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Passionate Barefoot Running

Thomas Bobby Philip approaches his running with passion and challenges himself at every turn to stay inspired, find outs Deepthi Velkur.

Thomas Bobby Philip (aka Bobby) believes that focusing on something that excites you lets you challenge yourself and achieve great things. A wonderful line from Oprah Winfrey comes to mind,

“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you”.

Bobby took to running in early 2009 and soon discovered that this was his calling. He hasn’t stopped since, never missing an opportunity to learn, challenge and improve himself in the sport. He believes in sharing this knowledge and he takes great pains to inspire and influence amateur runners in the sport and help them as much as he can.

He is a strong advocate of Barefoot running ever since he took to it in 2012. A certified ChiRunning trainer, Bobby has been organizing regular workshops all over Bangalore and helps runners run efficiently and injury-free.

On a professional front, Bobby has been with Nokia for nearly 10 years and is responsible for Capability Planning and Development.

I had a chance to talk with Bobby on his running story.

FM: How did you catch the running ‘bug’?thomas bobby

Bobby: It was early 2009 and my daughter had her school sports event that she was participating in. To help her prepare for the event, we started running together around my layout.

I’ll be honest – I have never been into sports before this, so I had to take it slow.

Initially, we started off with 200M on day 1, 300M on day 2, 300M twice on day 3 and so on. We gradually progressed and in about 7 days I could see a vast improvement in myself. I didn’t have a proper running shoe at that point and just ran in whatever shambles I was in. That’s the start to my running journey and I have never looked back since.

FM: You graduated from running your first 10k to HM and finally FM in 2 years’ time. How did you go ahead with your training and increase your distance with each event?

Bobby: I realized running was my passion because it gave me immense happiness. I decided to do something about it. The first step – get a good pair of shoes.

At the Nike store, the people introduced me to this club called the Nike Run Club. When I started training there, I was under the guidance of a professional certified coach who introduced me to the concept of warming up, how to run, how to strengthen myself, how to cool down and other basic techniques.

With their proper guidance, I ran my first Sunfeast 10K in 2009. I gradually progressed from a 10K to do my 1st half marathon in Chennai the same year. With 1.5 years of continuous training, I progressed to my first full marathon in 2011 at the SCMM (Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon). I was in no hurry to rush things and took more than a year to gradually build my base miles and physical strength by doing 2 HM’s and many 10k’s. My FM was a success and personally a great achievement too as I finished it in 3hrs 49mins.

FM: How has being part of a running group shaped you as a runner and achieve what you have today?

Bobby: I think what is most important is to train under a coach whether your part of a running group or training alone. This gives you an opportunity to learn the correct method of training, a person you could consult with, learn and get an expert opinion on various training techniques.

I used to train at the Nike Run Club under a certified coach – Mr.Beedu who helped me in a lot of ways and used to train us well. I then joined the PaceMakers where I was and still am under the guidance of a very matured and experienced coach, Kothandapani. He introduced me to the scientific method of training where we are given a training plan and we need to ensure that we followed it to the T. The training plan included a mix of workouts – interval, tempo, hill runs, fartleks. A combination of all of this makes you stronger and a better runner.

Being a part of a running group is great as we train together, support and compete against each other while we continue to learn and benefit from each other’s strengths. That’s the great camaraderie shared when you’re a part of a running group.

FM: Do you think having the right coach/mentor/guide makes all the difference to your training and performance?

Bobby: Yes, Absolutely! In fact, I strongly recommend that everybody trains under a coach/guide/mentor whatever you’d like to call it. It gives a whole new dimension to your running and moulds you as a runner.

FM: You are the first Indian to complete the Boston Marathon barefoot. Why did you choose to run barefoot?

Bobby: In 2012, I transitioned to running barefoot. I personally found that it worked well for me. I did my first 10k barefoot in 2012 followed by my first HM and later a 50K. It was a success to a point where I felt that running with shoes became a discomfort and uneasy.

In 2015, when I decided to run the Boston Marathon, I had to run barefoot as I had no choice as this was the only method I could follow. It made the run difficult due to the harsh weather conditions. I also wanted to show the world that running barefoot is normal as in the western world running barefoot is perceived as something abnormal and new to them. It was a bit of a shock for them to imagine someone walking barefoot and to top it all running barefoot too. I had people come and ask me if I have never worn a shoe before. (chuckles)

Since then whenever I travel internationally, I am barefoot especially when I’m travelling alone.

Its human to be barefoot, in fact, the entire universe is barefoot. It’s just that someone invented a shoe and we are literally bombed with shoes on our feet.

FM: What changes did you make to your training plan to be able to run barefoot?

Bobby: Honestly, there is no specific training plan as such to be followed. But I would say there is a transition process involved to be able to run barefoot. It does take time and you need to be patient as this time period could vary from person to person which could be a few weeks to over a year in some cases.

Every individual is diverse based on their past experience, background, levels of fitness and one needs to identify what works best for them. For e.g. Milind Soman took almost 1.5 years to transition to barefoot running before he did his first HM as he wanted to ensure nothing went wrong in the process, while I know a couple of runners who ran over 20kms barefoot in their very first attempt.

I could have never imagined running barefoot at the first instance. I know for sure I would have got blisters which I was close to getting. I made sure I was gradual in my transitioning process and wanted to slowly add up my barefoot mileage.

A common injury that one might face is the top of the foot pain (TOFP) which causes a slight swelling on the feet and pain in the calves. These are some of the pain areas that the body has to get used to and basic strengthening of the body is also key here.

FM: What variation elements do you add to your training routine to make it wholesome?

Bobby: Firstly, there are a lot of variations in training and secondly, I introduce physical fitness workouts into my training. Apart from these, there are other factors such as nutrition, having a positive attitude and mental strength.  All of these put together is one complete package. I also get regular deep tissue massages and give good recovery time for the body.

FM: You achieved your first podium at the Bangalore Ultra (37.5K) 2010 and have been on the podium ever since? What does it take to be so successful?

Bobby: It’s all about disciplined training and the guidance of a good coach. That’s the differentiating factor.

First, I think it’s very important to train right which helps to minimize the injuries. Second, I had an immense passion for the sport and spent enough time on the sport to train myself regularly and be disciplined than many other runners. I was considered the most disciplined runner at the Nike Run Club too. Hence with proper guidance and a disciplined attitude, I managed to achieve a podium in the veteran category.

FM: Consistency is the key to achieving anything in life. How have you built your pace and strength over the years?

Bobby: I totally agree with the statement. I have been training for over 9 years now and I’ve been extremely disciplined and consistent with my training. I have people ask me how do I manage to be so good – all I have to say is that I started early and we have very few runners who have this sort of experience. But the most important aspect for any runner is to continue with the same level of consistency, discipline and following a correct method of training and you will see yourself becoming better each day.

FM: Who inspires you to keep achieving pushing yourself more and more?

Bobby: Everyone who challenges themselves and competes with themselves to be better than what they were yesterday is where I draw all my inspiration from. My coach has and is still my biggest inspiration/role model. Within our running group, we have a lot of runners who are not as good as me, but I see them working very hard to improve themselves and be better. It’s wonderful to watch and learn from such people.

FM: What are your running goals for 2019?

Bobby: In general, I would like to be consistent in my performance throughout the year. My performances have already hit the peak for e.g. I do an FM under sub-3 hours and I’d like to maintain myself at those levels which is a challenging task in itself. I don’t really set crazy goals for myself. Many people like to do a higher mileage like the ultra-distances. To be frank, I don’t have such aspiration as I prefer more intensity workouts/runs such as the faster 5k, 10k and HM’s and try and do at least one FM in a year.

With respect to the events for 2019, I would like to take part in a lot of Procam events like the TSK, the ADHM which I haven’t done in two years now and maybe one or two cities more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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Featured Comments Off on Run and bare it |

Run and bare it

Capt Seshadri looks at Barefoot world champion athletes who have made barefoot running a trend that has made a powerful comeback.

When it comes to a choice between shoes and no shoes, barefoot runners over the years have given their shod competitors a run for their money. In Rome, in 1960, a long distance runner, finding that the official footwear supplier had run out of shoes of his size and that those supplied to him were too tight for comfort, decided to run the marathon without them. And hit pay dirt. Four years later, in Tokyo, Abebe Bikila, the legendary Ethiopian athlete, successfully defended his title, this time running in shoes, and in the process, set a new world record.

Barely four months ago, on April 28, 2018, the world bid adieu to another barefoot running legend, Michael ‘Bruce’ Tulloh. In the early ‘60s, Bruce was a sensation, regularly winning European and international cross-country championships. Two decades later, his twin teenaged daughters set age records for running. Naturally, they also ran barefoot. Tulloh, who turned later in life to teaching biology, ran a grueling 4,600 km across North America, from LA to NY, in just 64 days. He appeared to have counted his paces since this arduous run was captured in his book titled ‘Four Million Footsteps’.

Bihar, in India, produces sportspersons from as varied disciplines as athletics, hockey and archery, but there is one great long-distance runner who represented the country in the ’76 Montreal Olympics, running the marathon barefoot in a surprising time of 2:15:58. His best marathon effort though was in 1978 in Jalandhar, where he timed 2:12:00, a national record unbroken to this day. In the 42.2 at Montreal, Shivnath Singh was in the van for 32 km, ahead of legends like Bill Rodgers and Lasse Viren. Finally, his finish at # 11 out of 72 participants, was an extremely credible performance at the time for an Indian athlete.

Barefoot running is not the exclusive preserve of the male. As a school student at the age of seven, Tegla Loroupe, born in the rift valley area of Kenya, ran 10 km to school and back every day. This early training led to her winning several half and full marathons while garnering gold in the 10,000 metres in the Goodwill Games in 1994 and 1998. Tegla, after retirement, was selected to champion the cause of ‘refugee athletes’ as the organiser of the Refugee Team for the Rio Olympics in 2016.

One of the most famous barefoot women athletes gained notoriety for a different reason, although subsequent investigations absolved her of all fault. Zola Budd, born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, migrated to England to escape the apartheid ban, driven by the fact that her world record of 15:01:83 in the 5,000 metres at age 17 went unrecognised. A year later, representing Great Britain, Zola erased her record with a performance of 14:48:07. Her claim to infamy came with her multiple collisions with Mary Decker, leaving Mary out of the competition and a tearful Zola finishing seventh.

While 27,000 km of running, including 50 + marathons qualifies Rick Roeber as one of the most prominent barefoot runners of this era, the real ‘godfather’ of the unshod foot is Ken Bob Saxton of Seattle, who has a century and more of marathons under his soles. And, running barefoot for charity, Ms. Rae Heim covered over 3,000 km across America to raise funds to provide shoes to needy children under the banner of Soles4Souls.

Ultimately, it’s a long road to run on. Whether for glory or for a cause.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Connect to the Ground

Running barefoot is not just a trend but practised by many elite runners as a habit, writes Capt Seshadri. 

Running a marathon is certainly no walk in the park, more so if you are running barefoot. But for many an athlete, unshod seems to be a preference over wearing shoes, be it a marathon, a cross country event or, for a few, even a sprint!

‘Barefoot’ or ‘natural running’ as it is often termed, ignoring technological and biomedical recommendations, is still practised in some parts of the world, more prominently in Africa and Latin America, rather than in the European or North American continents. The arguments for and against make for interesting reading, although there is no proven evidence to substantiate either view. It is widely believed in some circles that barefoot running, being natural to the human body, brings health benefits. History confirms that all the running before the advent of footwear was done on uncovered soles, most likely, even the first marathon that Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta with the news of the victory of the Greeks over the Persians. It also seems logical that the track events before the first Olympics must have been contested barefoot.

Preliminary scientific research suggests that the barefoot runner tends to land on each stride, on the ball of the foot, thereby avoiding stressful impact and repetitive shock of heel landing. This also increases the elasticity of the muscles and protects the adjoining areas like the plantar fascia. The arguments against, are lack of protection against climate and inclement weather, and the possibility of cuts and bruises from uneven running surfaces, resulting in painful injuries and sepsis. Advocates of natural running however, maintain that the shoe could cause and aggravate injuries and stress to knee and ankle joints, especially if not conforming to the specific configuration of the feet of individuals.

Since the late 70s, with much debate surfacing between running barefoot and with shoes on, manufacturers of athletic footwear took cognizance of the pros and cons and began designing running shoes for comfort and injury prevention. One of the cautionary points put across by them was that diabetics, especially, should avoid running barefoot, to prevent complications, while also citing possible bone damage to users.

All this triggered the move towards an intermediary and realistic compromise between running barefoot and running shod. And so came about the hybrid term ‘minimalistic running’, using thin soled and flexible shoes with a minimum of padding, like sandals or moccasins. This could possibly be an evolution of what runners wore for a millennium or more, before the design and development of the modern running shoe. A soft covering that permits the feet to adapt to the contours of the ground, allows for greater flexibility and adjustments to each individual’s peculiar stride or style of running.

Natural running is gaining popularity among the athletic community the world over. In November 2009, the Barefoot Runners Society was formed in the US; soon after, on December 12, 2010, the Barefoot Runners of India Foundation garnered 306 participants for a half marathon in the town of Khargar, near Mumbai. A few medical associations though, warn runners not to transit overnight to the barefoot ideology. Time, training and an understanding of the effect such a transition would have on the muscles involved, should dictate the duration of transition.

So, if the bare necessities of your running lives involve shoes, you might like to think again. Or, even maybe not. Possibly, time will tell.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Barefoot running – a more natural way to run

Barefoot seems like a great way to run but you need to work your way to it, writes Deepthi Velkur.

Barefoot and minimalist shoe running is slowly but surely gaining popularity despite substantial advances in shoe technology alongside enhanced shoe features like better cushioning, motion control, and even the arrival of special fitness shoes. Running barefoot strengthens your feet, helps you feel more connected to the ground and is definitely more fun.

Barefoot running can be quite a dreadful experience at first as your feet will be weak, so taking it slow is the way to go. When your feet touch the ground, make sure you land on your mid-foot or the ball of your feet followed by the toes and then the heel touching the ground. It easily takes anywhere between several weeks to months to build up the strength necessary for faster or longer running.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind while you start out running barefoot –

  • Take baby steps– Muscles in your body take about 6 – 8 weeks to adapt to something new. For the first 4 weeks, do walk barefoot for 20 – 30 mins a day. The next 4 weeks focus on running short distances on smooth surfaces like a few laps around a park or an easy jog around a soft indoor track. Once you are more comfortable, gradually increase the distance every week and move on to running on hard surfaces. Keep a close check on how your feet are adapting to the new surface to avoid injury.
  • Maintaining a good form– When you start running barefoot, you also need to focus on training your body on how to run with a good form. Skipping, toe-up drill or the lean drill are a few exercises you could try in training. Doing these drills ensures your running efficiency, help in striking the ground properly and staying injury-free.
  • Feel the ground– By wearing protective shoes all along, your feet find it difficult in sensing the ground. Try and include ‘feel the ground activities’ such as standing on one leg while brushing your teeth, using a balance disc / pillow at the gym or bouncing on one leg on a mini trampoline a few times a week.
  • Be Flexible– You  might feel some tightness or pain in the Achilles tendon. Making the back of your leg flexible with calf stretches or foam rolling helps during the transition to barefoot running.
  • Strong Feet– By doing a lot of balancing exercises, you can strengthen your feet. This can be achieved by standing on one leg, rolling your entire body weight from the outside to the inside of the foot and back.
  • Plyometrics– Since your feet have been cushioned with shoes, feeling the impact of the ground with barefoot running becomes a challenge. Plyometrics are exercises which include hop or skip with one or two legs, side to side hops or single leg box jump are good for preparing you for barefoot running.

Using the above tips will help in a smooth transition to barefoot running by reducing the tiredness in your knees and hips after a run or workout, helps in feeling the ground during a run and increasing the joy of running barefoot.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

Read more