Abebe Bikila, All Too Human

A couple of weeks ago I began to change the way I run. I debated this for about a year, when I started running, but finally I decided to take the plunge and start running barefoot-ish.

The reason it took so long is because I have the unfortunate Greek problem of having an index toe, also known as a Morton’s toe. This coupled with the fact that I only had one running related injury over the course of my running life I did not feel any immediacy towards getting any form of barefoot shoe. Then one rainy day I did a Jerry Lewis prat fall on the street near Point Pleasant Park. Lying in the mud and looking at the grey ceiling I decided it was time for something new; or at least something with new treads.

I looked at both the Luna sandals and the Vibram Five Fingers and decided to go with the Vibram model first. My rational behind this is that the Bikila LS model is a combination of what would seem to be natural with the impression that there was some modern Science! involved. I am sure there was very little actual science going on, you know with lab coats, but I like the impression that it is going on in the background. A passive agressive homicidal AI would also be a plus.

There was another reason, beyond the Science!, but there is a certain romance to the late night run of Abebe Bikila that appeals to me. So what is my experience of running around Halifax? Is it as magical as that Roman sunset outside the Colosseum in 1960.


To be honest I started too fast and started experiencing weird side effects due to the new demands on the system. My calves started hurting due to the extra 2 cm drop they had to accommodate. Then the muscles in charge of impact resistance started to ache in a whole new way and I had developed a rather odd, and none too faltering, walking stride whilst walking around town.

Eventually, basically after the first week, the pain started to vanish and I started to run like a normal person again. At least from the hips up. My stride had changed fundamentally.

The upside of all of this is that I started to enjoy running on the grass, like when I was a child all those years ago, and even running on the rounded stone beaches of Point Pleasant Park. I pretty much like running on all surfaces now whereas before I tended to stay on the cement or beaten in ground. Essentially because the texture of the ground now translated through the shoe I ceased to simply pound the poor things into the ground and started to touch it.

The reason I said my runs are not magical is because they are not. I now know how the trick is done. Halifax, with all the mistakes and successes of years of city planers, has become part of my sense memory now. The feel of the ocean breeze as run across a stone beach. The texture of the hills of Point Pleasant after a summer rain. The feel of cement slabs that are ever so slightly misaligned and which curbs are wheel chair friendly.

The reality of Halifax is seeping through up through my feet and I imagine the Bikila thought much the same of Rome. It is not a magical feeling that you feel at the end of your run. It is merely a human feeling.

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