Friday, September 23, 2011

Marathoner Bares His Sole

<<He will be one of the oldest participants in this weekend’s Oakville Half Marathon, but Alan Thwaits will run the race as if he’s one of the youngest.>>
Fancy footwork. Alan Thwaits, 63, started running barefoot three years ago. Photo supplied
The 63-year-old Mississauga resident will run Sunday’s race in the same fashion he always runs — barefoot.
“Some runners who have gone from shoes to barefoot don’t even race anymore, because they’ve discovered something else about running that matters. It’s fun,” says Thwaits. “You run through puddles, you feel like a kid. You smile at people more often.”
Childhood nostalgia isn’t the main reason Thwaits chooses to run without shoes, however. It’s all part of his rediscovery of his love of running.
Three years ago, Thwaits was just getting back into running after a 30-year hiatus from the sport. ...


Shortly after he got back into running, Thwaits read about barefoot running, something he saw as a “growing movement.” Thwaits read that when people run more naturally, they’re less susceptible to injury, that there was less impact on the hips and knees running barefoot than in shoes.
“If you transition to running barefoot, you will run more naturally. Your feet become stronger, your legs become stronger, your back becomes stronger,” he says.
“You stand up straight. If you watch people run (in shoes), they… land on their heel. It sends a huge jolt up your body, but you can’t do that when you’re barefooting. It’s impossible. It hurts too much. So you pitter-patter, do fox-running, land with a mid-foot stride, or you have a shorter stride and a faster cadence.”
The transition to barefoot running took some adjusting, Thwaits said. He admits it slowed him down at first, but he now runs at the same speed as he did 30 years ago.
Thwaits exclusively runs barefoot now, whether it’s the eight-kilometre route he takes to work each day or a half-marathon, 30K race, full marathon or 50K ultra run.
Of course, there are hinderances to running barefoot. Thwaits stops running outside in mid-November because of the cold, switching to a treadmill until the middle of March.
“I do know people who run through the winter barefoot,” he says. “There’s a guy in Ottawa and a guy in Peterborough. The guy in Ottawa runs shorter distances in the winter, and the Peterborough guy doesn’t want to buy shoes.”
The heat of summer could also be tough on barefoot runners’ feet, though Thwaits says there are ways to beat the heat.
“I was really happy in August when it was 37 degrees,” he says. “You learn things like the pavement is slightly cooler than the sidewalks, or people learn to run on the white painted line on the side of the road. People also take little breaks on the cool grass.”
Thwaits is certainly passionate about his unique running style. His email address includes the words “basic bare”, and he blogs online about his running exploits (