uninitiated, that time is actually very good. Most running hobbyists make that same distance in 6 hours.

(That is food for thought for those who think barefoot running makes one slower.)

So, in the event one sees a barefoot runner passing by, give him some credit; instead of calling out after him with jokes, like “Hey, man. What happened to your shoes?”

Bobby playfully hollers back at these jokers by the road with statements, like–

“I got robbed!” or

“I woke up late; I forgot to put them on!”

Barefoot running is such a novelty here that Bobby says he has learned to prepare ready answers for the amused folks he passes by.

He says barefoot runners have to accept the fact that people are still not used to seeing joggers or marathoners running barefoot.

“We should not let it bother us,” Bobby says, “We are changing the running world one odd look at a time.” (Rex Godinez Ortega)

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About Recoy

Contrary to popular belief, he is not anti-social. Just selectively social. And he has selected to socialize with words. [Recoy is the Iligan-based journalist and blogger, Rex Godinez Ortega.]
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4 Responses to One Odd Look at Barefoot Running

  1. I was one of the participants in a fun run recently. I’ve heard he joined, then someone commented…”Nasan na si Sir Bobby, huli siya dumating?” Then I answered, “Ikaw kaya tumakbo ng nakayapak tingnan ko kung mauuna ka ba…”

  2. Christine Solon says:

    I must admit that my feet were tingling (or was I imagining some sort of pain?) while I was reading this. I, for one, am used to wearing any form of footwear wherever I walk, even inside the house. I salute Bobby’s brave move to maximize the use of the thick-skinned soles. He is surely getting some free reflexology massage in the process.

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