My 8 year old weighs in on the barefoot running debate

Pic: courtesy summerscurry.blogspot.com

Last Saturday, our 3rd grader had his annual school sports day. Since he had qualified for the heats in two categories (75 meter and 30 meter sprints), he was tickled pink and excited for weeks leading up to this event. Sadly, it was a low-key event with parents not being invited. When I went to pick him up, the first thing I noticed was that he was barefoot. As the sports meet was not over yet I was looking for body language clues on how he had fared. Besides flashing his usual gorgeous smile, there was to be no indication (I made a mental note that we need to play Charades more often).

As the line of 3rd graders walked towards the waiting parents, one of the kids turned to my younger son with “Your brother came first!” A few minutes later, a beaming S walks in to the frame and jubilantly announced that he had won the 75 meter sprint and came second in the 30 meter sprint. In one fell swoop, S had won more sports medals at school than the last few generations of Kurugantis combined.

For last year’s sports meet, S had trained for his runs with “spike shoes”. In a strange anti-climax, he ran his races in his regular canvas shoes because he “didn’t get time to change.” This year I advised him to just run in his canvas shoes since he had not trained with the spike shoes.

S couldn’t wait to tell us about his adventures in barefoot running. The story came out in breathless bursts on the drive home as he (and his brother) chomped down on 5-Star victory bars.

S: “I ran the first qualifying race with the canvas shoes. Came fifth but still qualified for next stage.”

Me: “Hmm…”

S: “I noticed a few of my friends running barefoot so I thought let me give it a try for the next race. I ran barefoot in the ‘semi-final’ race and came first. So I decided to run barefoot for the rest of the races.”

Me: “Interesting. So how was it running barefoot, S?”

S: “I LOVED it! I could grip the ground soooo much better, especially with all my toes! I’m going to run barefoot next year too. Can I run barefoot for the next 5k race too?

Me: (Clearing throat) “We’ll talk about your next 5k race later.”

S (chuckling a bit): “You know the best part about winning the 75m dash? …(continues) Beating AM, who was even wearing spikes!”

(AM is a good friend of S and they share a friendly running rivalry. Last year, AM had beaten S quite comfortably. On a coincidental note, AM’s father and I were classmates in Timpany School, Vizag circa mid-1980’s).

Back in November 2011, after reading The Once and Future Way to Run (by the legendary Christopher McDougall), I started giving serious consideration to barefoot running. Perhaps in the 2012 season, I thought to myself. Turns out my 8 year old has beaten me to it.

The curious case of the traveling chairman

NPS Koramangala - Pic courtesy npsinr.com

It was Bangalore Day #5 and our first Friday. I had taken the day off for the express purpose of visiting the top school on our short list – National Public School. In a separate post (Masti ki paathshala), I will discuss our criteria in choosing the right school for our kids and how National Public School (“NPS” for short) captured our imagination. NPS Indiranagar (the first campus) was founded in 1982 by Dr. K. P. Gopalkrishna, and who still serves as the Chairman of the (now) four campuses. NPS Koramangala (started in 2003) and NPS HSR Layout (started in 2007) were our target locations since we were converging on Koramangala as our future neighbourhood.

Since the school year had already started 2+ months ago, a colleague advised me that our best bet was to ‘seek an audience’ with Dr. Gopalkrishna and impress upon him why NPS was our top choice. So off we headed to NPS Koramangala. We got there pretty early but were greeted by a queue of eager parents ahead of us. “Early parent catches the proverbial school seat”, I muttered to myself. I joined the queue while P kept the kids busy in the waiting area. I stated my desire to meet Chairman G and pat came the reply – “the Chairman is traveling”. Attempts to gather an eta proved futile. Dejected, I rounded up the family and we started trooping out.

As we reached the gate, a spanking green Skoda Laura passed us. Like any self-respecting nosy Indian would do, I peered inside the tinted windows. I glimpsed a suited gentleman in the back seat. My Sherlock Holmes instincts on overdrive, I asked the guard if it was Chairman G in the Skoda. He answered in the affirmative. We hurried back inside the school and I got back in line. When I announced that I wanted to meet the ‘recently returned from his travels’ Chairman, the lady (now smiling) asked me how I knew. Purely rhetorical question of course. Now that the cat was out of the bag, she asked me to write down my ‘particulars’ (Indian term for name & purpose). After an additional thirty minutes, we got the audience.

We had no real expectations from this meeting. False! The eternally unrealistic optimist (read “me”) expected the closing lines to sound something like this “Mr. and Mrs. Kuruganti, I am so impressed with your background, credentials and excellent moral standing. Even though the school year started two months ago and our classrooms are full, I’m willing to make an exception for your boys – in whose eyes I can already see their future academic brilliance.”

Ok. So the interview didn’t quite end that way but you knew that, right? We had a really interesting (and at times argumentative) discussion. I’ll save the specifics for a latter addendum. This post has gestated a full 50 days – if I postpone any longer, it won’t see the light of day.

Dec 21 2008 Update: Found this comprehensive and excellent post on Bangalore schools by blogger Chitra Iyer (this is her new blog site):

http://r2blore.blogspot.com/2007/02/list-of-good-schools-in-bangalore.html

Feb 21 2009 Update: In late January, out of the blue we got a call from NPS Koramangala that our 3 year old had been accepted into the Montessori program. Apparently the Montessori 2-year program runs parallel to the kindergarden program. We had applied to the kindergarden program yet they considered our son for the Montessori. After thinking about the admission decision for a few days (virtually unheard of based on the reaction of the admission officials), we accepted. We had to pay the entire school year’s tuition 6 months before the school year even began – nice! Then again, this appears to be the standard operating procedure in all Bangalore (perhaps all Indian?) schools.

Apr 18 2009 Update:  Shortly after S wrote the admission test for NPS Koramangala (1st Grade), we made a few trips to both the NPS branches – Koramangala and HSR Layout. Turns out my mind had played a trick and I owe someone an apology. When I wrote this post in mid-Oct 2008 and compared the NPS Koramangala receptionist to folks working in a government office, it was really the NPS HSR Layout receptionist I was thinking about. The receptionist lady at Koramangala, with whom I had several recent cordial conversations recently is a fine and decent woman and I’m sorry I mistakenly maligned her (via this blog post) from Oct ’08 to Apr ’09. I’ve edited the relevant section and moved it below..

——–start retracted portion

If you haven’t been to an Indian government office in quest of [insert_your_favorite_service_here], some background is in order. The person ‘behind the desk’ holds a position of great power. And clearly they never heard of with great power comes great responsibility. Entire tomes can be written about the government peon, the clerk, the hospital compounder (Indian title for a medical assistant) but… suffice it to say that a common operating theme is to infuriate the ‘service requester’. This is not to say that they are all cut from the same cloth. No sir! Their style can range from the bored and the lazy ignorerto the doing_you_a_big_favour to the cant_you_tell_I_am_really_important.

NPS Koramangala HSR Layout is no government office but the lady at the reception desk was an interesting blend of the aforementioned profiles. When it came to my turn, her expression bore a mixture of boredom and mild annoyance.

—- end retracted portion