Even With Your Shoes On

From the Sermon on the Mount: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Running is what I treasure. I find books on running troublesome and I don’t enjoy the process of reading them, because I read these books with a hyper-critical eye. I’m too close to it.

How much harder to read a book the author of which advocates minimalist footwear, the precise opposite of what I prefer. Nevertheless, I gave this book a go because I know the author, Helen Hall, and am familiar with her capacity to solve individuals' problems.

Ms. Hall’s book is Even With Your Shoes On and it didn’t take me too many pages to note its similarity to A Natural History of Western Trees.

You might not immediately see the connection! But I’ve made it before, between Western Trees and John Summerson’s book, The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike); and between Summerson’s California-specific offering and historical books written by California’s true first ascenders.

What is the common thread joining these books? They’re devotionals. They weren’t written as such. But they are. For me. They’re my Psalms. Even With Your Shoes On is so-written, notwithstanding the nuts & bolts, how-to, step-by-step (literally) primer on how to run. This is entirely due to Ms. Hall’s writing style, which is a perfect and precise translation of her talking style. In person, in a one-on-one session, she’s hypnotic. Were I her, I’d be tempted to start a religion. She’s got the talent for it.

And in a way, I guess she did, or at least her own denomination underneath the United Church of Running.

Her book is written using various type faces and other devices that break up some pretty dense text. It’s peppered with bar codes. You point your iPhone’s camera at each and a hypertexed link pops up that takes you to a how-to video Vimeo on how these (seems like Yoga) drill or stretch is performed.

Mostly, though, it’s Ms. Hall’s seductively non-confrontational posture, quoting Benjamin Franklin, Richard Feynman, India Arie and a hundred others. She finds inspiration from both John Wesley and Fifty Shades of Grey. Naturally!

But here’s what I really want to say: I largely agree with what she writes. Which is pretty surprising to me, because Helen Hall (pictured above) has given up all the cushion in her shoes and I’ve taped and glued all her discarded cushion to mine. But she, like me, thinks all the sex is in the midfoot. She’s all about balance, not falling forward, and while she didn’t say it I sense this is where she – and I – part ways with systems like Pose. For me, it’s balance. For her, it’s attention to “vertical”. I think it’s a distinction without a difference. When she writes about cadence, or footstrike, or breathing, or the benefits and perils of working on footspeed, I find myself saying, "Yup." Or at least, "I guess I buy that." Ms. Hall and I have circled the earth in opposite directions and arrived at pretty much the same point.

You might wonder how a book as long and involved as hers needs to be that long and involved. Why not just go out and run? How hard can it be? I get together every July with a couple of hundred 60-something "high school boys" - my running compadres from 45 years ago. Most of these guys ran, in their day, as fast or faster than the fastest of any high schooler running today, so, running was very important to them. It was their religion, and they lost it, that is, they had their religion taken away from them. Almost none of these friends of mine can run today (or they don’t think they can).

So, you may say running is uncomplicated; just ask a 60 year old how complication–free it is.

Accordingly, Ms. Hall’s book is designed for those who take this religion seriously. It’s written for the person who wants to still be running at age-50, 60, 70, who intends to “run the good race” to the very end. Me, I’m still running in my cushioned shoes. But there is charm and treasure in this book, regardless of your preferred shoe tech. Helen Hall, almost thou persuadest me.

Here’s Helen Hall’s page on running. Her book is available for purchase on her site, or from Amazon UK (Ms. Hall lives there). If you live in North America you’re going to have to work a little to get this book; but I’ve ordered from Amazon UK before without incident (I’m in California); and in this particular case, the book came to me directly from Ms. Hall's site. It's 388 pages, published by Soap Box Books, and costs £27.99 (British Pounds).