5 Things GNU/Linux Taught Me About Barefoot Running

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

1. Great Movements Are Started By Guys With Beards

The guy who started the GNU Foundation (Richard Stallman):

Richard Stallman

Richard Stallman (courtesey http://bit.ly/stallmanviene)

In 1983, Richard Stallman announced the creation of the GNU Foundation, whose aim was to create a free version of the popular UNIX operating system. At the time this was an audacious goal, tantamount to re-writing Windows from scratch. The GNU foundation succeeded in its goal, with the result being GNU/Linux, which today is one of the world’s most popular operating systems, and remains free and open-source to this day.

The guy who started the Barefoot Movement (Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton):

Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton
Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton (courtesy http://bit.ly/barefootrunners)

After his first marathon left him with bloody blisters all over his feet, Ken Bob Saxton threw away his shoes and started running barefoot. He founded barefootrunning.com, which became a major hub for the barefoot running movement over the past decade. He has been the inspiration for many contemporary barefoot runners, such as Barefoot Ted, and remains one of the movement’s most active participants.

2. The most revolutionary ideas can be counterintuitive

When Richard Stallman came up with the idea of giving away free software on a large scale, it likely made no effect on the business models of the largest computer companies out there. How could some crazy programmer think that writing free software would in any way make a difference? Fast forward a few decades, and behold the GNU/Linux operating system and the thousands of programs written for it. This movement started at the grassroots level and took off slowly but steadily for one reason: programmers love to program.

For once there was nobody trying to profit directly from the labours of programmers, nor hoarde their intellectual property and innovations. They could just write, share and modify code all you want without having to worry about being sued. Volunteers from all over sprang up to write code for the sheer enjoyment of it.

There are many similarities between how the GNU movement started, and how the barefoot running movement got up and running (pun intended). Barefoot running is a response to the injuries and discomfort suffered by millions of people around the globe. A few brave souls tried taking off their shoes, running barefoot, and loving it! Like the open source programmers before them, they told others about it. As more people tried it for themselves, they realised that they actually enjoyed running, and could now do it more easily and without injury. The word began to spread that expensive shoes were not only unecessary, but could be downright dangerous!

Driven at first by word of mouth and independent discovery, the movement began to take hold, and we started to see the publication of books and videos. Blogs sprang up everywhere! And why is it catching on? Some say because it’s free, or because it can reduce injuries, but I think it’s because it allows runners to enjoy running in its purest form, without marketing hype or trends to affect their experience.

3. Steep Learning Curve

Trying to learn how to use the GNU/Linux command prompt when you’re used to a windows-based system is like trying to learn how to fly a plane while it’s in midair. It’s got an incredibly dense set of commands that combine to form even more bewildering statements and expressions, and one misplaced keystroke can potentially cause all of your data to be wiped off the hard drive.

Barefoot running is similar in a lot of ways. If you do it wrong from the beginning and don’t take the time to learn properly, you’re likely to hurt yourself, in some cases really badly.

In both these cases, when you strip away all of the padding and window dressing, and get right down to it, the margin for error in decreases significantly. At the same time, however you are rewarded with an unprecedented amount of control over what you’re doing. Try renaming every file in your pictures folder while simultaneousy rotating each image and resizing them in Windows, and you’re likely to be there a long time. In GNU/Linux it can be done in one command line statement. Likewise, try learning correct running form while wearing heavily padded shoes, and your efforts will likely be arduous and take a long time. In bare feet however, the time to learn can decrease to a handful of sessions as you get instant feedback the moment you make a mistake.

4. Amazing Communities

Both the GNU and Barefoot camps have very active communities. They are full of friendly, helpful people that just want to spread the enjoyment that they receive in doing what they love. Having been around for decades, the GNU, and especially the GNU/Linux communities are enormous and when you factor in all of the other open source projects that have sprung up in addition to these, you should have no trouble tracking down a forum online.

With barefoot running being a more of a recent trend, there are fewer options to choose from, but what they lack in numbers, the more than make up for in enthusiasm. Have a look at barefootrunners.org, for example to see what a handful of enthusiasts can achieve.

5. Talking the talk

I’ll be honest, after nearly a decade of programming, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I can understand in GNU/Linux. It’s full of all sorts of strange commands and symbols, expressions and statements. It’s a lot like peering into a wizard’s spellbook and trying to nut out what it says. To me this is part of the appeal of GNU/Linux, and it keeps my interest alive. Running has a much smaller vocabulary, but some of it can be just as arcane.

For example, a visit to any running forum might yield bizarre words, such as Proprioception, Plantar Fasciitis and Overpronation. A lot of these words were popularised by shoe companies in an attempt to talk up their products’ new features. If you’re interested in running barefoot, it’s important to start learning what these words mean, as even though they may appear full of science and mystery, they’re often just used to explain simple things in a tricky way.

Both the GNU and Barefoot Running communites have a lot in common and are full of eager, enthusiastic folks that are ready and willing to help make the transition easier. I highly recommend joining some of these great communities, or even just following along on twitter. Learning to run barefoot is a challenge that is as rewarding as it can be tough, but perserverance will see you get more out of running than you ever thought possible.


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