Barefoot Running: a personal journey towards an efficient running form
I’m a professional drummer and an inspired average runner. Over the years I’ve been very fortunate to to travel a lot with music and am always looking for places to go for long barefoot runs, so I thought I’d share a series of diarised thoughts about my journey into barefoot running that began about five years ago (this page is presented chronologically dating back to 2013, with each heading representing a gap of serval months). I’ve also included several recordings of music that I’ve made in response to thoughts and physical feelings emerging during long runs. The recordings can be streamed whilst reading, and if you like the music it can be purchased by clicking “buy” on the Bandcamp player.
I should mention that I don’t run barefoot as a form of protest against wearing shoes or as some kind of cultish ritual associated with suffering. I do it because it feels so amazingly good, each step a sensory experience akin to taste or smell. Every running surface brings different sensations, some better than others of course, but the good ones, such as smooth asphalt or clay, feel so good to run on that you find yourself continuing for the sheer sensory pleasure of each new step.
Having run barefoot for quite a while now, I find that I really miss that sensory feedback whenever my feet are covered by shoes. I also love the dedication to form that barefoot running requires as it’s very difficult to run long distances barefoot unless you are keenly aware of all aspects of your form and technique.
Here’s a musical preface in the form of a recording that Carl Dewhurst and I have recently released that features a long run within the music. The recording, entitled “Kaihogyo”, is an exploration of links between running and music making, as well as meditative states one may experience during a run.
I started running barefoot about 12 months ago. I’d been running for about 5 or 6 years regularly and was interested in minimal shoes and running with a “forefoot strike”, but had never really explored barefoot running at all. Whilst on tour in Adelaide, one of my friends, Carl Dewhurst, took me for a barefoot run and introduced me to some basic conceptions of form. After running for 30 minutes or so I had a kind of epiphany (I know, I know…epiphany smipheny…but this really was an incredible feeling), and decided that I would run barefoot from then on. During the run with Carl, I had numerous memories of childhood and early teenage years pop into my mind and I realized that I’d spent so much of my life walking and running without shoes and that I loved, and missed, that feeling. Since then I’ve been running about 50-80 km per week and have never felt better about running.
I’m in Japan at the moment and have had some great runs at Mino Park, a wonderful mountainous area north of Osaka. Mino Park is such a great place to run as you get the big hills, wonderful trees, waterfalls, monkeys…the walking paths are great for running and the roads are smooth with only a few cars here and there.
Body Motion/Body Breathing
Last night I played in Chiba, Japan, so went for a nice 20k run along Lake Tenaguma before tonights gig. This place is paradise for barefoot running! Lake Tenaguma features a beautiful winding asphalt path along the lake which is not too smooth, and feels like a firm foot massage. Running along the shoreline and listening to the wind blow through the water reeds was a meditative experience and a great way to loosen up before playing the gig. The area is a wildlife refuge so there are lots of birds and aquatic animals around.
One of the most common questions I get asked in regards to barefoot running is “don’t you get hurt?”. I’ve been asked about broken glass, shin splints, cut soles ect…its a long list of possible injuries, most of which I didn’t even know existed!
To date the primary injury I’ve faced is the very rare stubbed big toe. It’s a funny thing, I only stub my toe when my confidence levels rise above reality (the reality being that I’m an enthusiastic yet very average runner). At those moments, when a wave of self-congratulatory confidence washes through, I inevitably whack my toe and am jarred back to reality with a brutal, humbling stub. I always run with my toes lifted slightly so that they never scrape the ground (except for aforementioned moments of delusion).
One of the great pleasures of barefoot is the focus on form. For me, form in barefoot running is not so much about what’s happening with your feet, it’s what’s happening with your core area and upper body. I like to really drop into my core, as though I’m sinking down deeper with each step, allowing for lighter steps with almost no impact (I like the idea that if I can hear my feet strike the ground I’m stepping too hard). One way that I use to engage with the core area is to bend my arms so that my fists are facing directly upward and elbows facing straight down (with fists at about chest height). I lift my upper chest and let myself sink. Whilst tucking in the top of my bottom, I imagine that I’m sitting in my core area…like a comfy bean bag. If my upper body is really loose, but not slouched, it feels like I’m being pulled forward, as though a rope is extending outward from my core and something is pulling me along. It’s an incredible feeling of relaxed stability. After two or three hours of running with a conscious engagement with core and posture I feel extremely energized and loose.
As a drummer, it really helps to have no tension in your body while you play. We sit on funny little round stools and move our arms and legs around (try sitting on a stool and lifting both legs and arms at the same time to get the idea), and we really need a core foundation so as to maintain balance and focus. When playing improvised music, musicians put out lots of energy and make countless creative decisions. If fatigue sets in the music can really suffer. In my case, I have no doubt that when I’m running a lot, and feel strong in my core area, I’m much more energized, aware, and consciously present during performances.
Since about 1998, I’ve been traveling to South Korea regularly to perform and further my knowledge of Korea’s extraordinary traditional drumming practices. Initially, the aim of the study was not to become a performer of Korean traditional music but to gain a deeper knowledge of Korean approaches to aesthetic conceptions, musical flow, sound production, as well as the removal of tension during performance.
When studying drums in Korea, you often hear the term “hohŭp“. I’ve heard numerous ways of describing this term in Korea, a common one being “body motion/body breathing”. From my first lessons in Korea with a wonderful artist/educator named Kang Sun il, I realised that all my previous experiences studying drumming were irrelevant in a Korean context, and that in essence I was starting from scratch. The focus on broad physical issues relating to movement, breath, relaxation, and a greater awareness of tanjŏn (core area [tan tien in Mandarin or hara in Japanese]) came as a revelation, profoundly altering my conception of drumset performance.
My first lessons in Korean drumming involved Sun il and I standing face to face whilst breathing in unison with knees bent. Sun il would hit my chest and say “hohŭp….. hohŭp” over and over whilst checking my posture. After a while, the breathing was set to a slow rhythmic pulse with the exhalation occurring on beat 1. Sun Il then introduced me to a range of movement exercises to help develop a sense of engaging and sinking into the core. From then on, all lessons would begin with breathing and core development exercises with each new rhythm having a movement and breathing conception to consider. At any time, if Sun il could sense physical tension in my playing, we would go back to breathing/movement/posture exercises before continuing with playing.
Here’s a solo drumming improvisation that explores energies, rhythmic thoughts, and sonic areas inspired by many years of study, friendships, and music making in Korea.
With all this in mind, I’ve found that barefoot running has been an amazing concurrent practice that reinforces the benefits of a mindful approach to core development, breathing, and the removal of tension in the body (in addition to all the sensory pleasures of running outdoors on a range of different surfaces).
“If I was you I’d do something about those”
Back in Sydney! Ive just been running around the Bay Run, it’s a 7k loop around the bay at Drummoyne which has a really nice nice bitumen path most of the way around, and at about 5pm the breeze begins to blow in and it’s glorious. I try to do 10 laps each week across three or four runs, sometimes more, sometime less. For many people I’ve met, running in a loop can be tedious but I love it. The repetition allows for immersion into working on form and technique and following the flow of random thoughts. Its a meditative experience that I really enjoy, especially if I’m commuting a lot.
I also love seeing the other regular runners, all on our own little journeys with this common activity. As with any good running spot, there is a huge variety of runners with varying degrees of experience. I try to learn from all the runners around me, listening to their breathing and how hard their feet hit the ground. If I see an approach that looks strong, I try to mimic an aspect of the form that I haven’t tried before, thus exploring new approaches to posture, upper body form, the angle the head sits at. There are runners that pass by up to 10 times during a single run. As we cross each other’s paths twice per lap, we never stop to speak but the acknowledgments seem to become more intense as the run gets longer. By the late stages of a 35k run we are spurring each other on with little smiles and nods of encouragement.
I was inspired to start running (in shoes) by a sound engineer, named Mash Ferris, who I work with in a group that has toured a lot over the last 15 years. Mash would wake up after a late night and go for long runs (we now do lots of fun runs together). I had finally quit smoking a few years before, having smoked for 20 years, and was starting to feel a strange new feeling when Mash went for runs, like…”yeah…I think I can do that too”. My first few runs were hilarious spectacles; a gasping, chicken legged, jazz musician trying to get from one end of the street to the other. After seeing me in shorts (a new thing for me at that time), a friend looked at my legs and said “if I was you I’d have done something about those”.
A challenge for me when I started to run was breathing, or to be more exact, running without gasping for breath. My friend Scott Tinker, who is also a barefoot runner (and an incredible trumpet player), introduced me to a cool breathing exercise which involves breathing in for 4 counts (1 step = 1 count), hold your breathe for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, and hold for 4 counts (keep doing it for the whole run). For the first two years I ran with this breathing routine and it really helped me develop aerobic strength. After a year or so I upped it to higher breath lengths such as six or eight counts.
That was about 6 years ago I guess and these days I like it when my breathing whilst running feels almost still, as though I’m sitting down listening to music.
One great aspect of barefoot running is how quiet each step is. As mentioned earlier, if I can hear my feet hitting the ground I try to slip deeper into my core and hit the ground more softly. The quietness of barefoot running allows you to really tune-in to how other runners breathe. Some are gasping and moaning, whilst others are calm and even. If a runner passes by with very still breathing, I try to calm mine even more to see how still I can become whilst maintaining my pace.
As well as being a professional drummer (whatever that means these days..), and a very average runner, I’m an extremely frustrated shakuhachi player. Even though the instrument drives me crazy, I keep practicing (mostly in the car at night) for the joy of achieving tiny, and I mean tiny, incremental steps of development. If I’m practicing the shakuhachi regularly I notice that my breathing whilst running is very still and I feel that I can push myself harder while maintaining a calm breath cycle. I wonder if wind instrumentalists who run feel that this aspect of instrumental practice is a strength that they can draw on from their first attempts at running?
When I started running I would listen to music at a certain tempo and stick to that speed with no exceptions. I ran at one beat per step at a tempo of 80 beats per minute for several years. Looking back, it seems funny remembering the feeling of stress that would emerge if my iPod battery went dead. I would panic and franticly push buttons so that I could continue running. One time the battery ran down and for the first time I could hear what was actually going on with my running. My feet sounded like bass drums clumping on the ground and I was making a horrendous gasping sound when I inhaled. It was shocking to hear so much noise emanating from myself in the simple act of running.
Since taking up barefoot running just over a year ago, the thought of listening to music whilst running is completely out of the question (this is just a personal choice of course). For me, and again, everyone is different, it seems that once I stopped wearing shoes the amount of sensory input was much greater, and the thought of adding music to all those sensations just never came up. I have lots of friends that have never listened to music during their runs but it wasn’t like that for me. Since starting to run barefoot, I really love listening to all the sounds around me, whilst honing in on breath, the lightness of step, and the texture of the surface I’m running on.
Went for one last run in Mino today before flying home, I’ll miss running through this incredible landscape. I caught a glimpse of some monkeys on the way down which was lovely. Mino Park is a place where I feel totally comfortable running around with no shoes whilst carrying a banana!
Running here in Mino has been so much fun as you are either running up or down very steep hills. It took me a while to develop confidence running up steep hills barefoot as the achilles and calf muscles get a real workout. When I first started, having worn running shoes for so long, I was surprised by how much more strength is needed in the achilles area when you run barefoot up big hills. For the first six months of barefoot running I kept mainly to fairly flat runs with a few hills here and there until I felt that my form was taking shape, and that I had developed more strength and technique. Obviously everyone approaches these things differently and I guess one’s development is shaped by the environments one runs in. I may have been too cautious with the hills initially but now really look forward to steep mountain road runs.
The Mino Park runs have been fantastic for hill work as it’s been pretty much a 1.5-2 hour winding mountain road, with lots of nice steep sections, up to the top, and a much quicker run down. I’m still getting used to running down very steep hills. Today I really went for it and was running down hill as fast as I could, but had to slow down after a while because I was laughing so much.
This weekend was the first marathon I’ve run in Sydney (I ran Canberra earlier this year) and it was so much fun. The roads here are perfect for long distance barefoot, and running across the Harbour bridge and Cahill Expressway is such a great way to start. I finished up at 3:56 and was very happy (like I said at the beginning of this blog, I’m a very enthusiastic yet mediocre long distance runner). As mentioned earlier, the Canberra Marathon was a great experience but the roads there are un-sealed, so most of the run is pretty much gravel which gets very tiring for barefoot running. The Sydney marathon features nice textured asphalt almost the whole way so there are no problems for barefooters interested in participating.
On this run I really noticed how much a strong sense of core comes in to play in the final stages of the run. At about 35k, I hit a little bit of a wall but once I let myself really sink into my core, and relax the upper body, everything came back into a groove and the final 4k felt really nice.
Over the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to do a fair bit of mountain running in Korea, firstly at Jirisan national park, and later in areas surrounding Gwangju. Jirisan is a spectacular section of the Seobaek mountain range in central South Korea. For a very reasonable price you can rent a simple room, just an empty space where you sleep on the floor, and from there can run through the mountains either on asphalt road or trail. The asphalt roads are fantastic for barefooting, and on weekdays there are very few cars so it’s a highly pleasurable experience. At Jirisan there are lots of steep winding hills with spectacular views.
During a recent tour for a performance at the Gwangju World Music Festival, I had a chance to do some running at Mudeungsan Park, which is a large national park on the edge of Gwangju. For barefoot running this place is really special as the roads are a similar worn, textured asphalt with lots of winding valley routes. Along the way to Mudeungsan (san=mountain) you pass several Buddhist temples, and travel through some lovely little townships. It’s very peaceful, and running through that landscape is a highly meditative experience. On one of the runs I stopped in at Wonhosa (sa=Buddhist temple) as well as a smaller temple at the foot of Wonhosa. In the rocks behind the smaller temple the monks have carved numerous Buddhist images.
Running to Buddhist temples in mountainous areas of Korea and Japan is always a great experience as, in many cases, you usually have a long run to get there from the nearest town and, in many cases, a very steep hill leading up to the temple. I love the sound of dokyong (Korean Buddhist chanting) featuring the sound of “mokta” (wooden temple blocks that are struck with a small stick) especially when there are several monks in different areas of the temple chanting at once. You end up with these fantastic phase rhythms between all the mokta and chant melodies which creates a mesmerizing, panoramic sound.
I think all the barefoot mountain running has helped a lot with marathon length distances as those long, steep, up-hill runs really force you to sink deep into the core and not hunch forward (which in my case can lead to a kind of “clump clump” stomping). This recent marathon was the most enjoyable run I’ve had for that distance and perhaps all the hill running has helped develop form for that last 6k.
Surface and Mind
One the most interesting things I regularly experience during barefoot runs is the impact that the surface/terrain has on my moment to moment thoughts. It feels like the “mind” of the run, or the primary prompt for ebb and flow of thoughts, is in the sensory feedback through the feet from the ground. So much of running is looking out, looking at the surrounding area, looking at the path ahead. When running through an area of great natural beauty I experience a feeling of euphoria through a combination of visual stimulation, and intense sensory, tactile feelings from the surface that my feet are in contact with.
However, like so many runners, most of the running I do is in the city, and most of that running is from home to work and back along the same general route. Even so, every run to work along the same collection of asphalt streets has a similar sense of connection, or sensory feedback, from the environment. In this case, primarily from the asphalt roads and paths.
So I thought I’d offer a little description of the varied and wonderful surfaces that one may encounter on a barefoot run in Sydney, Australia, and how they can be a great source of intense physical pleasure, whilst being a major prompt for moment to moment thoughts. Thoughts that are not about the asphalt, but noticeable sensory interruptions in the flow of thinking that sometimes offer momentary pleasures that shift the mood slightly. Running can be a great time to process things such as problems or new ideas and, at times, the processing can feel very focused and intense, and slightly disconnected from the running experience. When barefoot running, it’s very common for sensory feedback from the surface contour to interrupt these internal processes with a strong burst of pleasure that can shift thoughts in a positive way, or inspire new ideas.
This morning I ran barefoot from Campsie to Parramatta and back. It’s a 47km loop and covers a variety of surfaces including footpaths, streets, major roads, running/cycle paths, grated bridges, deep puddles and muddy gutters. The asphalt varies from very smooth uniform surfaces through to rough, eroded varieties, along with very rough gravel streets.
So I guess this is a kind of appreciation of asphalt from the point of view of a foot. So many of the sensory pleasures experienced during long runs are in the tiny contours of the terrain, and asphalt offers a wide range of highly pleasurable sensory experiences. Now, just to be clear, this is not a kind of anti-nature, anti-trail rave, and is not intended to support the idea that asphalt roads are somehow better than natural environments. Of course, running along mountain paths or along a muddy trail, or through wet leaves, or along a sandy creek are unique, wonderful, and extremely pleasurable experiences but, again, what do we do if most of our running is in the city? So this is intended to offer a little introduction to the many pleasures one can experience barefoot running along city streets.
Sometimes whilst running, I just try to follow the good asphalt as it’s such a fun way to choose between one direction or another. Also, sometimes I find myself running along a street that I’ve run on before but may not remember, and as soon as my feet touch the certain grade of asphalt found in that location, the memories return and I’m amazed that memory of place can be found in the feel of a surface, not the broader view of the streetscape.
So.. this stuff is like good chocolate. A perfect, lightly stimulating surface that feels like a gentle massage on the feet. This asphalt offers excellent rebound and is extremely pleasurable to run on for long distances. Up close, you can see the varied contours of the surface, but its all fairly uniform and the gravel rocks don’t feature jagged edges. There’s a great example of this surface on Bridge rd, Camperdown. It feels like food for feet! After a long day at work this surface provides a lovely, gentle sensory experience that, for me, really seems to alleviate stress or anxiety. I’ve had some great multi-day runs on this type of surface in Mount Kosciuszko National Park, and the mountains near Osaka, and it never ceases to be a deeply meditative surface to run barefoot on.
These repaired sections are also extremely pleasurable for barefoot running.
The melted filler offers a very smooth surface that, when combined with a little “rough” from the asphalt, provides a noticeable two-part stimulation across different areas of the foot. There are many areas in Sydney that feature repaired cracks and I highly recommend remembering where this stuff is in your local area as roads with this varied surface offer a relliable pleasurable meditative stimulation.
So this surface may look like hard work but no, this stuff is awesome!
Unlike the uniformity of the high-end chocolate experience, this cracked, eroded, slightly gravelly surface is absolute bliss. Sometimes, if I see a street with this, I’ll run along it for a while just to get a taste of the pleasures of a highly varied, cracked surface. You see, when running barefoot, the feet don’t “strike” the ground, they curl around the surface, so if the surface is cracked asphalt you experience a great rebound along with lots of tiny contours to curl the toes around. This stuff can be very uplifting to run on, in that the pleasure of all the sensory inputs combine to create a very positive flow of thoughts…like a great foot massage!
I love these grills!
So ok, this isn’t asphalt but I wanted to mention that these grills offer a tiny moment (usually two steps) of deep sensory pleasure. As the foot sinks onto the grill, and body weight allows for a lovely “press” into the surface, an intense pleasurable sensation emerges that can really shift the mind’s focus in a positive way. Also, notice the varied surfaces in the photo…a complex range of pleasurable experiences in just a few steps.
In my running experiences to date, this stuff has been rare.
It looks quite harsh to run on, and my first instinct was to move around it, but once my foot touched this surface I felt a wave of sensory pleasure, like a deep tissue foot massage, that was extremely uplifting. Even though the individual gravel rocks look sharp, each one has retained it’s asphalt smoothness so you get the lovely slightly eroded asphalt, combined with these smooth gravel ball-like shapes, that offer a distinct experience that feels very relaxing. I don’t know of many examples of this particular surface in Sydney but would love to know more…(In Canberra there are many roads that look like this but the surface is extremely harsh to run on)
So here’s an example of the harsh stuff.
It’s not that you can’t run on it, or that you get hurt, its just that one needs to make a big adjustment to form in order to keep running on this surface. When I encounter this very gravelly, sharp, and highly eroded stuff I usually sink deep into my core so that my feet are hardly lifting off the ground. This is the type of surface found throughout Canberra. Again, its not a bad experience but it does require concentration to maintain form, and the sensory experience is very intense..not pain..but a feeling that it could be painful if the form slips. Sometimes I run on this stuff to develop the ability to “sink” more into the core. This surface does not offer a kind of moment to moment positive sensory stimulation in the “mind” of the run…
But, its a funny thing…
as I moved from the harsh stuff to this smooth chocolatey asphalt I had an intensive wave of extremely pleasurable sensory feedback..something along the lines of “I love everybody and everything!” So who knows..maybe this stuff is where its at..
This surface is kind of neutral, in that there’s not much sensory input from the path at all.
These paths are very easy to run on on (there an almost 10km stretch from Campsie to Parramatta) but they don’t offer much in the way of pleasurable stimulation. Along this path there are smaller side paths that feature a lovely variety of asphalt so sometimes I’d take a quick detour for a little foot food.
Recently I worked in Busan, South Korea. The art space I was based at is right near Eomgwangsan, one of several mountains within Busan city. This is the first time that I’ve been on a tour where I was based in one place for a few weeks, and was working mainly in the late afternoons/early evenings (as opposed to gigging each night). The regular routine was so nice, and I had an opportunity to run almost every day so tried to stick to a regular 2.5 hour run around Eomgwangsan most days.
There are numerous roads around Eomgwangsan,I found a great course which followed asphalt streets around most of the mountain, and then I’d take trails for the final third. If you’re into barefoot, these ridge roads around the mountains are lovely as they feature lots of quiet streets through interesting communities with very little traffic. If you follow the streets on the higher ridges you pass numerous Buddhist temples and can hear a range of chant styles as you pass by.
There is a very comfy looking chair which has been placed near the peak of Eomgwangsan. Each day I would arrive at this spot after about 2 hours running and would look at the chair knowing that if I sat down and enjoyed the view it would be a very peaceful experience. But I also really enjoying hitting that point and continuing with running as the next part of the run is a very smooth trail down the mountain. I really enjoyed that moment each day when I would get to the chair and think “if I sit on that chair I will feel great” and then continue running, but always feeling great anyway. On one of the runs past this point I made the terrible mistake of slipping into high levels of self gratulation and promptly stubbed my toe as sometimes happens when that kind of feeling comes.
Doing the daily 25k mountain runs was a great opportunity to further simplify form so that I could run each day without any perceptible impact on the body. I haven’t really had any injuries since really getting into this way of running but had still been a little wary of daily 20+ kilometre runs. Having a regular routine was fantastic as a means of working more on a sustainable, simple, and relaxed form…..would love to do it again!
A Great Run
Last night I had a great 50km barefoot run around the suburbs of Sydney, it’s the first time I’ve run that distance and I’m really happy about pushing beyond 42k. At the moment I’m working towards running an 88k fun run later this year so have been gradually running longer distances over the last two months.
Lately I’ve been really working on simplifying my technique so as to develop a sustainable and efficient form appropriate for very long distances. At the moment the focus has been on making sure that my feet are always really low to the ground and land underneath my body. I’ve also been working on loosening my shoulders and upper arms more. When things are loose in the upper body it feels like my shoulders and arms can move back and forth slightly, like small pendulums, which seems to help a lot. As mentioned earlier, tension in drumming is a huge problem for drummers at any age or stage, and running seems to be no different.
This was also the first late night barefoot run I’ve done and I loved it! With the feet that low to the ground you can land on pretty much anything and there is no impact at all. Sometimes it feels like the feet are sponges that land softly and curl around the contours of the ground.
Another aspect I loved about yesterdays run was sinking into a kind of empty(ish) meditative mindset for five hours. Over the last few months I’ve been running without any preplanned distance, time, or speed, just running for two or three hours at a time and enjoying that state of mind that comes when you run without preset expectations of any sort. Even though the last twenty minutes of the 50k was intense, it was still a hugely enjoyable (and pain free) experience.
70k and lots of fun running
This has been a busy year but thankfully I’ve been able to run a lot over the past six months. I’ve been working towards a 100k barefoot run so, in addition to a daily 22k roundtrip to work, I’ve been trying to run over 50k regularly and recently did a 70k which was a great experience. At the end of the 70k all I could think about was a chocolate milkshake so I ran past my house and kept running till I made it to the cafe down the street. After 8 hours barefoot running on a 30 degree day I was pretty dirty and sweaty and was standing at the counter mumbling “chocolate milkshake….chocolate milkshake please” like a zombie in a running shirt.
The long runs have really helped solidify form and I feel that I can really engage my core for long periods of time now. I’ve been working on running a little slower and keeping my upper body feeling upright and sturdy whilst relaxing my arms and hands much more than before. Things seem much more stable and I can see how this technique allows for very long injury-free runs.
This year I’ve had some incredible barefoot running experiences, I clarify barefoot as some of these runs were amazing due to the quality of asphalt and how nice it felt on the feet. I had some really fun runs in Sri Lanka whilst performing in Colombo for my good friend Sum Suwaweera’s amazing Music Matters Festival with Scott Tinkler and Bae Il Dong. It was so much fun dodging between cars, trucks, cows, dogs, motor bikes, people, and buses whilst running on nice roads. Scott and I also had a nice run with all sorts of wildlife visible.
I’m now working as a full time educator at Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney. Its a fantastic place to be and I love the challenge of working with some many extraordinary young musicians. It’s less touring than before and a much more regular routine which is an amazing change. A great part of this new life is having the opportunity to run to work and back everyday. It’s a 22km round-trip, and this is the first time that I’ve run twice a day regularly for an extended period of time. The two 11km runs per day has been a revelation as it’s a morning and evening run which are very different physical feelings. The morning run is a little slower and has it’s moments, whilst the run home is fast and bordering on ecstatic (I have to say that when I (very rarely) catch the train home it is definitely not bordering on ecstatic). The run crosses the Anzac Bridge in Ultimo, which has lovely views of the harbour, and there’s usually a nice breeze blowing.
The two runs each day have had a huge impact on my long distance running. When I started working at SCM, I was worried that my body would get used to the 11k distance and that I might start to lose the vibe for longer runs. Nothing could be further from the truth. After a month of two runs a day, I went for a 42k and was really surprised how there were no moments of fatigue or challenging dips in focus. Over the last few months I’ve run a quite a few 35k-45k runs and have enjoyed them all immensely.
Also, it seems that the daily double run has really helped solidify my barefoot technique as I’ve had no pain, or injury, and have run more in the last 6 months than equivalent time periods in the past. I’ve been doing around 90-110k per week which feels really sustainable.
Barefoot 100km run
Yesterday I ran 100km barefoot around Sydney. This is the longest run I’ve had so far and it was such a fantastic experience. The run took around 11:20 and I was really happy that my form held the whole time, so there was no injury or pain during or after.
My friend Carl ran the last 10k with me which was great. From 70-90k I was finding it hard to concentrate on running and was starting to feel tired, but when I met up with Carl, I realised that there was plenty of juice in the tank and we had a nice 10k run together. Even during the tougher parts of the final stages of the run, my form felt very solid, so it seems that the hardest element of these big runs is maintaining a motivated mindset. This run really made it clear to me that barefoot running is a sustainable way to run long distances without any injury. At the end of the run my feet felt great and there was no wear and tear at all.
I also noticed that even after 90km there’s so much subtle sensory stuff happening with barefoot running that you might assume would somehow be diluted after 10 hours running. Yesterday it started raining when I hit about 85k, and by 90k there were lots of puddles to step in across a range of different surfaces. It’s a funny thing that even after jumping in puddles for about 44 years (assuming I started around 2 years old) it still feels just as refreshing and stimulating every time. It’s a great sensory pleasure to run with a nice breeze and be landing on all sorts of different surfaces with some puddles here and there.
Since moving house a few months ago I’ve been doing a 26km running commute to work and back most days which has been a nice way to improve on form and subtle technique developments. The two runs each day work well as the morning run is such a different feeling to running after working all day. Some afternoons, after running to work in the morning, I feel pretty buggered but once I start to run things slip into a nice groove and the 13k trip home is a fantastic way to process the day.
During the long run yesterday I had several moments where I felt tired but knew that all those trips to and from work had allowed for the development of a sustainable form. Running to work is awesome!
I’ve just returned from a three week trip to Japan for work and family and had some amazing runs in Tokyo and Osaka. In the past I’ve felt slightly awkward running through central Tokyo barefoot but now I just go for it. I started to think that ..you know…compared to the Shibuya guys with the Bon Jovi hair and the fake tans, or the girls in the anime outfits with the crazy makeup, some guy running with no shoes is pretty conservative. If Anton Krupika went barefoot in Tokyo (with his no shirt and primal beard look) things might get a little weird.
Whilst In Osaka, I had several 25-35k runs around Mino Park. I love that place! On the second to last run I saw a giant salamander (Ōsanshōuo [giant Salamanders that can be found in Japan, see picture to the left]), a baby deer, a beautiful snake, and heaps of monkeys. It seems that the monkeys are always sitting on the side of the road just around a corner. Each time I saw them on this trip I would be running along, in a nice groove, would turn a corner and bam! Monkeys everywhere! It’s funny, I’m not afraid of the monkeys there (although I have seen them get upset and it’s pretty frightening), but whenever I turn a corner and run into a bunch I’m completely startled and usually let out a loud yelp. The monkeys must be as shocked at me….this guy running through the mountains with no shoes and a dumb grin on his face who sees them, lets out a shriek, turns and runs away for ten meters, and then comes back and continues on his way.
The last run I had in Mino Park was a great 35km run in the rain and it was so much fun. How much fun can you have running up a mountain alone for 3 and a half hours in the rain? A lot!
I had a chance to run over Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo which was a fun experience, the name of the bridge reminded me of Jimi Hendrix playing “Hey Baby” in the movie Rainbow Bridge…Hendrix’s drummer, Mitch Mitchell, is amazing on that gig.
I ran though this tunnel in the mountains…I like bridges, hills, stone steps, puddles, but I’m not really into tunnels. This one contained lots of slimy goo that made me think of a primordial ooze that new forms of life might emerge in. I half expected the mud in this tunnel to bite me.
On Sunday I had a great time barefoot running the Canberra 50k. It was a fantastic day and I had some lovely chats with other runners during the event.
For barefoot on-road runners the Canberra Marathon and 50k is a huge challenge as Canberra has the roughest roads of any capital city in Australia. The roads there are basically a harsh, sharp gravel that requires very developed technique in order maintain solid form without injury. For most of the 50k run the roads present you with a relentless level of difficulty but by the end, after focusing so intensely on form for nearly 5 hours (4:43) I felt euphoric, was injury free and my feet felt fantastic.
The Canberra roads seem to come in several levels of harshness from a grade 1, slightly rougher than Sydney roads, through to a kind of code-red grade 5 which is just sheer torment. The grade 5 stuff goes for a number of kilometres (perhaps 20k?) and it’s a real test of form.
In the months leading up to Canberra, fellow barefooter Carl Dewhurst (who ran the the Canberra marathon) and I spent a lot of time working on subtle technique developments associated with a lighter and more grounded landing, sinking lower into the core, posture changes, and a more efficient leg lift. During particularly rough patches in Canberra I felt that I was able to draw on our training sessions in order to move through it without the need to slow down too much or stop.
At the finish line I was thinking that I’d take a break from the Canberra run next year, but after going for a run today and feeling fantastic I thought that perhaps Canberra should be the one event I make sure to do every year. It’s an extremely tough run for barefoot runners but I now see that the experience has helped my running a lot and my feet and form are better for it.
120km run in Japan
Have been on a incredible series of barefoot runs these last three days. Two days ago I ran from Lake Biwa to Obama (40k), and yesterday ran south along the coast for 50k. This morning I ran 30k inland towards and around Ayabe. Running in rural Japan is an absolute joy!
I think this is the first time I’ve run these distances without ending up at the same place I started, and I’m now hooked on this way of traveling…maybe i’ll try again for a few days next year..
There have been one or two tiny challenges, the main one has been learning to get comfortable running through tunnels. Over the past two days I’ve run through a lot of tunnels out of necessity and it’s always pretty freaky. The sound is wild and the mud feels alive. The trucks come very close and when they pass, you get a crazy kind of deafening Doppler effect going. It’s very unnerving. The funny thing is that all except two of the tunnels I ran through emerged to incredible landscape and it felt so good to get out of each tunnel that the next few kilometres were absolute bliss.
It’s very funny to be aware of the little thoughts that come to mind whilst running through a tunnel. Random thoughts include: evolution, The Blob, The Road, itchiness, primordial ooze..and so on. After one particularly long tunnel I emerged laughing at all the scattered thoughts that popped up.
The little country roads here are extraordinary to run on. Wonderful gardens, beautiful old houses and little villages, incredible mountain landscapes, and plenty of mountain streams and waterways.
The main roads are a little less fun with trucks coming very close as there are no sidewalks on the main country arterial roads…still, even though they’ve been a little challenging, the arterial roads have been really fun as well.
The first two days were very hot but today it rained consistently and the running was bliss. For me, barefoot running in the rain through country roads is pure joy and today was a memorable experience.
I’m also really excited that barefoot technique allows for daily long distance travel running without injury. At the end of each day my legs felt like I’d been running but there’s been no pain or injury. Barefoot running is so light on the knees and feet. This week I ran 2-30k runs, a 15k (these three were in Mino Park near Osaka which is wonderful place to run), plus this 120k and all feels great.
It was also a great surprise to see how much bounce and spring I had when running today. After yesterday’s 50k I thought that the next run might be hard work, but it was the opposite and I ran at a much faster pace and wanted to keep going once I arrived at Ayabe. I now see how these daily big runs are sustainable and energizing. Can’t wait to do a longer run! The train back to Osaka passed through some incredible mountain areas and I wanted to jump off and keep running..maybe next year..
I highly recommend this way of moving from one place to another.
Here’s some music inspired by mountain runs in Japan…
Running to Work
I’ve been running barefoot to work daily for nearly 1 ½ years now, I started with a 22k round trip but since moving house a while back it’s now a 26km round trip four times per week that amounts a little over 2 ½ hours running per day. So I’d like to share some thoughts on the pleasures of running to work and the development of a sustainable running form.
As mentioned earlier, I began barefoot running a few years ago after having a barefoot running lesson with Carl Dewhurst. At that time I’d been running for a few years but had been injured several times, and although I loved running, I was becoming frustrated with injuries associated with knees and shins. Since I began barefoot running I’ve remained injury free which has allowed me to commit to this daily commute to work and back.
A primary focus of the small community of barefoot runners I’m involved with (Carl, Scott) is the commitment to a sustainable and efficient form. To me, form and technique mean that you develop a running style that allows you to maintain a regular running schedule without injury. We are constantly in communication sharing tips on technique that help with the development of a natural running form, and through this regular contact with friends about form, I feel that I’ve been able to develop an approach to running that I don’t think I would have arrived at in isolation.
It seems that a lot of people who want to run are very focused on speed, length of run, diet, shoes, socks …but in many cases the question of HOW TO RUN is not in the foreground of one’s thoughts. In the past, when I was running with shoes and getting injured a lot, I would change shoes after recovering from an injury. Instead of looking at my form and how it could be improved, I would seek out better gear that I felt would somehow protect me from further injury. Since the switch to barefoot, the primary focus has been how to run as there is no shopping list of gear that can help my running.
Also, through chatting with runners during long runs, I’ve found that a lot of runners like myself (people who run for fun, not competing, just trying to stay fit) feel that talk of technique and form is for serious runners only and is not a concern for general runners. In many cases I’ve noticed people doing fitness training, sprints, and long runs without paying any attention to technique, just focusing on completing each exercise without giving thought to how one should go about the task at hand, thus developing a very unsustainable approach to running.
Once you commit to running to work then the primary focus is developing a natural running form that allows you to commute indefinitely. A form that is low impact, sustainable, and efficient in terms of energy use. With the development of a natural running form, a daily running commute feels very doable and there is no longer any need to find time for runs in your spare time. Also, a low impact natural form allows one to really process the day whilst running, like a kind of meditative space where you arrive at work and home feeling refreshed, energized, and in my case, free of anxieties.
So here’s a few tips that have really helped me with developing form.
- While working on form take a break from listening to music whilst running. A huge part of barefoot running is hearing how hard you are landing on the ground. When your form is solid, the sound of your feet landing on the ground should be barely audible, like placing a cushion on the surface of the ground. Very quiet, no striking, just feet curling around the terrain with each step. If you are a heel-striker who listens to music whilst running, turn off the music and take a moment to really listen to how hard you’re hitting the ground.
2. Work on your upper body posture. If you lift slightly from your upper chest you’ll feel your lower spine extends a little…like you’re taller (not pulling shoulders back…just imagine that your upper chest is pointing slightly skyward). Slouching can lead to a kind of controlled falling that makes it hard to breathe, hard to sustain, and encourages a harder landing on your feet. Also, a strong sense of upper body posture allows you to sink into your core. For barefoot runners, a focus on core is a vital component of form and helps one maintain a light step.
3. Take off your shoes in the house and run slowly on the spot with your legs slightly bent. Feel how your forefoot pad lands slightly before your heel, and how the foot remains flat on the floor after landing on the floor. Notice how your toes slightly grip the ground when you land, and then your achilles acts like a spring that pushes your feet upwards for the next step. Also, notice how little the feet need to lift off the ground…no need to kick your bum, just lift your foot slightly off the ground.
It feels like there is a common misunderstanding about “heel strike” and “forefoot strike”. Forefoot landing is a complex chain of events that can be confusing if simplified to a single term without explanation. A sustainable step requires a full body focus (posture, core focus, legs, feet, toes) and cannot be developed by just thinking “forefoot strike” (I sometimes wonder if shoe companies should be forced to include an instruction manual with running shoes that provides a thorough explanation of how they think you should run whilst wearing their product).
4. Try moving without your legs landing in front of your chest. Imagine that your chest is the most forward part of your body and your feet are landing just beneath you. For me, there is barely any difference between running on the spot and running forward. It seems that when we run the tendency is to add extra movements to a very natural activity that should be very simple and efficient. When you run on the spot without a lot of leg lift, it feels very sustainable. This is a nice starting point in the development of a natural style and may be understood as very simple, low impact practice that focuses your attention on micro aspects of running, without any thought to speed or distance.
5. Ask other runners what they think. I’ve learnt so much from talking with other runners about form and breathing.
Of course, if you want to run long distance to work and back, you need to be training beyond running on the spot but I find that a great running form is a combination of very simple ideas that you maintain a focus on all the time, including posture, knees slightly bent, landing softly either flat or forefoot slightly early, heel resting after landing, toes slightly gripping and an awareness of the achilles spring.
So if your a runner like me who wants to be able to carry on with a running commute indefinitely, try forgetting the stopwatch and work on form. I find running to work to be hugely beneficial to every aspect of my life, and my running form has really developed into a sustainable natural style due to necessity and a shift in focus from running as exercise, to running as the primary transport to and from work.
Thinking about Running and Drumming #2
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about running and drumming. If you know me you might think that this is a strange thing to say as I think about those two things constantly, but this time it’s a little different as I’ve been thinking about running and drumming at the same time in order to see how my drumming can be influenced by an ongoing obsession with long distance barefoot running.
Barefoot running is a very silent practice as you don’t strike the ground so much as caress or sink into the contour of the area in which you step. When running well, there is no audible impact moment so the only noticeable sound is breathing, rustling clothes, and the peripheral sounds around you.
Even though many of the movements are silent, one can still be aware of the feel and duration of several cycles that are generated when running. For instance, legs move in a fairly constant cycle, arms and hands move like pendulums in small relaxed cyclic movements, the heartbeat carries on, and breathing, if relaxed, maintains a fairly even cycle. I say “fairly” because, if you really concentrate on each cycle, you quickly realise that every repetition of a given cycle is slightly (or very) different to its predecessor. When barefoot running, every step is distinctive as you are negotiating the terrain which, even on a smooth bitumen path, is slightly different for every step. Likewise, every breath is slightly/very different in length or intensity, as are all other movements.
I’ve also found barefoot running to be a deeply meditative practice. With such a clear focus on efficiency, sustainable form, relaxed body/breathing, and zero impact, the mind is free to wander and process. Time seems to pass at different rates and most of the clear thinking seems to be subconscious whilst moment to moment awareness shifts from one feeling to the next. There is also a deeply pleasurable step by step feedback sensation with every barefoot step that is reminiscent of playing in puddles as a kid (as well as those wonderful endorphin hits that come now and again). This kind of meditative running rarely has any fast heart rate peaks so is a fairly peaceful experience (however, there are very intense emotions that pop up when running very long distances but they are not so much energy peaks, more like deep dark times of self questioning). I have a full-time job and I find that if I run to work and back each day my mind is able to process the day in a kind of semi-conscious sorting process that I find hugely beneficial.
When imagining this collection of seemingly repetitious movements layered upon each other we end up with an interesting phasing and layering of different length cycles that offer unique combinations of events with every step.
So I was wondering how to play the drums in a way that responds to this feeling of layered, slightly mutated repetition and a meditative wandering mind and I was amazed at how clearly these feelings conjured sounds and rhythmic ideas. The idea began with working on a form of micro-timing which sees every repetition of a simple cycle land in a slightly different location within the pulse. Over time, a process evolved to manage these locations and I found a very clear connection between mutating repetitions and the kinds of feelings I experience when running. Also, when developing ideas that featured repetitious overlapping cycles, it was immediately obvious when, for example thinking about brush strokes and breathing, a cycle was too quick in its decay as I’ve had thousands of hours hearing myself breathe whilst running.
I think this is the first time that i’ve had a very clear aesthetic goal that has arisen from a nonmusical activity, and also one which is produced mainly from collections of rhythms` and feelings that respond to physical motions and breath lengths. Since I first began playing music, I’ve been guided by aesthetic parameters and processes developed by others. Not so much stylistic parameters over the last decade, but aesthetics that inform how one creates tension and release with rhythm, the balance between high and low sounds, or processes that lead to certain kinds of rhythmic outcomes. Of course, over the years I’ve developed a large collection of my own processes and rhythmic language but most of the time the source material is cobbled together from various points of musical interest and influence. I’ve spent a lot of time studying with musicians here in Australia, with traditional artists in Korea, jazz musicians in NY, and a variety of shakuhachi teachers. All of these wonderful experiences have greatly shaped the way I think about ways of learning, ways of making and thinking about music, process as a tool for development, and looking to traditional forms as a means of finding core knowledge that can be unlocked from its context, mashed up, and re-imagined using aesthetic parameter, alternative process, and malleable core materials. So this is the first project where I feel that I can turn to my experiences as a runner for answers to musical questions.
On Running and Drumming #2
In 2001 I travelled to Korea for an intensive period of study into traditional ways of approaching drumming fundamentals through natural motion, the use of physical pendulums and body weight, gravity, and coordinated breathing. These activities were focusing on the removal of physical tension during performance, sound production, rhythmic forms understood as body motion, and methods of developing rhythmic fluency through a form of pendulum body knowledge.
A few years later, I began running so as to counteract the physical impacts of a fairly constant touring schedule which at times amounted to 6-7 months a year on the road. Although I loved running, I found that I was getting injured regularly…knees, ankles, shins..which would mean a few months of the year without this exercise that had become a source of deep pleasure. During that time I had several running lessons and was trying to develop a sustainable form but injuries continued.
In 2012 I was extremely fortunate to have a barefoot running lesson with Sydney based guitarist Carl Dewhurst. The lesson was an introduction to natural motion in running, and raising awareness of how one can run with almost no impact. I found the experience to be a kind of physical epiphany and immediately decided that I would set about making barefoot running a regular part of daily life.
To my surprise, all the work I had been doing on drumming fundamentals, including work on core awareness, natural movement, and physical pendulums, greatly informed my approach to running. I began to work on running in the same way I practiced drumming and gradually found that I could run very long distances with no noticeable impact. In this way, my music practice, the “how” of drumming, not the “what”, was deeply influencing my day to day development of a sustainable running form.
Over the past two years it seemed that the differences between drumming and barefoot running were disolving and both practices seemed to melt into each other. Whilst running, I could work on the same body pendulums, breathing techniques, core focus, and natural movements that I utilise as a drummer.
Likewise, whilst drumming, I could see that my running practice could help inform the development of new rhythmic processes. I began to see that I could now look to running for answers to musical questions about groove and pulse, new rhythmic vocabularies, micro-timing through body pendulums, as well as the feeling of layers of movement (rhythms), breath, and wandering mind, that I knew so well from running so much.
This experience represented the first time that I had turned to a non-musical activity, not only for inspiration, but for answers to complex musical questions about how one develops new rhythmic vocabulary and developmental process.
As a young musician I never imagined that drumming (music practice) could inform another physical activity in such a profound way, and I would never have thought that I could turn to my own body’s natural movements for primary source material and conceptual frameworks in the development of new rhythmic language. For a musician such as myself, who grew up being hugely influenced by so many wonderful jazz, rock, and RnB drummers, Korean traditional drummers, as well as musicians from a host of other traditions, it was an extraordinary feeling to be able to go for a run and ask my body questions about rhythm.
So I’d like to share some music with you that has emerged through barefoot running. This is music about running, not for running. The rhythmic structures in these tracks are responses to body pendulums, foot steps, breath lengths, and meditative feelings I experience during long runs. In this way, the connection is not metaphorical. Instead this experience has been a form of knowledge transference from one practice to another.
On Running and Drumming #3
Sometime last year I had a funny dream…I was attending a workshop with one of my favourite drummers (I don’t know who it was, just that the person was a favourite of mine), and towards the end of the workshop I asked, with a kind of desperation, “why can I run for many hours at the same speed?”.
I guess it sounds like a funny question but, for me, running and drumming are very similar activities in that both are forms of expression in movement. If gradually speeding up (or slowing down, or feeling disconnected from a strong sense of fundamental of feel) was an innate characteristic, then why wouldn’t it happen when running? (I wish I could just keep speeding up when running as I’d be able to catch up to my son). What is the difference between moving in rhythm when running and moving in rhythm when drumming?
The next morning, I went for a run and realised that when running, I don’t think about the individual steps in order to keep moving. I maintain a regular pace but don’t regulate the tempo by focusing on my feet landing “in time” every step. Most of my focus, when working on things, is on relaxed upper body pendulums, bouncing wrists, sinking into the core, breathing quietly, looking ahead not down, but never trying to “make steps” in time.
This led to thoughts about drumming and how, when practicing, I think a lot about the notes, and even though I’ve spent many years working on natural body movement in relation to rhythm, sound production, groove, and rebound, I still practice in a way that has elements of “hands playing notes”. When thinking about a comparison between running and drumming, it seemed that my physical understanding of the “glue” that binds steps together (upper body pendulums, breathing, core) was much deeper than my understanding of the “glue” that binds notes together. It seems that when practicing, I, and so many other drummers that I’ve seen practice, wait for our hands to “find” a feeling for a given rhythm or pattern that we’re aiming for…and when we hear the feel, we acknowledge it and try to hold that feeling of the pulsation. In a comparison to running, these thoughts led to questions about how deeply I understand the “feel” that I’m aiming for…If I have to “find” a feel by listening to my hands play, then perhaps I don’t really understand the fundamental as a physical, embodied rhythm stream.
So I started to sing when running – not rhythms, just long streams of very simple rhythm – singing “Ja-nn-Ja-Gi-Ja-nn-Ja-Gi…”
The idea was not to sing along with running, but to “sing in” to my body the fundamental feel of 16s (or 8’s..just fundamentals or “pre-rhythm”) that I want to play, but didn’t really understand yet as “body knowledge” when compared to physical feelings of combined motion that I experience during long barefoot runs. To be clear, this is not about technique, or drumming proficiency, it’s just about understanding length of note as a form of embodied knowledge.
For the next few months, I just stuck to running and singing Ja-nn-Ja-Gi – Ja-nn-Ja-Gi, and it had a huge effect on every aspect of my drumming practice. I very quickly realised that my legs and arms did not really have a deep “knowledge” of note length. When I began to clap clave (or play minims on the bass drum), whilst singing “Ja-nn-Ja-Gi” it seemed that everything landed later, in a much more natural sounding place (rhythmically). The foreground, in my mind/body, became “Ja-nn-Ja-Gi” and everything else was played “off” that fundamental. For the first time (for me) it seemed that my body was guiding the placement of each note, and that all rhythmic events I played were now relative to a form of body knowledge that I hadn’t understood in this way before.
Of course, musicians all over the world learn by singing rhythm, and many cultures teach rhythm as an aural tradition. I experienced this kind of teaching during extended studies in Korea. But, for me, this practice, emerging through running, was different in that “Ja-nn-Ja-Gi” is not rhythm so much as four individual notes (no accents or gaps) that form a slightly uneven (swing) fundamental stream…a fundamental that may be understood as “pre-rhythm” (a framework for rhythmic things perhaps). In Korea, this kind of stream is called mu-changdan (a form of “no rhythm”).
There are so many wonderful drummers who have a deep embodied knowledge of the fundamental – the “glue” that binds notes together – and this recent period of “singing in” my own fundamental in a natural movement context (barefoot running) has given me a tiny, introductory glimpse into a deeper physical knowledge of embodied rhythm and ways of self-learning. I don’t know how other drummers “feel” rhythm in their bodies, but many of the players I love seem to have a deep, physical connection (or knowledge) to rhythmic things that they play. To be honest, I never felt that I had an understanding (or awareness) of being able to go to the body, or to body motion, to find a highly personal 8s stream until I spent a lot of time “singing in” fundamentals during long barefoot runs. It’s still early days, but I’ve noticed huge shifts in all aspects of my personal music making in the months since that funny dream. It’s also been a lovely way to further connect the seemingly disparate practices of barefoot running and drumming which, as mentioned earlier, seem more and more alike as forms of expression in natural movement.
Here’s a mp3 of a bit of “Ja-nn-Ja-Gi-Ja-nn-Ja-Gi…”
All this has led to questions about ways of learning, ways of communicating absolute fundamentals of rhythm through a combination of motion and “singing in” rhythm streams (mu changdan). It also inspires, for me, a deep interest in learning more about traditional rhythmic practices that are embedded in some form of movement (where fundamentals of the music may be understood primarily through some form of body motion, body knowledge).
Another experience associated with barefoot running and drumming occurred whilst running in Japan a couple of years ago. During a week of daily 40-50km runs in the mountains beyond Mino Park, I had an experience of deep mental fatigue at about the 35km mark of a mid-week run…actually, not so much fatigue, more of a feeling of anxiety or stress (not associated with the run) that stopped me from continuing on. Whilst pausing, I began thinking about runners who say that they “go into” their bodies during times like this – by focusing on breathing, or some aspect of their physicality.
So I started to sing the pendulum that my arms and wrists make when I run barefoot, and it turns out to be a super funky 8s groove that is slightly uneven. The rest of the run (whilst singing the pendulum the whole time) was an extremely energised and fun experience and I can now turn to the rhythm of that lovely wrist pendulum as way to refocus myself and explore that particular rhythmic form.
To be clear, this is not “trying to sing rhythm”, or “trying to sound funky”, it’s just singing (making audible) the natural pendulum that occurs when you let your wrists bounce freely whilst barefoot running…(you can check it out by running on the spot with floppy wrists and just sing along to the pendulum your wrists make).
It was so nice to find such a beautiful pendulum “long/short” rhythm in the body that could be accessed simply by singing along to the natural bounce of the wrists. As with the previous example, it highlighted, for me, how so many of the rhythmic areas that drummers are trying to understand and manipulate can be accessed through “listening to” natural movement. Of course, learning to turn that into drumming and music is another step.
Even so, it was another example, for me, of personal learning that demonstrated how natural motion produces beautiful rhythmic forms that may aid in shifting the idea of “rhythm” from an abstraction, a thinking problem, to an exploration of natural movement or body knowledge (I’ve found the wrist pendulum singing has really helped in developing a sense of a very personal way to play in that slightly uneven 8th note groove, in that the “feel” of the 8s is not something that is outside oneself, such as an influence of some sort, instead it’s simply a natural rhythm that can be generated in the body by bouncing up and down). It’s also been another wonderful, and unexpected, outcome of long distance barefoot running.
New York Barefoot Running Gallery
In July I had the chance to travel to NY and had a great time making music with friends and running a lot. So here’s a brief appreciation of several surfaces one may encounter whilst running in Manhattan.
NY is such a fun place to run barefoot! I loved the great variety of surfaces in parks and surrounding streets from Marcus Garvey park down to the southern end of Central Park, and enjoyed lots of fun conversations with other runners and pedestrians along the way. I highly recommend Manhattan for barefoot running!
So these hexagonal tiles are fantastic to run on and can be found around the outer perimeter of Central Park.
They feature lots of cracks for toes to nestle into and a lovely, slightly rough texture that feels like a pleasant foot massage.
If you’re visiting NY then these rougher hexagonal tiles are worth looking out for…
great variation in texture allowing for a unique sensation every step, as well as plenty of spring. Whenever I saw a patch of these cracked hexagons I would make sure to get a taste if only for a few steps.
This surface is slightly less fun to run on but I found it nice to alternate between the rougher stuff on the left and the smoother surface in the centre of this pic (not manic jumping from left to right..more like a kind of gentle weaving here and there). The smoother surface has a lot of spring so was fun when running faster.
I like the rough when running slower as the feet can sink in and enjoy the feel of each unique surface with every step…like sinking into a comfortable chair.
The roads within Central Park are lovely for barefoot running and feature a great range of asphalt variations. Paths such as this one are perfect to run on…
I love running on worn lines and this one really delivered a great sensory experience…mmmmm…worn lines..
I think this stuff was my favourite in that there is huge variation throughout the surface with lots of cracks and a great springiness.
As soon as I landed on this road my whole body said “yes!”. Paths like this one offer a lovely sensory feedback from the ground and are pure bliss to run on. I encountered several roads like this at the northern end of Central Park. Like chocolate for feet!
This surface feels really great but is a tiny bit rougher than the previous example..this stuff offers a great chance to work on sinking into the core so I recommend this path for a nice “deep sink” session.
Those rough looking stones in the foreground are pretty smooth and feel really lovely to step on. There’s some lovely examples of this type of path near the pool in Central Park.Also, I had such a great time running the Sydney Marathon a few weeks ago. It was an incredible day and very exciting to see several barefoot runners participating.
Surface and Memory #2
Last week I had the good fortune to go camping at Ganguddy camp ground (also known as Dunns Swamp), a lovely spot near Rylstone featuring inspiring pagoda rock formations and numerous dirt roads that are excellent for barefoot running. The roads at Ganguddy are a juicy mix of red dirt, gravel, and yellow dust, and the sensory feeling whilst running barefoot on these roads is wonderful. The rough gravely sections take a bit of concentration and focus on form but the more dusty parts are just perfect.
When running in areas of particularly soft red dust, numerous memories associated with red dirt and a childhood trip to the Northern Territory surfaced that I had long forgotten…seeing a frilled neck lizard on a dirt track for the first time (with expanded frill), being mesmerised by a distant herd of brumby’s running across the horizon and generating a dramatic dust cloud (the horses looked so mysterious and it seemed like they were being driven by some kind of mystical force), sitting in dirt counting and measuring freshwater crocodile eggs (for dad) and shooing away goannas from the crocodile’s buried eggs.
The funny thing is that I’ve been up north many times over the past 20 years for gigs, and spent a bit of time sitting around in the dirt at Garma playing music, but never had anything like this level memory recall until these recent barefoot runs at Ganguddy. For me, there’s something in the combination of movement through running, the deep sensory feedback of bare feet and surface, and the lovely smell of red dirt in the air, that allowed for an activation of memories that had been unreachable.