Nothing compares to barefoot running, says Milind Soman

  • Milind Soman, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 06, 2014 18:24 IST

There are two reasons why I, a national-level swimmer, have become so enamoured of running. The first is logical: running and walking are natural ways to keep fit; also the easiest and most convenient.

But the other reason is that, even when I was a child, I wanted to run a marathon. And when the annual Mumbai marathon started in 2004, I knew I had to take part. There was no way that I could not run a marathon in my own city.

Get on your feet: Milind Soman, also the founder of Pinkathon, will run at the next event to be held in Delhi on September 14

So I took part in the half marathon with Gul Panag, and I was hooked. I had an amazing feeling of achievement after that 21km run – it’s actually quite a distance! But I trained for three-four months, and found it very easy.

When you run every day, it feels great. It’s like a constant reaffirmation of your capabilities. You don’t need any special training and you can run to feel happy, not to break records. At least, that’s why I run. I don’t run for timing or for performance. I run because I love to run.

Lots of people say that running gives you a high – all those endorphins are released in the brain. I don’t know the science of it, but I can tell you, when you’re running, your physical, mental and spiritual energy all come together. It is like meditation: all the energy coming together and focussing on one activity.

No shoes please running, which is what I do, is actually the most natural way of running: another aspect of experiencing what running has to offer. I’ve read a bit about it. Your hands, your feet and your face actually have the maximum number of nerves in the entire body.

What these nerves do is send a signal to your brain on how to respond. So when I touch a phone with my bare fingers, my brain gets a signal about it. It tells me I’m touching a phone. But when I wear thick gloves and touch the phone, my brain can’t understand what exactly I’m touching – a book perhaps, or something else.

It’s the same with your feet. When you wear shoes, you will not get the correct signal from the ground to your brain about what exactly you’re stepping on, so your body can’t respond correctly.
I’m not saying shoes are bad or that going barefoot is the best way to run. But when you do any activity incorrectly, whether it is walking, sitting or running, you give your body undue stress. So when you run incorrectly, your back or any other part of your body can get injured.

Not dangerous

When you run barefoot, your body is constantly told how to respond to various surfaces. So your balance, your coordination, the foot strike, the impact – everything is taken care of by the body’s response. Trillions of responses happen in the body at the same time. It is instinctive. You have to allow the body to take care of itself.

When you run barefoot, you start by running very, very slowly. The body begins to train itself. Then you slowly increase your speed and distance.

Many barefoot runners take tetanus shots to ward off possible infections from cuts and wounds, but I haven’t done that because I haven’t had any cuts or deep wounds as yet. I just had a scratch once, from a tiny splinter. The tetanus bacteria is in fact everywhere, all around you. But it has to go deep into your body to really grow.

I run anywhere and everywhere. Different surfaces are important. Grass, concrete, gravel, tar. In Delhi, I love to run at India Gate, and Lodhi Garden is beautiful. Except for Mumbai, all the cities I visit have beautiful places where I can run. Mumbai, with all its potholes, garbage and everything, is like an exercise in itself.

People complain about it, but I don’t bother. During the rains, I wear very thin vibrams (rubber outsoles) as the skin is more vulnerable to cuts and bacteria. I love running in the rain.

I’m not saying that fat people are not fit or that only a particular body shape is fit. No, for me the ability to deal with situations of all kinds – whether physically, emotionally or mentally – is fitness.

If your emotions are balanced, your mind is functioning properly and you are able to deal with situations properly, then you are fit. We see so many world-class athletes who are unstable. They are definitely not fit in the right sense of the word.


* Begin with barefoot running. Whether you wear shoes or not, your body has to train itself slowly. But when you wear shoes, you feel you can run faster with their support, and that isn’t good. Your body has to train itself gradually.

* When you start running at the age of 35-40, your heart and lungs respond quickly and you feel energetic, but remember, your muscles haven’t grown. In fact, after 20 years of little exercise, your muscles have deteriorated completely. So you have to allow your muscles to grow. That will take two to three years.

* Along with running, core exercises are also important. You can do planks, crunches and hanging leg raises. You have to work on your core as this area needs to be energised.

* Avoid artificial sweeteners, refined sugar and non-vegetarian food as much as possible. Honey and jaggery are fine, but moderation is the key.

Milind Soman is also a model
(As told to Veenu Singh)

Follow @VeenuSingh12 on twitter

From HT Brunch, September 7
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