I was recently for business purposes in Prague, in Czech Republic (after transiting through Helsinki). As you may already know, I did some barefoot running while in Barcelona, and now try to keep running barefoot anytime I am abroad. While Prague certainly leads in the category of the most beautiful cities of the world, it is also a tough terrain for barefoot running. Barefoot running in Prague’s old city involves indeed running on disjointed pavements most of the time.
As you may know, I regularly run barefoot in Hong Kong and I also do hike barefoot. I also often do some quick runs to the mall barefoot, which gives me a quick exercise and the occasion of both, facing social awkwardness and using my bare feet in different contexts.
It is thus that while not being a full-time barefooter (work and social conditions do not allow it), I do try to do barefoot exercise as much as possible. This reinforces my leg muscles and my feet, and of course, also my social comfort being barefoot. But more importantly, it allows my feet to experience a variety of terrain, thus reinforcing skin and muscular structure of the feet.
The Old city
The old city of Prague is replete with historic buildings, and mainly old huge pavements. The sidewalks are filled with smaller cobbles, but are thus also an irregular surface for running. On my first run, I had the lovely surprise of encountering a barefooted statue of “harmony” on the banks of the Moldau. This was probably the best part, as running on the banks of the Moldau (or Vlatava as it is called in Czech), and the small gravel and sand did not cause any discomfort.
During the day, running in the old town is difficult due to the great number of tourists in the month of May. I thus started my runs generally towards 6 AM.
An idea of the tourists on Prague’s Charles bridge…
If running in the morning took care of the tourists, the surface remained harsh to run upon. My first run took me right up to the Prague castle, which at 6.30 AM was deserted. Running that early allows you to use the warm morning light and it gave my picture quite a flavour of Tuscany. And no, I did not use any filter!
Running in the city
For people who are paranoid about glass on the floor, I did not encounter any while running in Prague. Whether at the castle or in the city, there was no glass to harm my feet, nor other dangerous items. While I would not say Prague is as clean as Helsinki, it is reasonably clean.
However, running barefoot on disjointed pavement or huge coblestones requires some care, but I surprised myself by running about normally on that terrain. It did not cause any discomfort (testifying to months of barefooting and acclimatization of my feet).
Afterwards, however, my footpads were a bit sensitive, but I trust a few weeks of running on that terrain would have taken care of that too.
Social look on barefooting in Prague
With regards to the acceptation of barefooting, I saw a Czech lady barefooting in the park (and apparently, she did not carry any shoes with her), and a few English people also barefooting in the old city. However, despite encountering a number of runners, I did not see any who were running barefoot.
While I got some weird looks, just two openly negative reactions… A group of guys who saw me walking back to my hotel barefoot and started laughing loudly and openly after I passed them. And finally, the receptionist of the 5-star hotel where I was residing who told a customer : “yes, there are strange people”, after they saw me coming back barefoot.
Pushing back the comfort zone
When running barefoot, you must be ready to push back your comfort zone. Part of this implies being ready for and being unfazed with such reactions. I made the choice of a certain lifestyle and a given way of life and I am ready to accept the constraints that come with it. I also don’t mind being considered as weird or strange or “poor”. It is actually quite a luxury of having a decent lifestyle and being able to be careless about how you look.
Nevertheless, being a barefooter does not entail any philosophical or ethical consideration for me (not doing it because of “earthing” or whatever “hippie” feelings). It just is a lifestyle which helped me to overcome a physical issue and which has provided me a lot of satisfaction in various manners since I started it. I have the necessary self-confidence to put up with the abuse or curiosity. Running barefoot in various countries around the world allows us this comfort zone to be pushed back.
I would say however, that being shoeless and being able to run shoeless means that I need less things. In a way, this encourages minimalism and a more zen approach to life. It also increases tremendously self-confidence (ok, it must already be quite high to be able to do it).
Barefoot running anywhere
Contrary to popular fears, barefoot running in the city is not a solution for injuries provided you watch where you run and provided you take the time to condition your feet. Taking it slow initially is an essential requirement. Beyond the fear of injury, the most obvious issue you may be facing, would be the social awkwardness when running barefoot. People will stare or even comment or laugh at you. This is inevitable. For some reason, in Hong Kong, a lot of people run shirtless, but elicit no comment at all. Run barefoot and everybody stares or is uneasy. There is an almost freudian paradox in this aspect of society.
The Statue of Harmony
This statue on the banks of the Moldau, actually refers to Sri Chinmoy, an Indian sect leader who was active in the USA in the 1960’s. While you may wonder why such a statue was placed in Prague, it made for an interesting encounter in the morning.
Nevertheless, as a matter of fact, that particular day, I felt that running barefoot also allowed me to reach my own personal harmony.