Last weekend someone sent me a short video about “earthing”, or “grounding”. The idea is, like electrical appliances, our bodies need to be grounded to avoid holding onto concentrations of electricity that cause shocks, and inflammation in our bodies. We certainly conduct energy. Anyone who has every rubbed their feet on a carpet in order to build up a charge to shock their third grade teacher knows this to be true. The film short focuses on a guy who tested out his theory that with the invention of rubber insulated we were kept from our natural state of being grounded. To test his theory he put some metal tape on his bed and ran a ground wire through the window to a ground pin in the dirt. That night he slept better than he had in years and the pain that had been plaguing him was gone. He went to a hospital and talked them into a doing a study. Apparently the results were strong so they did another much larger study. That one worked even better. When I checked the results online I found a page on the National Center for Biotechnology website that had compiled a large number of studies that seem to point to the theory having validity.

DOWN TO EARTH from Big Picture Ranch on Vimeo.

Each morning I try to walk in the meadow behind my house. In the evening I go for a run there. This week I have walked barefoot to give myself some grounding time. I have also run barefoot in the afternoon. The first day felt pretty good. While being careful of sharp rocks and poison ivy was an issue, I ran pretty well when I was on the grass. Frankly, it felt pretty good. My calves were pretty sore the next morning but they loosened up a bit as I walked. That afternoon they were even stiffer when I started on my run. As I traversed the pathways I paid attention to how much more attention I had to pay to my balance and my footfall without the protection of my shoes. One part of the ground discussion had to do with the fact that rubber shoe soles insulate us from the grounding action of the earth. They also “protect” us from dangers like broken glass, sharp stones, pebbles, and snakes. Through that protective mechanism they “allow” us to be less conscious of our environment. Running barefoot made me a lot more conscious of both the environment and my movement. Apparently it also forced me to use a lot of muscles I don’t usually use.

When my “back went out” in 2011 my left leg went numb and my big toe, and the rest of the toes really, lost most of their strength. I tried doing some exercises to build them back up but they haven’t been all that effective. My left leg is probably about 70% as muscular as my right leg, my toes are still very weak, and my left calf is small and tight. I try to run as normally as I can and I have been surprised that the muscles haven’t grown back as much. There has been very incremental progress though. When I first started to run I sprained my ankle quite often. That hasn’t happened in a while and I am hoping that my barefoot running will spark some real muscle building. The third day my calves were so sore I decided to do a second barefoot walk rather than a run. My fourth day I had a pretty good run but both my calves were sore and tight. I know that the pain isn’t “Sarno” related. It’s clearly sore muscle pain from using muscles in ways they haven’t been used in a while. It’s been really good for me to become a regular runner, but I still don’t move with the kind of effortless I did when I was younger. I hope that the barefoot running might get be back on track.

As a kid we were often participating in sports; rec league soccer, tennis, basketball, and baseball were all on our schedule before we were 10. While my twin brother and I liked to play sports we weren’t particularly adept at any of them and we wouldn’t have been too out of place on the bad news bears (my father bore a strong resemblance in features and attitude to Walter Matthau). When we were 8 or 9 my parents signed us up for a local track and cross-country team. I wasn’t great at running, but I was competing in local 10k races by the time I was 10 and that made me feel more competent than sitting on the bench in rec league basketball.


When I was 11 I started race-walking in track meets. My knees hyperextend a little bit so the whole swivel the hips and keep one foot on the ground at all times thing worked out pretty well for me. Although it was kind of odd I didn’t get made fun of that much. The other advantage of race walking was that it wasn’t as competitive as the middle distance races like the mile and the 3k so I had a chance to excel. There was an older coach who was a pretty good race walker, and since I was one of the only kids who took to it he had time to really work with me. In my second year I improved enough to get second place in the state meet and third in the regionals. There weren’t a huge number of race walkers but most teams had 1 or 2.

By the time I got to junior high school I started to get a little bit better at cross-country and a lot less interested in race walking. I wasn’t good, but I wasn’t bad either. I ran in the middle of the pack and general my times steadily improved. My older sister had run cross-country in high school and I was drawn towards the rebellious, outsider nature of the local team. They had a history of being very good at racing and very punk in their attitude. When I was in ninth grade (junior high school at the time) I got a ride to the high school with a friend’s mom and she and I both ran as freshman. While most of the other teams had matching sweats our team looked like a mess and one of the guys always carried a boom box blasting the Clash.

I ran cross-country all through high school but I ended up getting slower rather than faster. It wasn’t that I quit trying, but instead because I go so stressed out about races that I would hyperventilate at the start and had to slow down. In races 4 or 5 guys that I could often run faster than in practice breezed by me in races. I know it had a lot more to do with my mind than it did with my lungs, but I wasn’t able to get over it. After my senior year a couple of friends and I ran a marathon because we knew we’d probably not be in that good of shape again. It was tough, I barely made it through the last mile. After high school I continued to run off and on for years. Even when I wasn’t in great shape I could move pretty smoothly. I’ve been running again for about 2 and a half years now, and while I have gotten stronger, I don’t have the same light step I once did. I’ve been barefoot running for a week now and the soreness is subsiding. There is profound improvement in the strength of my foot as well. I’m feeling hopeful.

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