I began running early one morning in December 1975 when I was in my junior year of high school. My predominant form of wintertime exercise at the time was riding my Raleigh Gran Prix 10-speed bicycle atop a set of Weyless rollers in the basement of our split-level Long Island, New York house. The steel rollers were heavy, and overcoming their resistance for 40 consecutive minutes yielded an intense cardiovascular workout. But recently I had completely disassembled my bicycle for a detailed cleaning, maintenance, and overhaul. With the bare frame and the many small parts spread out on the basement floor, I was lacking the vigorous exercise I was accustomed to, and soon felt sluggish and unhappy. It would be a couple of weeks before I could finish putting my bicycle back together, and I knew that I had to find an alternative. I decided that I would try running, or rather jogging. The term “jogging” was popular in the 1970s, referring to non‑competitive fitness‑oriented running with no emphasis on proper form.
“Running was hard, but I felt great after I did it, and I would soon be addicted.”
I woke earlier than usual that weekday morning before school and headed out into the cold and darkness, embarking on a 1.5-mile loop that included a short but steep hill. Lacking the appropriate workout clothing, my jogging attire included a bulky insulated winter coat and canvas Converse sneakers. What I remember most about that initial run was the pounding on my heels, the pounding of my heart, and feeling alone and embarrassed whenever a car would drive past. While I was in decent shape from cycling, running felt very different. Running was hard, but I felt great after I did it, and I would soon be addicted. I stuck to that same short course for a few weeks before gradually extending the distance. For a while all of my running had been in the early morning darkness. I was uncomfortable with the idea of running in daylight where I would be exposed and attract attention, but one day I pushed myself to do it and found that my fears were unfounded. I felt liberated. Soon I started to think of myself as a runner rather than a jogger. By that spring I had acquired my first pair of running shoes, an Adidas model with a royal blue leather upper and a relatively thin and firm sole. When running in the rain the blue dye from the upper would come off on my socks, or later on when I began running sockless, turn my toes blue. Running with flat feet and a heel-striking form produced medial shin splints. My legs would ache after I ran, and as I increased my weekly distance, it would eventually become debilitating.
At the beginning of my senior year, having been running for less than a year, I joined the Cross Country team. I quit after two weeks because the increase in distance and intensity quickly worsened my shin splints, but I enjoyed it while it lasted, participating in one competitive meet and a very hilly training run at nearby Sunken Meadow State Park.
“During those early years I went through numerous models of running shoes, sometimes modifying them in a frustrating process to find something that worked for me.”
I never learned the proper way to run. Instead, by 1980 I had my first pair of prescription orthotics. The rigid pieces of plastic molded to my feet, allowed me to continue to heel-strike by preventing the over-pronation that resulted in my medial shin splints. During those early years I went through numerous models of running shoes, sometimes modifying them in a frustrating process to find something that worked for me. Knee pain would often sideline me, and anterior shin splints frequently flared up at the start of my runs. Soon, I became dependent on highly structured motion control shoes, and along with my orthotics, I was convinced that I could never run long distances without them. By the mid 1990s I had run many consecutive 40-mile weeks and competed in close to 200 races from 5Ks to marathons. A low-back disk injury, aggravated by my heel-striking running style, forced me to stop running for a year-and-a-half. Following surgery, I gradually resumed running, but at half my previous weekly distance, which for the most part kept me injury free.
“In 2012 I ditched the motion control shoes, and the orthotics that I had depended on for over three decades but now no longer served any purpose, were retired and tossed into the back of a drawer.”
In 2009 a friend gave me a copy of Christopher McDougall’s new best-selling book Born to Run, and by the following spring I began to experiment with a new style of running and my fist pair of minimalist footwear. The Vibram FiveFingers that I now did some of my running in required that I land on my midfoot instead of my heel. My calves were terribly sore following the very short first several runs. It was a lengthy learning experience. I gradually did more running in them, but my form was not quite right and I incurred foot injuries along the way. By 2012 I ditched the motion control shoes, and the orthotics that I had depended on for over three decades but now no longer served any purpose, were retired and tossed into the back of a drawer. My feet were now significantly stronger and I could run in the most minimalist footwear, including sandals, or even barefoot.
“. . . I consider going vegan to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. “
In 2004, as an expression of my commitment to nonviolence and my respect for the interests of animals, I became a vegan. For multiple reasons, I consider going vegan to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. Being vegan is remarkably easy, and the health and performance benefits have enhanced my running as well as my overall life. I recover faster from hard runs than I used to, and I seem to be relatively immune to muscle soreness.
More recently, I returned to school and completed a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Wellness at Arizona State University. I currently work part-time as a certified personal trainer, while I pursue my interest in minimalist running.
Today, running is less stressful to my body. I run without injuries and farther each week than I had during the previous two decades, but most importantly, my running is more enjoyable and fulfilling.
©2013 Kenneth Hopes