Changing Your Fitness Routine

How an injury can shake you up ... for the better

As part of my plan for rehabbing a knee injury, I’ve been dabbling in barefoot running. So far, I’ve only run shoeless a handful of times, although my sports medicine doctor began encouraging me to try barefooting back in April; he believes that the switch to running barefoot could solve my knee-pain issues. And given how desperately I’ve wanted to resume my normal running routine and usual weekly mileage, you’d think I’d be aggressively pursuing this alternative approach.

But I have a confession: I’m scared. Starting a run by taking off, rather than lacing up, my shoes is weird and different and unfamiliar. And I’m a big fan of the familiar. One of the most frequent criticisms of running I hear from non-runners is, “You must get so bored out there.” To them, the monotony of running—especially distance running—is a turnoff. But the sameness, the repetition is one of my favorite things about it. I find it soothing to fall into a rhythm and let my brain downshift a couple gears while I trot along the tree-shaded streets near my house.

At the same time, I know that change can bring great things. Once upon a time, I was convinced I’d never be able to run farther than three miles, until in 2007 a persuasive co-worker and fellow runner encouraged me to train for the Broad Street Run. That experience opened me up to the possibility that I could be what I considered “a real runner,” and it taught me that my expectations of myself could either hinder or free me. In the years since then, I’ve continued to grow as a runner and challenge myself with longer distances and speedier time goals.

On one hand, I want running to be uncomplicated and familiar and exactly like it’s always been. The past two Julys, I was in the midst of marathon training, and right now I miss that process of pushing my body and mind and reveling in meeting the progressive goals of my training plan. But on the other hand, I know that, as my ability to adjust and grow has brought me joys such as completing two marathons, it is flexibility and willingness to change that could get my body back to a healthy state. And I’ve begun my personal barefoot experiment because I long to get back to Saturday morning long runs and occasional, moderate speedwork—and I’m willing to try whatever it takes to get me to that destination. Even if I am a little bit scared.