Runversation: The joys of barefoot running

Deccan Chronicle.  | Samuel Sudhakar

Sports, In Other News

Thomas Bobby Phillip is the first Indian to run the Boston marathon, barefoot. And he’s living it up.

Thomas Bobby Phillip

As kids, almost all of us spent a fair amount of time running — not really to get to a particular destination but because it felt good to move fast, jump and chase friends across the playground. We also spent hours chasing the ball across the field. We were much freer in our movement, much flexible with our bodies and more relaxed overall. Running came easy to us and we didn’t have to “try hard” to do it. It was as simple and easy to do as your next breath. As children, we didn’t realise what we were doing, it was more of a “fun thing”.

But thousands of years ago, our ancestors were carnivores and as hunters, they travelled miles for their daily supply of food, by persistent hunting. That’s how we fed, lived and prospered. They must have been reasonably successful in that endeavour because we’re now driving around in cars and are sitting behind desks — all because of that one guy who ran across streams and peaks to hunt mammoths.

Man, then, was a natural runner. For thousands of years, we survived without any footwear because the foot itself was purpose-built for the job. As Leonardo Da Vinci put it — “the human foot is a work of art and a masterpiece of engineering”.

Thomas Bobby Phillip was training his daughter for a school sport event back in 2009. After a week’s training, what started by accident, turned into a passion. And in 2015, Phillip became the first Indian to run the iconic and prestigious Boston Marathon, barefoot!

“During the early runs, I would struggle to make a kilometre without breaks,” says Phillip. “My target was to run 10 km without a halt, which I managed eventually. I worked on building endurance and trained to increase distances. As days, months and years went by, I progressed making significant leaps in my running career. All that led up to my first full (marathon) at Mumbai — which I finished in 3hrs 49mins.

“After identifying more areas for more improvement and adding various training methods, I made tremendous progress again. My first step towards barefoot running was in the year 2012 and since then, running has become a meditative experience.

Bobby, as he is fondly called, says barefoot running has helped his movement. “Ever since I started, I have never been slow. I love every step I take and I’ve never been more in-the-moment with my running. It’s the sensuality, the fluidity, the lack of jarring impact. Believe me, there is something about barefoot running that makes me become one with myself.”  

The thing is Bobby was a regular. Anything done in regular frequency has the ability to turn us into specialists at that particular job. It becomes so easy to define yourself by what you do rather than by who you are.  It also becomes easy to compare your results and accomplishments. You and your ego, become attached to things which don’t even really exist.   

Our bodies were meant to be vehicles to take us from one end to the other so they want us all to try and actually, live. We were all born to run, yes. But the rest is up to you.