I received an email from a holistically minded friend recently with a link to some information about the concept of grounding. It is known that as we live and breathe, and particularly exercise for long periods, we build up a net positive charge and free radicals, which are atoms in need of an electron. This is known to be bad for your health, and the reason anti-oxidants are talked about so much these days. The surface of the earth has a net negative charge, meaning a surplus of electrons. Therefore the theory of grounding holds that if you are in skin contact with the earth, particularly outdoors in the grass, dirt, rock, etc. you ground yourself and tap into the earth's unlimited supply of electrons to dissipate your positive charge and free radicals. (I apologize if the details aren't quite right but it's been many years since I took physics.) I had heard of this before, that Lance Armstrong's former chiropractor on US Postal recommended athletes lay out in the grass after a hard workout to ground themselves. For anyone who has seen me sprawled out in the grass after a race, fatigue, nausea, and pain were only half the reason!
The theory continues that one consequence of being inside most of the time and then wearing rubber soled shoes when you do go outside diminishes your ability to be grounded and is harmful to your health. I was describing this to a scientifically inclinced friend who made a comment about crossing over from physics into metaphysics. However even if grounding isn't true, I don't mind passing along advice if the end result is that people reading this would feel inclinced to go outside and take their shoes off!
I will be doing more reading up on this topic myself. As with many health topics, it seems intuitive to return to something that our ancestors spent a lot of time doing.
In any case after hearing of grounding I was inspired to do my next morning's speed workout barefoot in the grass at some ball fields, something I had done in the past but not so much recently since getting (rubber-soled) Vibrams. I don't know if it was the grounding effect but the workout felt much better than I was anticipating. So good that on my next run, as I was going through Evergreen cemetary, I decided to kick off the shoes again and tromp around the grass there for the next 45 minutes or so. Again, the run felt awesome. However, being in the cemetary there was a lot more paved, dirt, and gravel road crossings to contend with and by the end my feet felt pretty raw. I put my shoes back on (light-weight trainers) to run the paved road home, and suddenly had an epiphany, bringing me to the original inspiration for this post...
... after running barefoot for 45 minutes over all sorts of surfaces, I realized that the only reason I needed shoes was to protect the skin of my feet. I didn't need them for cushioning. I didn't need them for stability. I didn't need them for pronation control. My feet, conditioned through many months of Vibrams running, did just fine on their own. I basically just needed a little protection from the elements. These particular shoes were light enough to allow me to continue the high cadence, mid-foot striking groove I had gotten into running barefoot moments ago. But had they been any heavier I know they would have interfered rather than helped my form.
I have read, written, and explained to others this concept, but that morning I really FELT it.
I'm due for a long run at Pineland this morning, and plan on staying in contact with Mother Earth for as long as my little feet will hold out.