A barefoot/minimalist running journey – Steven Sashen from InvisibleShoe

Editor's Note: This is a guest post by InvisibleShoes owner/CEO/invento Steven Sashen. This post is part of a series looking at how minimalism and barefoot has affected people. Interested in telling your story so far?


I was never a runner. Oh, I tried. I can think of a half a dozen times between 1980 and 2007 where I would head out the door and try to put in a couple of miles.

Never could do it. Never liked it. I'd get about a half a mile out and think, Okay, this is NOT fun.

On the other hand, I was a sprinter.

Up until the time I was 16, I was the fastest person I knew. Then everyone got taller than me and my attention turned full-time to gymnastics (which worked out well; I was an All-American).

So, cut to 2007, when my friend David joined me for brunch, ecstatic, "I just won my first 5k!" and I congratulated him and told him my story of unsuccessful attempts and jogging.

"Oh," he chirped, "You should just go back to sprinting. They have Masters Track & Field."

WHAT?

David explained that, totally unknown to me, was a running subculture of masters athletes, aged 35+, and an international competitive track & field circuit.

I could barely contain my excitement as I scrawled down the number of a local coach that David knew.

Now let's spring forward 2 years.

I'd connected with the coach, started training, loved competing, and was doing okay. I'd dropped 16 pounds without trying, I was loving the camaraderie of other older athletes (almost everyone I trained with had a medal from some Masters world championship race), and I was totally engaged with figuring out how to train an aging -- at this point, 47 year old -- body.

And I was almost always injured. I don't think I had more than a 2 week stretch where I didn't have some pull, tear, twinge or other injury in my glutes, hips, hamstrings, or calves that would sideline me for a couple of weeks.

That's when my training partner Simon, handed me a copy of Born To Run and suggested I take up barefoot running.

Needless to say, I inhaled the book -- it's a great read whether you're a runner or not -- and then I got online and searched for more info about barefoot running. It just happened that Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee, the authors of Barefoot Running, not only lived nearby, but were giving a workshop that weekend. So, off I went for my first barefoot run.

We did a bunch of drills and then took a slow barefoot run on the Boulder Creek Path. I found it fascinating, but at the end of the mile or so that we ran I said to Michael, "This isn't my thing. I'm a sprinter. I don't want to do long, slow running."

"Why don't you think of it as an off-season calf workout?" he replied.

That got me to come back the next week, which turned out to be the second most important run of my life.

See, that week, I was so fascinated by the sensations of running barefoot, by trying to find ways to run lighter and easier, by the changes in my stride that different arm angles or core tightness made... that I had no idea I ran over 5k! Me. A sprinter. 5k!

And while running 3 times farther than I'd ever run before was important, the more important part of my 2nd most important run is what happened next: I got a big blister on the ball of my left foot.

What made this so pivotal is that I instantly realized, "Well, I'm clearly doing something different with my left leg... the one that I injure 90% of the time!"

That realization is what got me to my third barefoot run, the most important one of my life.

It was a week later and I wasn't fully healed. So I figured I'd go out and try to find a way to run that didn't hurt my blistered foot. After all, I thought, if I could stop doing with my left leg the thing that caused the blister, I should be able to run with it hurting.

"I'll just give it 10 minutes," I thought, "and if it still hurts by then, I'll stop."

The first 9 minutes were hell. No matter what I did, I was rubbing raw skin on cement. Not fun. The whole time, I'm wondering, "How can I stop doing with my left leg what I'm already not doing with my right?"

And at the 9:30 mark, something changed. Suddenly, I was running easily, pain-free, and faster. I felt light. I wasn't bouncing up and down. I was running.

Only after a couple months did I realize that the change was that I stopped overstriding -- reaching out with my foot -- and I stopped pulling and pushing on the ground with my feet, instead I was placing and lifting them.

At the end of that same couple of months, I noticed two other things: 1) all my injuries were healed, and ; 2) my life-long flat feet had started to change shape and develop arches!

By this point I was totally sold on the barefoot idea and I wanted to spend as much time barefoot as I could. I had tried on the Vibram FiveFingers a few times since I had gotten back into track, but they never fit me. Inspired by Born To Run, I gathered the materials to make some huaraches running sandals.

I made about 20 pairs for the local runners and then Michael Sandler said, "You should do this as a business. I'm writing a book and if you had a website, I'd put you in it." Hmmm...

I pitched this idea to my wife, who totally shot it down. So, I waited until she went to bed... and built a website ;-)

 

We launched www.invisibleshoe.com on November 23, 2009, selling our high-tech upgrade of the Tarahumara huaraches. Since then, we've sold over 11,000 pairs to people from 65 countries, aged 6-86. And it's been so gratifying to be part of other people making the minimalist move.

Since switching to barefoot, I've been uninjured for 2.5 years. I'm a Masters All-American sprinter in the 45-49 year old age group. I can't wait until I turn 50 next year and have an age advantage (for a few months, at least).