FINALLY! Now I know how women who have more cleavage than clothing feel. When men speak to me their eyes focus below face level. It’s not that I’ve gained implants. It’s that I’ve given up my shoes when I run. So, while I look at their eyelids, they ask things like, “What if you stand in spit, or dog poo? But don’t the little stones hurt? What if it’s slippery? But you could stub your toe?”
I run trails, and try to do so barefoot whenever I can, exactly because it does expose me. When I do run exposed like that, I find that when I do run exposed like that, I become more observant of the path and more connected to myself. It challenges me to make my own way rather than swallow the straight line.
I suppose I’ve always run to connect to me, to clear my mind, to settle my fears, to nurture my dreams. Long distance running is a place of power, not loneliness for me. Barefoot running has simply maxed that.
Have you heard about Bernard Jordon? He’s worth hearing about. The 89 year old World War Two Navy veteran had been put to pasture in a Gracewell nursing home in Hove, England predictably called The Pines. Apparently he didn’t want to grace well under carefully controlled care, however. He wanted to live fully.
So he asked the staff nicely to please arrange for him, (and his medals), to join his old comrades at the 70th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day landing to pay his respects to his fallen brothers and remember that his life was much, much bigger than sitting around waiting for God under the pines.
But the staff of the “home” couldn’t arrange it. Too many risks, I suppose. “What if this?And... but what about that?”
So he set up a strategy, popped a grey raincoat over his jacket with his war medals on, and left that place to do what a person unbridled by, “What if? But …” does under such circumstances. He (and his medals), made their own way to Normandy.
The Sussex Police, notified by the very staff who had been unable to arrange an obvious outing, discovered that Our Bernard was safe and well at a hotel in Ouistreham. And so were his medals. All were surprised that he had not told them that he was going, or where. Also, they were relieved that his friends were going to make sure that he got home safely afterwards.
Why the surprise and relief, I ask myself? The man had survived D-Day as a 19 year old, and he wanted to see his old buddies – of course he made a plan. And of course his friends were going to look out for him, as he did for them. And then I realised that the Surprised and Relieved Ones are What if? people. They remind me of a group of road runners who once asked me to take them on a trail run and kept asking me about how far we would go and how long it would take.
Apparently the Police and Mr Curtis, CEO of the home, were going to “a chat” with him when he got back to see if he was okay. I hope he asked them the same thing!
There’s something in his stories that every true trail runners recognises: We dispense with, “Ifs” and, “Buts” too. We strip off the unnecessary and take ourselves beyond the edge of surprise. We run into places we don’t know so that we can find ourselves beyond our own borders. We have an insatiable appetite to live fully. We expose ourselves to the untamed. We know that the straight lines offer little of the life we want to live while the wild places teach us who we are.
We don't play the "What if? But …" game. We just run.
Trail running is not a hobby for me. It’s not even a sport. Running trails is a gift. I am deeply grateful for the, “Do it, or “don’t” invitation of the trail. Does it hurt to run barefoot? Oh, no, friend,it heals.
I can make all sorts of excuses, or I can run. I can fill my head with noises, or I can listen to my own fears and hopes. I can hold back in the name of normality and belonging, or I can risk and extend beyond comfort. I can follow a running guru’s training plan, or I can engage my own inner hero and run how I feel. I can make excuses or take responsibility.
I don’t always get those choices right, but I know how I want to choose. Every time I do choose right I come closer to me. I will happily die while running a trail - it’s where I’m most alive.
Back at The Pines nursing home, Bernard Jordan's friend said about his departure, "It doesn't surprise me at all. He's that sort of person. If he made up his mind to go somewhere, nothing would stop him." Exactly!

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