“One surprising advantage the Tarahumara seem to have over the rest of the world is their lack of technology. They essentially run barefoot or in sandals and experience very little in the way of injury. Over the years, running shoes have become more and more cushioned with more and more high-tech gadgetry attached. Rather than improving our runs, these developments seem to have worsened them. ”
~ Bill Rodgers
Somewhere around the age of 30, I made a decision to start doing stuff. Stuff I had wanted to be doing my entire life but never did. Stuff outside. Believe it or not, there was a point in my life where I didn’t know much about anything. I’d never really hiked, backpacked, traveled, hunted, gardened. Nothing! I had gone on the occasional fishing and camping trip but those were few and far between.
One of the things I decide to do was go to Costa Rica and, because I thought I was going to be doing a lot of hiking, I bought some hiking boots. Not just any hiking boots – the top of the line. The best I could find on the internet. $200 and a few weeks later, I had my new boots. I was in Iraq at the time so it took a little longer than 2 days for them to arrive. When they finally did, I started wearing them immediately to be sure they would be nice and broken-in by the time I got to Costa Rica.
Due to a dust storm in Baghdad, my flight out of Iraq was delayed and I ended up arriving in Costa Rica four days later than expected. I had to cancel all the plans I’d made. The good news was that I ended up meeting some cool people at the airport in Miami and tagged along with them to a place called Playa Tamarindo. Soon after arriving and finding a sweet place to stay, I realized I didn’t need more than flips flops for the entire trip. Lugging around those $200 size 14s seemed to be a waste until someone thought that we should do something besides sit around all day getting drunk. So we went on an excursion, a hike. After that short hike I was exhausted. Extremely exhausted. And my feet and legs were worn out.
Fast forward to a year or so later to me on a military assignment in Tucson, AZ. One thing I loved about Tucson was the availability of hiking so close to the city. When I realized this, I sent a message to my father to dig out my hiking boots and send them to me. I mean, if I was going to go hiking I needed my boots, right? My first hike was actually a date with a cute girl I’d met a few nights before. It was only a two mile hike into a waterfall and I was embarrassed of how exhausted and in pain I was at the end of it. What was really bad was that on the way back from the falls I saw people doing the same hike in flip flops.
I thought I was out of shape so I went on more hikes, thinking I would get in better shape but the pain was unreal EVERY time. Eventually, I realized that it wasn’t me and my attention started to go towards those damn $200 boots. I had noticed something when I first got the boots but I’d tried to ignore it. I mean, they had the great reviews and, for the price, there couldn’t be anything wrong with them, but what I’d noticed was that I would scrape my heel every time I took a step. In order to prevent this from happening I had to adjust my gait. Even then, way before I was the barefoot-minimalist shoe proponent I am now, I knew the change in my gait had to be what was causing the pain. The heel was so high in those boots that even years of wearing combat boots did not prepare me for the adjustment I had to make while wearing these hiking boots.
I eventually went to the local outdoor store and inquired if it was the boots that were causing me so much pain but the staff were no help at all. Luckily, I trusted my instincts and tried on a pair of low-top hiking boots that were less ridged and had a lower heel. I walked around the store and noticed that I wasn’t scraping my heel with every step. I immediately bought them. I logged many miles in those shoes, and I still own them even though I haven’t worn them in years. (Actually, on my 41st birthday I got rid of 41 things. those very shoes were two of them.)
I have never gone skiing but I can imagine that those boots that lock you into your skis don’t allow for ankle flexion or rotation. This is what those $200 boots felt like. I ended up replacing them with a $90 pair of shoes and I never again had the problems I was having with those boots. This was my first lesson that less was better when it came to footwear. However, I was still years away from learning about minimal footwear.