Sunday April 22nd saw the opening of a dedicated barefoot trail at one of the NT's Historic Houses. The fact that the National Trust are keen to be involved with such a project without hiding behind some 'Health and Safety' paperwork is a huge step forward.
The trail was designed by Julie Hansen, a park ranger with the NT and well known local barefoot podiatrist Steve Bloor, in an attempt to re-connect people to nature and the ground in particular.
Everybody loved it - my six-yr-old son was in his element (there was lots of mud!) and it was all I could do to drag him home at the end of the day, feet and legs looking well used - as soon as he was home he designed a barefoot trail of his own! All the kids loved it (big and small!) and as a barefoot running coach finding somewhere that actively promotes being barefoot is such a bonus as too often bare feet are looked at with distain, regarded as dirty and unhygienic and somehow offensive.
The truth is that feet were designed to be bare. Just like our hands and our head, our feet are part of our temperature control system and need to be able to release heat - if they are confined by socks and shoes they will sweat and effectively create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Athletes foot is caused but such an environment.
Shoes act like a cast for our feet, weakening and deforming the entire structure. Pretty much all foot problems are caused by wearing shoes. As are many other problems throughout the body due to the heel and arch support in shoes causing postural abnormalities not the mention simply creating a weak foundation - your foot is your foundation and just like any other structure a weak foundation will cause all kinds of problems. If the foot cannot support itself then other muscles further up the leg and body have to work over time to compensate which eventually leads to injury.
And I haven't even started on running issues yet!
Many people are becoming interested in learning how to run barefoot or at least with the barefoot technique in a barefoot shoe - well there is an adaptation phase to consider and the best way to teach your body how to run correctly again is to start with walking. Barefoot.
Being barefoot and walking on all kinds of terrain and surfaces will wake up your feet, especially the 200,000 nerve endings in the sole of the foot which are responsible for telling your brain about the forces acting on the body. These sensors are there to protect joints in the body from undue stress - but they cannot work when protected by a traditional shoe. Being barefoot as much as possible will strengthen the muscles in the feet which in turn will ease stress on other parts of the body. It's a win win situation.
So hats off to the National Trust (or should that be 'shoes off') for going down this path - talking with Julie at the event it is clear that there are all kinds of exciting opportunities that could stem from this, not least taking barefoot running to the masses!
Watch this space!