I run barefoot between Spring and Autumn. A few days a week I go to a local park and run barefoot on the grass, up and down.
Barefoot running is one of those things where you wonder… how do people get in to that?
What possessed me to one day take my shoes and socks off and run around in the mud?
The answer was desperation. Desperation possessed me.
Ten years ago I was in my first year of university. I’m relatively quick, so I joined the athletics club. For ten weeks I did a five mile road run on Monday evenings, and a sprint session on Thursdays at a running track. I went from being completely out of shape, to being moderately in shape. I even ran 200 metres for the university once.
One evening, ten weeks in, my shins started to hurt. It started as a dull ache at first. When I pushed my fingers down the inside of my shins I could feel a deep ache low towards my ankles.
I ran on for a few weeks, but the road sessions became distinctly uncomfortable. After four miles I’d have to stop and walk the rest of the way. Track sessions weren’t so bad, but the pain once I got home in the evening was agonising.
One evening I sat on my bed with a pack of frozen peas on my shin, and took a decision. I decided I had to stop running. At least for a while. So began three years of overcoming shin splints.
You can go to the doctors about shin splints, and they’ll treat the symptoms. They’ll prescribe heavy doses of ibuprofen. (Because that’s what caused my shin splints – a shortage of ibuprofen in my body).
As a runner there is nothing more frustrating than an injury that only hurts when you run. I went to various physiotherapists. The advice I received ranged from “put some ice on it”, to heel raises, to shoe prosthetics.
Almost as a throw-away comment, one physio commented “you could try running barefoot. You never see Kenyans limping off the running track.”
I remember the first time I ever ran barefoot. It was October, and fairly cold. I was in Sheffield – not exactly renowned for barefoot running in public spaces. I was self-conscious. But I was also desperate. Desperate for something to finally work.
Running barefoot feels weird at first. You feel fairly stupid. But after a few minutes a weird memory kicks in. The memory you have actually been running barefoot all your life; you have just forgotten how.
Westerners have reported this sensation visiting tribes in the Amazon. They go on hunting trips and report it feels ‘vaguely familiar’, even though the only thing they normally hunt are shop assistants in Tesco.
Your lower leg is actually good at landing, absorbing pressure and transitioning into an upward spring, but running in heavily padded running shoes completely changes the way your foot hits the floor.
Essentially a feedback loop is removed. If you ran around barefoot on the pavement clattering your heels into the floor it would hurt too much. The pain is the feedback you need to stop before you do yourself a mischief.
If you remove the feedback loop and run in padded shoes the damage can still happen. You still get sore shins and sore knees. My shins got sore because I couldn’t hear the feedback.
I’ve been thinking a lot about feedback loops recently; or more specifically absent feedback loops.
When you outsource your marketing to an agency the danger is you eliminate a vital feedback loop with your audience. Results are monitored, but experimentation and learning are forgotten.
Every time you punch numbers into an automated telephone system trying to get help from your broadband provider, that is a broken feedback loop. You can scream and howl all you like; they can never hear you.
Nationalism and the creation of powerful nation-states has eliminated various feedback loops; most notably with the environment and local communities.
Big governments and big business destroy feedback loops. They run around in giant clumpy trainers accidentally crushing things. They are unable to feel this of course because the feedback is absent. The downside is too far removed from the people making decisions.
I read once that the bridge-builders of ancient Rome had to live with their families under a newly-created bridge. If the bridge collapsed that was a huge and immediate feedback loop.
Writing regularly to your audience is one of the best feedback loops you can create in your business. The problem is that writing regularly to your customers involves telling stories.
And telling stories is scary.
At least in the beginning.
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