For the past 10 years (2 times per year!), I have been invited to speak at the Credit Valley Hospital Teen Running Programme in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. This is a programme launched by Dan McGann – a medical Social Worker whose clients are mainly teenagers battling various mental health issues.
As a frame of reference regarding how Dan and I met, let me take you back almost 15 years. This is when Dan decided to run a marathon and joined a running clinic. I happened to be leading said clinic! Dan was 1 of a group of 25 whom I successfully trained to complete the Mississauga marathon. From then forward, Dan and I stayed in contact periodically. Eleven years ago, Dan talked to me about the viability of offering a 12 week running programme as a means of naturally improving the mental health condition of his teenage clients. The limited research at the time indicated that physical exercise (and specifically running) was intimately important in its ability to positively impact was the mental state of troubled teens.
Dan proceeded to get approval from the hospital and minimal funding to launch the Teen Running Programme. Remembering back to his time training with me, Dan asked if I would attend one of the sessions and speak to the kids about:
- my squat-scoot style of mid-foot, safe, efficient running
- my philosophy around barefoot running
- my aversion to wearing any form of ‘coffin’ (running shoe)
- my enthusiasm toward the positive influence of running on mental health
- my Team Over The Top mantra “Believe and Achieve” and how this applies to the kids’ day to day lives
- my technical approach to running safely before all else (practice perfectly or don’t bother – you’ll simply get hurt and quit!)
I was only too willing to do so. Thus began a 10 year journey of me addressing the kids and the kids addressing the old coach. I learn as much about life from the kids as I impart on them. We make a promise to each other at the beginning of each presentation – “all of you promise to be present with me for the next hour and I promise that you will learn a new, valuable lesson”. Inevitably, we both keep our promises!
My approach is:
- have the kids show me their current running technique
- take them through a few drills to lock in my squat-scoot technique
- get them barefoot to activate the whole body in preparation for the squat-scoot technique
- to demonstrate my Squat-Scoot technique – barefoot, of course – and then have them go through various drills geared toward my tight, light, compact, forward style (the 4 pillars of my safe technique of running)
- to introduce the Barefoot-Science patented graded pad insert system (it actually STRENGTHENS the feet and the rest of the body instead of BRACING it as per orthotics and ‘coffins’)
- to discuss the challenge of running (it’s the single most difficult thing the teens will attempt in their lives) and the endorphin stimulant release from running that helps improve the mental state
- to understand that life is about choices and BELIEVING that you can ACHIEVE things beyond your wildest dreams – without drugs, anxiety, depression
The teens inevitability feel a reduction in negative stress and anxiety by the end of my session with them. They also comment on how much better it is to run barefoot – less pounding on their joints, quieter impact, more feedback to the rest of their body. This further reinforces to me (and Dan) the importance of physical activity for mental well-being. Drug treatment and therapy still play important roles BUT now it is proven that regular physical activity (and especially running) is an integral part – not just of Dan’s programme but of many offshoot pogrammes now offered throughout Canada.
Much more work in this area needs to been done yet. With the commitment and willingness of health professionals to ‘think outside the box’, the future is much brighter for all youth battling mental health issues.
Going barefoot at any time, anywhere is critically important to one’s overall well-being. So what the hell are you waiting for? Get barefoot and thrive!!