Running Like an Animal


EL PASO, Texas — I was introduced to the outdoors as a child.  I would go on hunting trips with my father and would go with my family on month-long excursions in the wilderness.

I was also a Boy Scout and my road to Eagle Scout really gave me a connection to the land. Despite having a loving upbringing with values and morals, I lost my way somewhere along the line as a teenager and failed to realize my true potential.

After many failed attempts to get my life together, I accidentally discovered while wandering in the Franklin Mountains that nature was my touchstone to finding meaning in my life. I found the solitude of nature very therapeutic, and the rocks and trees to be the best listeners to a world of emotions and problems I was facing.

After about a week of daily visits to the mountains, I felt a profound change and found the strength to make the changes necessary to get on track again.

That connection to the outdoors stayed with me. I find myself, once again, infatuated with the outdoors and have done everything I can to fully immerse myself in the land.

In March of 2009 I ran a marathon, which I never would have attempted. In training for the marathon I never once stepped foot on a treadmill or a city street. Instead I carved my name into the Franklin Mountains running for countless hours and miles. It was not only a continuing therapy, but it gave me a sense of connection —connection to the land, connection to myself, and connection to whatever force is out there that created all of this.

Though running in the mountains essentially saved my life, it was slowly killing my knees.

Around this time I heard of a group of runners who ran barefoot. I was instantly intrigued and started reading articles on barefoot running. I had no idea, but there are people who run entire marathons barefoot, and this, to me, seemed so perfect, so natural.

I made up my mind that the next marathon I ran would be barefoot, but therein lay my dilemma. If I were to run a marathon barefooted, I would have to train barefooted. I knew my feet were tender and as sensitive as the feet of anyone who had worn shoes all their lives. I would have to leave my mountain for the streets in order to train barefooted.

I never did end my relationship to the land, and I recently made an amazing discovery that would allow me to have my cake and eat it too… barefooted.

While searching the Internet for a shoe that would provide maximum protection with minimal weight, I came across the Vibram Five Fingers shoe. Basically a glove for your foot with individual toe-holes, it has a basic sole that provides some protection, but not much.

Although these shoes have been around for quite some time, when I discovered them, they had just come out with their newest model and it was designed specifically for me. Their other models were for casual wear and street running, but this pair was created exclusively for trail running. It has a slightly thicker sole than previous models and has large nubs on the sole for grip and protection.

Runners often suffer from ailments such as shin splints, or in my case, bad knees. Although these problems do occur naturally, they usually stem from running improperly. The Vibram Five Fingers are designed to give you minimal protection, but teach you to run correctly.

Before buying these shoes, I did some research and found that many runners who suffered from these conditions started to run barefoot or switched to Vibrams, and started to see a difference. Because the sole of a running shoe provides a great deal of protection and padding, many runners never know that they are running, landing, or taking off wrong until it is too late.

Since Vibrams simulate running barefoot, if you are taking off or land incorrectly your body will definitely feel it, correct it without you realizing, and abracadabra, you are running the way humans are meant to run.

Matthew Maldonado and his Vibram shoes (Courtesy of Richard Barajas)

Matthew Maldonado and his Vibram shoes (Courtesy of Richard Barajas)

In my running career I have torn, bruised, and blistered my feet from breaking in shoes and landing on pointy rocks. My first time running with the Vibrams, was a little painful, as the sole is definitely not shoe strength, but they never got sore, never got blistered, and amazingly, the pads of my feet never became bruised.

Since the first run I have noticed a dramatic change in the way I land and the pain in my knees has disappeared.  The whole time I was in shoes I was protected completely from rocks and debris and only felt them when I really hit something sharp, but with the Vibrams I have been forced to make changes and now can run gracefully though the mountains.

I feel that ever since my re-acquaintance with nature I have become a smarter, stronger, and an overall better person.  Though there are many skeptics, running barefoot is the smart thing to do if you plan on running for a lifetime. The research and overwhelming number of testimonies, including my own, of how running barefoot changed the way runners run is just too overwhelming to ignore.

Vibrams have allowed me to continue my relationship with the land and run like an animal, connected to the nourishing earth.

5 thoughts on “Running Like an Animal

  1. I too am a barefoot runner. Just moved too las cruces! Be carefull with the vibrams they allow you to go much further and faster than the foot is ready for. Best advice is to learn to run truly barefoot once u do that u can were whatever u like:) and yes a truly barefoot marathon is very doable. I ran the chicago marathon without anything but my barefeet. Keep running brother

  2. Great stuff! I have had very similar experiences – finding energy in the mountains and being able to run without injury in VFFs. Thanks for sharing your story, and healthy running to you!

  3. Good advice Diego. i have been running barefoot for 6 months and resently went running with vibrams on but found i was landing too hard on the ground and injured my foot. I will be only running barefoot from now on!!

  4. Matthew, I’m so glad to see you have combined your two passions on borderzine — running and writing. I especially like the video. Congratulations and keep doing both.

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