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Friday, September 23, 2011

Fan Friday: Aaron Trevino

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This week's Fan Friday post comes to us from Aaron Trevino, who many of you may know as The Barefoot Puffin.  Aaron works at a county hospital in the military town of Lawton, Oklahoma.  He's also a new barefoot runner and blogger at Barefoot Puffin, where he writes about his transition to barefoot running. 

Aaron's story is unique in that in addition to transitioning to bare feet, he's also transitioning to a whole new body.  In December 2009, Aaron underwent gastric bypass surgery.  Since that time, he's lost an amazing 85 lbs!  Go Aaron!

I get a lot of questions from runners who consider themselves overweight about whether barefoot running is safe for them.  So I asked Aaron to talk about his experience, and share his tips on running barefoot to lose weight.  Here's what he said.  My comments are in bold.

What is your fitness background?

I've always considered myself athletic.  However, my definition of that has changed over the years.  I played baseball in highschool.  Prior that that I played football in middle school, but torn ligaments in both my ankles (no longer an issue thanks to barefoot running) took me out of that sport. 

After high school I went to Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  There I was a frequent gym rat, lifting more for power than aesthetics.  I focused on compound movements, and, due to my weight at the time, ignored running entirely. 

Why did you decide to get gastric bypass surgery?

My family has always struggled with our weight.  My mom decided to undergo gastric bypass 2 years before I did, and after seeing her results and new found happiness/enegery/love for life, I decided to undergo the procedure in October of 2009.  I had my procedure in December of 2009, and haven't looked back since. The surgery has changed my life in so many ways, and opened my life up for a world of opportunities that I didn't know even existed.

What did you do for exercise after bypass surgery?

Immediately following bypass, I got back into weight lifting.  But following my gastric bypass surgery I literally could not EAT the amounts of calories needed to facilitate muscle growth at the rate that I was used to.  So, my gains in the gym became smaller and smaller until they were almost non-existant.  This became frustrating and I started looking at other physical activities to pursue.

Why did you start running?

After 2 years of struggling with the weights, and not making the progress I wanted, I went in search of something new.  Something that I could do on such a restricted caloric intake that would provide me the feeling of self improvement that I was looking for.  Exercise is the key to keeping the weight off after surgery, and I wasn't going to let this new found energy and desire to experience life sit by the way side.  This turned me to running.

Why did you start running barefoot and in minimal shoes?

As I started running I discovered I was in better shape than I thought.  I was breezing, cardiovascularly speaking, through the runs.  However, I'd end with backache and shin splits from hell.  It was frustrating.

Enter Born to Run.  Yah...I know, almost everyone's barefoot experience starts with that book.  However, it wasn't the Raramuri indians that inspired me.  It wasn't Chris either.  It was Caballo Blanco.  He said, "First start with easy, because if that's all you got then that aint bad.  Light and fast will follow." 

That quote (yeh, it's misquoted there) is what inspried me to try a simpler method of running.  Something more natural.  I read that, and it sort of clicked.  I was like..shit...That makes a lot of sense.  I've transitioned that sentence, or at least the inspiration from it, to different aspects of my life including my diet and recreational activities.  It just makes a lot of sense to me.

I first started with [Vibram] Five Fingers.  Then within a month of wearing the Bikila model, I wanted to real thing.  I kicked my shoes off for the last .25 miles of my normal 1.5 mile run and never looked back.  I ocassionaly wear my (many styles) of huarches, and ONLY my Vibrams when I'm wanting to do some really fast miles around the bike path.

Was your transition different because of your weight at the time?

Not really.  It might take me longer because I wasn't a runner before, but I also feel that if I were still 300+ pounds that I would be able to run safely barefoot, and not have much more of a challenge.  It would simply take longer.  That's all. 

In fact, I think that's the single most important challenge that most people have to accept.  This transition takes TIME.  No, not a few weeks, try a few months, possibly years.  This is especially problematic if you are already logging high mileage in shoes.  It's quite the blow to the ego for regular runners to switch to barefoot running and watch their mileage get reset to essentially 0.

This is another huge ego boost for us overweight folks.  No ego to get in our way.  We start from ground 0 and work our way up.  No little voice saying, "lets bang out a long run today".  No little voice saying, "just put your shoes on...we can run farther than this".  Instead, we have lungs that are begging to stop; usually before our feet are telling us to stop.  That's a big help in the early transition.  We have self limitations, and we generally don't know any better.

Do you think barefoot running is a good alternative to traditional running for someone that is overweight?

Absolutely.  For more than just the obvious reason of losing weight.  In my opinion, overweight people suffer from more than just being overweight.  I know I suffered from low self esteem, and that stemmed directly from not liking my body.  As odd as it seems, barefoot running has made me more comfortable in my own skin.  Sure losing weight has helped with that, but nothing has made me care less about what other people think than the fact that I'm the only person in races that shows up barefoot, runs barefoot, and leaves barefoot.  I'm the only one at the park that runs barefoot, and I get all kinds of looks/comments/etc.  I've learned that it shouldn't bother me what other people think.

On a physical aspect of exercise barefoot running surpasses all other forms of physical acitivy.  Not because it burns more calories, or gets your heart working better, but because of what it doesn't do.  It doesn't place unecessary stress on your joints and muscles.  It doesn't require a ton of equipment, and it doens't require a membership.  What it does do is teach to you listen to your body. 

I believe that overweight people actually have an advantage in the transition to barefoot running.  I believe that because, for the large part, our cardiovascular systems are just as untrained as our barefeet.  So even though our feet may feel fine, we may not be able to run that last .5 miles because we can't breathe.  That places a limit on the amount of too much too soon we can do.  Also, learning to listen to your body will help you in more than just running.  Learning to understand when we are full and should stop shoveling in the food and take get away from the table.  In fact, I've learned that listening to our bodies is so important, that I TRULY believe, had I learned to do so earlier in life, I wouldn't have needed the gastric bypass.

Do you have any tips for overweight folks that are looking to start barefoot/minimlist running?

The biggest tip that I have for an overweight person starting the transition is to take it slow.  Not because I'm afraid they'll get injured.  Anyone can get injured starting out. I want them to take it slowly because we need to learn to listen to our bodies.  This applies to everyone, but it really strikes home with overweight people. Listening to our bodies, how certain things make us react, is a skill that has been forgotten in today's society.  We don't stop to think how that cheeseburger made our gut feel.  We don't stop to associate that tired feeling with an insulin spike.  We don't think that tingling sensation in our feet is bad.  That is, until it turns into a burning sensation.  Then we take the running, the food, or whatever it is that gave us that negative stimulus, and we blame it.

It's not the ground's fault that YOU weren't watching where YOU were putting your feet.  It's not that burger's fault that you ate it too quickly and got indigestion.  We just need to SLOW SLOW SLOW DOWN.  If we do that and take the time to listen to what our bodies say, we'd all be a lot healthier and happier.  At least that's how I feel.

I believe it really is that simple.  Just listen.  If it hurts, find out WHY it hurts.  Chances are, it's probably you.  Doing this wil also make it easier to differentiate between discomfort and pain.  They aren't the same thing.  Running barefoot won't be comfortable the first few times you do it.  Your feet are undertrained.  But it shouldn't HURT.  Pain should be avoided.  Discomfort can be tweaked into nonexistence.

"Pain should be avoided.  Discomfort can be tweaked into nonexistence."  Words to live by my friends.  Words to live by...

Well folks, another week has come to a close.  By the time you read this I'll probably be on a plane to NYC for the NYC Barefoot Run.  I promise to represent strong for my loyal readers and fans.  I also promise to wear my cape with pride as I take to the streets for a little barefoot running action.  Race report and many photos to follow!  Start spreading the news citizens!  Cheers!


  1. Thanks for the post Christian. Truly a great opportunity to be a guest on a blog that inspires myself and is held with much respect within the community.



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