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How It All Began…

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I am aware that many of you know my story, but as I approach 3 years to the day – September 9th –  since I shed my shoes, I thought I would tell the story again of…

How it all began …

In August 2016 – I was still a shod runner; but I was an injured runner too…

I am 58 years old and I have been running the whole of my life… I was born in West Africa and my early years were not just bare feet; I was a bare everything child..
This continued to the degree English weather allowed, when we came back to the UK… The bare feet were certainly a usual way of being, even if clothes became a requirement..!

I joined an athletics club when I was 15 years old and I have memories of running barefoot on the grass track all summer long. To get extra training in, I would to leave all my school books in a bag for my sister to carry! And I would get off the bus 4 or 5 miles from our house, and run home – still in my school uniform donning a pair of green flash gym shoes…
I started to compete with great verve, I dreamed of running for England, and the shoes I started to wear were very light, spikes for the track and the lightest of shoes for the road… I ran in very light racing shoes even for the marathon distance. My feet remained strong and my body willing…

I achieved my dream of running for England by the time I was 19 and went on to run at top level – with the ups and downs you might associate with a long term running career – until I was in my early thirties.
Along the way I pushed myself too hard, I lost a lot of the joy of my early years; the freedom in my running style lessened and I started to sustain injuries coming from my back…
I could write reams about healing myself from my injuries… But in short, I knew there must be a way to run free again.
I wanted to be able to run all my life; and I was aware there was tension in my body to be released from years of pressure within me to succeed, and from looking for approval in my running results rather than to approve of myself and express myself in the running step…

Seventeen years ago, I was in a lot of pain, the chronic injuries from the years of pushing making sitting and walking painful, because of sciatic pain – let alone running…!
But I knew there was a way to run free again – my whole life I have worked in the lives of others helping them to be free.. So, it was very vital that… ‘Healer heal thyself…’!
I sought out lots and lots of help; including the orthotics route; and as I was getting organised with the orthotics, which did help me in the process towards running barefoot and free again… I resolved that I would work my way back to the very beginning when my feet were strong enough to carry me and my body was free of pain…

As the years went by I became freer and freer of pain and started to run very well again. By the time I was 50 I was only wearing light insoles rather than orthotics and I wore these in Nike frees…
I also ranked 3rd in the UK for the marathon distance in 2011 – and I ran that race in my Nike frees with the vasylli green insoles…
But I wanted to run barefoot again…
I had tried briefly in 2010, wearing vivobarefoot shoes for awhile, but my ankles didn’t feel strong enough and I was still keen to run the miles and compete…

I met Anadi my now husband in 2012 and in our first conversation we talked about barefoot running, as he had practised a lot of kung fu in bare feet, and used to run barefoot around Trent Park as part of his training…
And so in 2014 when we set off as nomads, I tried again to run in barefoot shoes, this time vibram five fingers, and again my ankles didn’t feel ready…
In retrospect, I also wasn’t ready to back off running to the extent necessary for the transition!

And so we come to August 2016… I had just been running a Zen runners retreat in the Alpujarra mountains in Spain, with ten participants ranging in age from 16 to 70. It had been an amazing week.
We started each day running in the mountains, early, and then sitting on a rock as the sun rose chanting the Gayatri mantra… However as the abilities of the Zen runners were very varied, I did a lot of racing up and down the mountains to look after them, and check they didn’t get lost! And the day after they all left, I felt the pain first in my knee, which then turned into very painful sciatica…a few weeks passed and I was aware that I was letting go of something… Letting go of the final threads that kept me attached to something that wasn’t the absolute truth of my running…

Hard to believe really considering I’m 58 and my Dad hasn’t been on this planet for 23 years; but some final threads to cut of running for him and not me, and the grief of the loss of self in that dynamic.
I could feel it was a big and important process despite the pain in my body…
Little did I know what was to emerge…

At the beginning of September our travels took us to Lanzarote in the Canary islands. There is a beach there I love called Famara beach. I was walking on the beach, my body still unwilling to run. i was watching the surfers warm up in their bare feet and something within me stirred…
‘I wonder…’ I walked some more and then i said to Anadi “I wonder if I can run barefoot, i wonder if that will help my back…’?
The rest is history… I haven’t looked back and almost a year later I was running free of pain and feeling like the teenager I was…!
The transition to being capable of running fifteen miles round Richmond Park occurred over that  year…

I took to gradually gradually gently return to the place I once knew….

In the words I often quote of TS Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

 

 

I have been running all of my life – it feels I was born to run. In the running step I experienced freedom and my true expression. I came to see that I needed to ‘get out of the way of myself’ and let my energy flow through the running step; allow it to express itself in the dance and the motion of running. I ran for England and GB for some years. My first international was in 1979, a three mile cross country race; and I continued to run at international level until 1993. Two of my best results were first place in the Dublin City Marathon in 1985 and 7th place woman, 3rd British woman in the 1986 London Marathon in a time of 2.36.31, which gained me selection for the Commonwealth Games.

As a little girl I ran barefoot for many years, and then I put on shoes to race around the world. Fifty years later I am travelling the world as a nomad with my husband Anadi and I have taken off my shoes and I am running barefoot again….

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Email : juliachitaylor@gmail.com

 

 

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