What’s more natural than running in nature? Wild running is an antitdote to pounding unyielding city street or the hamsterwheel treadmill down the gym. Wild running takes a walk in the park further. Alot further. This is running through those untamed places in all their muddy, rutty, prickly, rocky, slippery, slidey, gritty glory. Great for the body. Fantastic for the soul. This closer interaction enables you to balance along nature’s rough and sublime edges. ‘Wild Running’ might seem like a fad, but this reconnection with nature could be a genetic imperitive or an ancestral echo.
Dartmoor is one of those perfect places you can truly ‘bewilder’ yourself. Those untamed, viseral expanses gift you an infinite number of routes and terrains. From flat tramways to million miles of animal track. From watery woodland to rutted reeve. From boggy bottom to heathery height. Plants, animals, minerals and man: an amorphous, often saturated ampitheatre from which the wild runner can create a unique and sublime experience.
Today, people take up wild running for different reasons. For many it is a refreshingly different way to keep fit. For some it is a transcendental, meditive or even spiritual experience. For others it is the raw connection with nature making them ‘animal’ or feeling a bond with their hunter ancestry. For me, it has become part of my quest for the sublime.
Barefoot: run like the animal you are!
If you are truly committed to a closer connection with the landscape you run through then you might be tempted to kick off your shoes and sink your toes into the mud! Plugging into the landscape in this way just adds to the sensory richness of the experience.
When we run barefoot we become hyper-aware of our surroundings and what’s beneath us. The nerve endings on the soles of our feet enable us to run with incredible precision. When we are able to feel all the different kinds of terrain, we are able to adjust and still remain light on our feet. Over time our bodies will instinctively adjust, re-align, and gain the strength to run efficiently and hopefully safely!
Throughout most of human history, running has been performed barefoot or minimalist, with thin-soled shoes. We have only been running with padded shoes for forty! Barefoot or minimalist practice continues today in Kenya and among the Tarahumara people of northern Mexico. The runners of Ancient Greece also ran barefoot.
The Barefoot or Minimalist style of running helps develop a natural spring-like gait. The balls of our feet absorb the shock of the trail in an efficient way that enables us to run longer and faster. Today, our thick-soled shoes have contributed toward certain types of injury due to heel strike. Landing on our heel causes three times the amount of force up our legs and spine. This takes its toll on cartilage, tendon, muscle and bone. Learning to land softly on your forefoot/mid-foot changes this dynamic. You start to build strength in your metatarsals, so they act as shock absorbers. Force is distributed through the arches, tendons, ligaments, calves, quads, glutes and hamstrings: allowing for your body to do the job it was designed for.
A less painful and risky alternative to going barefoot is to wear thin shoes with minimal padding. These are now widely and commercially available. These minimalist shoes permit a similar gait to barefoot, allowing for a close connection with the earth, but importantly protect the feet from cuts, bruises, abrasions and mud. Because even on Dartmoor there are plenty of things you don’t want to step on or in!
Where to wild run on Dartmoor
Well, just about anywhere! That’s the beauty of it. Mix it up: pick a route that is both high and low, open moorland, deep forest, rocks, mud, streams, gullies, tors, tracks and trails. Run, walk, scramble, skid and leap! If you want to join a wild running club, event or even have a guided run with an expert on Dartmoor then visit http://www.wildrunning.co.uk
Caution: Barefoot or minimalist running is not for everyone. Nor is it entirely risk free. A sudden change from running in thick-soled shoes to barefoot or minimal-soled shoes is not advised: a slow tranisition is recommended. Do your research and seek guidance from an expert at your localy running shop or club. Remember, what you end up doing to your body or what you might step on or in – is entirely at your own risk!