I've had a long and varied relationship with running. My freshman year in high school, I decided to go out for track, following in my brother's footsteps, and quickly found my stride in the 400 meters. I loved the sport so much that the next winter I decided to give up swimming for the local Y (which I had done since I was 7) and do indoor track instead. Later in life, I evolved into a distance runner and now have 5 marathons and over a dozen half marathons under my belt.
But something has always plagued my relationship with running: shin splints. Whether I was in an all-out sprint or a slow jog, the stabbing pain in my lower legs made me wince. The remedy? Always more: more cushioning in my shoes, more ibuprofen, more ice, more stretches. I tried a variety of expensive running shoes, saw a few physical therapists, even considered orthotics to help get rid of the problem. Eventually I learned to run through the pain - it would often go away after 20-30 minutes of jogging at a slow speed. I found a pair of running shoes that made the pain bearable (that I had to replace every few months after they wore out) and fell into an ok routine.
When I first heard about the barefoot running movement I was doubtful. I remembered back to running a half marathon with my sister in 2007 - at about mile 8, a white-haired, bearded, middle-aged man zoomed by us… with NO SHOES ON. In response to some of the wisecracks around him, he called out "I ran my first marathon with shoes, and this is number 60 without them. The shoe companies have you all fooled!" Needless to say, I wrote him off as a complete nut.
More recently, I listened to the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (admittedly, I was late in discovering this book). It started to change my mind about the whole barefoot thing - after all, if our bodies are made to run, why should we require shoes? But I still had the nagging thought: I could never run with less cushioning. The impact would kill my shins.
While still stewing in this skepticism, I decided to buy a pair of Vibram FiveFingers since I also do a lot of walking and heard they're great for that. After a few weeks of walking to and from work every day, I discovered something: I no longer had shin splints while running (still in my cushiony shoes). In another few weeks I decided to take the plunge. While out for a long walk in my "barefoot" shoes, I started jogging just to see what it felt like. Lo and behold, it was great! In fact, my shins were fine, my hips didn't hurt, even my feet felt completely normal. Not to mention my knees, which had given me some trouble on-and-off, were perfectly fine.
Now, I'm not advocating barefoot running for everyone (nor am I recommending running in general for everyone). Find what works for you and stick with that. But, converting to barefoot running has taught me some things that I'm now applying to my financial life:
1. Don't be afraid to give something up. You might think you can't live without that morning cup of coffee, or your premium cable channels, or even that super cute pair of magically-on-sale jeans. But until you try living without it, you don't really know. I used to hit up Starbucks every morning and now I just walk on by, and ImpulseSave the difference!
2. Sometimes less really is more. Instead of focusing on the amount of stuff I have, I now look for quality and durability. Whenever I go clothes shopping, my new mantra is One great [sweater/top/skirt/dress] is better than five mediocre ones.
3. Small changes can have unintended (positive) consequences. When I decided not to get my monthly subway pass, but instead pay on a per-ride basis, I found myself walking everywhere. I mean everywhere, as long as it was 3 miles or less. Not only was this great exercise, but it also allowed me to listen to more books and podcasts along the way. The same thing happened when I gave up coffee in the morning - after a week of mild headaches, I discovered I actually had more energy throughout the day, without the morning rush of caffeine!
With these new lessons, maybe I'll ImpulseSave up enough to run my next race in an exotic location. :)