Today I ran over Clougha Pike and Grit Fell just outside my hometown of Lancaster. The rocky gritstone trails that climb across these two heather covered hills give about 5km of technical and balancy running interspersed with occasional sections of wet bog and muddy peat. This can be followed by another 5km of winding gravel track that descends steeply down their northern flank to return to the starting point.
I have run or walked these trails several times before but it was only last week that I ventured out on a wonderful barefoot walk up Clougha Pike. I was inspired to try running down a short section that day and found that I had to wear my flat soled sandals to maintain any kind of speed on the irregular and jagged surface.
This time I ran barefoot on the way up and whilst it may have been slower than usual, I was pleased at how well my feet dealt with the rough ride. The slower speed and lighter impact of running uphill brought the trails to within the capacity of my gradually developing feet and encouraged me to feel the terrain much more than usual, keeping my knees and hips soft and ready to respond to the ever changing shapes and angles.
Best of all was the glimpse of what could come with enough practice: without the protection of my sandals, my feet needed to place themselves on the rocky ground with more precision, the rest of my body needed to exercise more careful control and my eyes needed to read and process the trail with more speed.
Whilst I felt slow and cumbersome, I had a brief sense of how much more there is to gain from running barefoot on difficult trails: a wider range of effective running movement, a greater connection to my body’s ability and a good deal more learning and fun. The sandals went back on for the grueling gravel track descent but they’ll certainly be off more in the future…