04 July 2013

Bare Feet Running in an One-Dimensional Space

Hmm... running in an one-dimensional space? It sounds terribly limiting... 

Let me explain what I mean by one-dimensional. I am talking about the seashore. For me the seashore is like an one-dimensional space. It is just the line that separates the water from the land. Some would argue that the shore line resembles a fractal line as if one looks closer discovers that the line is not that smooth, but is winding around sand grains, sea shells, stones...

I spent 9 days on the Romanian Black Sea coast, in Mamaia, a seaside resort located just north of Constanta, the main sea port of Romania. Mamaia is stretching for several kilometers on a low narrow land strip between the sea and the fresh water lake Siutghiol.

Naturally, the best place to run in Mamaia is on the beach, along the seashore. I knew that Mamaia has one of the finest beaches in Romania. A stretch of uninterrupted beach of about 12km from Constanta to the north, until the dike of the north branch of the Danube-Black Sea Canal. It is strange to think that the canal started to be build in the 50's with forced labor - political prisoners of the communist regime and nowadays, so close to it there are beaches full of tourists and sea side resorts.

As I always like to travel as light as possible I decided to go extreme and not take any pair of running shoes... the plan was to run bare-feet on the beach.

I started with lots of enthusiasm on the first day at 5:30AM when the sun was just rising from the sea. I ran for about one hour on the wet sand, sometimes in the water when the breaking waves would crawl higher on the beach.

The one hour long run was too much for my tender feet. I developed some sort of deep skin blisters on my soles, just below my toes. Although I had no external marks or any signs on my soles, it was quite painful to walk. So the second day I did not run letting my feet to recover.
The third and fourth day I continued to ran bare-feet on the beach. It was however quite painful. Moreover, it was a bit frustrating as I wanted to explore the north, less developed part of the beach, but here it was full of seashells, making bare-feet running impossible,

So I rushed to the only sports-shoes shop in the area and to look for a pair of shoes that can be used on the beach. I've got a pair of sports rubber shoes that felt very comfortable and were very light and flexible. I thought that with these I can happily run on the beach and in the water.

On my fifth morning, again at 5:30AM I tested my new shoes. Everything went fine until they got too wet and I got sand in them. My feet were rubbing on the wet shoes and it felt like I had sand paper in my shoes.

I learned my lesson. Next days I was careful to keep my feet dry while running in my rubber shoes. I could finally reach the north end of the beach, 8km north from my hotel. On the way back, as soon as reaching the finer sand beach I would take my shoes off and run the last 1-2km bare-feet.

My soles were getting better and tougher so on the last day I cold again run an entire session bare-feet, for more than one hour!

Running along the seashore was an interesting experience and I learned a few things. I could also confirm the facts that I read about bare-feet running:
  • As claimed, I found bare-feet running to be gentler on the legs joints, especially on the knees. I really wanted a break from my regular mountain trails as I felt that my knees needed some rest. It worked out as expected, my knees feel like new now.
  •  I did not get any cut on my soles as I was constantly watching where I put my feet! Yet, the beach was rough at times with lots of larger seashell fragments. In total I ran bare-feet for almost 50km .
  • While running bare-feet I naturally reduced my stride and increased a bit the frequency of my steps. This reduced the impact force of every step, also reducing the risk of cutting my soles.
  • Once my soles got stronger I enjoyed more and more the bare-feet running. It was a great sensation... And I felt great when overtaking other runners that had shoes...
Other conclusions about seashore and bear-feet running;
  • I discovered that the beach is constantly changing. The sand quality does not stay the same. Is similar to the snow on the mountains. The best conditions were after a storm with rain and big waves. The rain  and the waves smoothed the sand surface and also increased the width of the run-able wet sand stripe.
  • The bad thing about seashore running is that the running terrain is always sloped sideways to the sea. It is probably not a problem on wide ocean beaches, but on the tide-less Black Sea the run-able stripe of wet sand is narrow and the side slope is quite significant.
  • I found sea-shore running very easy. I could not go full-speed on the sand, especially when bare-feet. Moreover, at sea level there is about 10% more oxygen compared to my usual training average altitude of about 800-900m. I felt that I can keep running forever; it felt like a "quasi-static" state... Just that my soles had a different opinion...
  • I also found sea-shore running to be quite boring. As I said, the route is one-dimensional... no turning left or right, no ups-and downs... The landscape was also quite monotone. Also the wind was blowing without any imagination, keeping the same direction and strength...
I am now back to my beloved forest, hills and mountains... back to full 3D experience!

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