Gladson Johnson
Gladson Johnson

Gladson Johnson: Running keeps giving

This sports physiotherapist says barefoot running has made him a 'very tough personality'

A sports physiotherapist by profession, Gladson Johnson has always been surrounded by sportspeople and runners. The 33-year-old founder of Attitude Prime, a Bengaluru-based centre for sports and orthopaedic rehabilitation, started running six years ago as part of a rehabilitation programme after he injured his spine during exercise.

After running for a year with shoes, he decided to go barefoot as an experiment. He has completed 11 marathons, 10 of them barefoot, and is looking forward to his 12th—the Bengaluru Marathon on 18 October.

Johnson even organizes a race of his own. Now in its seventh edition, The Run of the Raramuri Tribe is a middle-distance race on a tough course in Bengaluru. The name is inspired by Christopher McDougall’s book Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, And The Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen, which also explains Johnson’s experiment with barefoot running. Edited excerpts from an email interview:

How did you start running?

Six years ago, I had to start running as part of a rehabilitation programme after a spine injury. I liked it so much that I have not stopped till date.

Why and when did you switch to barefoot running?

I did not know much about barefoot running. So, after a year of running with shoes, I decided to experiment. I did this without any advice, so I suffered multiple injuries (such as plantar fasciitis, the iliotibial band syndrome and lower back pain) over the next year. But with proper training and effort, I overcame the injuries and started discovering the benefits of barefoot running.

What is the main difference between running in shoes and barefoot?

The main difference is the impact which the body feels. In barefoot running, the muscles learn to become shock absorbers, while when you run with shoes, a good amount of momentum is generated, which translates into impact on your joints such as the ankle, knee and lower back.

Your favourite running gear.

I keep it simple with Dri-Fit shorts and T-shirt, a Garmin GPS watch and a bottle of electrolyte.

Describe your training regimen.

Completing the race strongly is my primary aim, so I strive to strike a balance between strength, flexibility and endurance exercises. I run mostly once a week, thrice I do strength and flexibility conditioning exercises, and I also cycle and swim once a week. When I want to break the mental barrier of boredom, I run anything between 10-25km on a 400m track at the Sree Kanteerava stadium.

How do you fit your workouts into your daily life?

My training does not interfere with family time. I have a wife and two kids and I finish my exercises before they wake up in the morning. I have exercised for over 16 years now, and have learnt to manage everything in my life around it. I have not changed my diet much but have increased my food intake. I believe in home food and do not take any supplements or anything which cannot be sustained over longer periods. I am a strict teetotaller.

How has running benefited you?

I have run barefoot for five years now and I feel very agile because of it. Running barefoot helps me keep injuries at bay. Barefoot running has made me more aware of the demands that my body makes and hence it helps me to detect any kind of stress or strain in the body before it can manifest in the form of injuries. Mentally, it has made me a very tough personality as my feet are exposed to literally everything while running but still learn how not to get punctured. Running keeps on giving and I am discovering new benefits with every passing year.

How do you recover after a marathon?

After a race, I resort to active recovery. I reduce the intensity of my workouts for a week following race day, but still exercise. The body recovers faster while doing low-intensity exercises rather than taking time off and doing nothing.

Is there some personal goal that you have set yourself?

I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon before I turn 40. It means completing the marathon in under 3 hours and 5 minutes. Currently, my best is 4 hours, 15 minutes.

Which was your toughest race and why?

My toughest race till date has been my very own event, The Run of Raramuri Tribe, for which I am the race director. The course is short and full of steep inclines and climbs all through.

On the Run is a monthly series that profiles the most enthusiastic Indian marathon runners.

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