Dear Willow: Can I Safely Run Minimalist In The City?
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Great article on minimalist running. I have transitioned to racing flats. I like the idea of going minimalist, but my running takes me through the urban jungle and I am always worried about glass, nails, and other small objects. I do not want to worry about my feet when I am racing or look down to the ground directly in front of me. How have you coped with this in your adventures into a wild city of potholes, debris, and other urban obstacles?
Dear Curious Runner,
Great to hear you are open to trying out new ideas and styles to find one that works for you. I began running with the “less is more” attitude because of part curiosity and part necessity. Why do you like the idea of going minimalist? How are you hoping you will benefit?
In regards to running in the urban jungle with minimal footwear, how I negotiate the terrain is very much looking at the ground. I do a lot of scanning with my eyes - directly in front of my feet, far ahead, side to side. Very rarely are my eyes looking only far out in the distance. This same technique applies when hiking or trail running. We need to see the ground below our feet so we don’t trip. Practice scanning. Notice that your eyes will catch obstacles and your feet will help you avoid them.
The greater capacity nerve endings on the bottom of our feet have on picking up inconsistent patterns, the lighter our feet tread the terrain, and the less we need to look straight down. The soles of the feet tell the brain how to move based on the sensations they receive in collaboration with what we see around us. Since most runners wear thick-soled shoes, this numbs the capabilities of the feet, keeps our legs straighter, and the hips, neck, and spine then become the shock absorbers.
Think about tracking animals in the wild. The less forceful impact of our feet on the earth, the less noise we make. How much noise do your feet make when you run? If they make a lot of noise, try adjusting the level by bending your knees more and picking up your feet higher off the ground. You might read The Way of The Scout by Tom Brown, Jr.
Shift perception from Foveal sight to peripheral view. Most importantly and simply, see glass and don’t step on it. Even when racing. Practice leaping or hurdling obstacles as another form of strengthening the hips and body to lift up instead of clunk down on the earth.
Always pay attention. This will reduce most injuries and keep you in the moment of what you are doing. Easier said then done, though, and this is where meditation and emptying the mind’s contents of thoughts become more important.
“Scouts do not become so removed from the land that they become unaware of that which surrounds them. They are never so focused that they fail to notice the flow of life around them and through them.” – Tom Brown, The Way of the Scout