Barefoot Bikila

We are now one month away from the Rome Marathon; in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been having some issues with my left calf and calves, and I had to back off both distance and speed. My idea of trying to achieve a personal best (PB) is now gone, and all I want is to make it to race day injury-free and as healthy as I can.

Overcoming the obsessive idea of doing this race for time has been hard, but it made me realize and remember the purpose of all of this: it goes beyond a silly Strava badge. It's about the primal feeling that running gives me, but also about telling a story that surpasses my own persona and goals.

That said, today I want to bring back a story that truly exemplifies the fundamental nature of running to human beings.

Let’s go back to the late summer of 1960, before gels, hyper-tech meshes, and speed shoes were invented. It’s September 10th, Rome is hosting the Olympic Games, and the Marathon course is about to start. Unlike most races nowadays, it took place in the evening instead of the morning.

On the starting line, an unknown 28-year-old Ethiopian, completely barefoot, awaits the sound of the gun among 68 other men. His name is Abebe Bikila, who was called up to replace Wami Biratu in the Ethiopian Olympic team as he was injured. He wasn’t a professional athlete but just an Imperial Guard, a father of two, who used to run on the plateau of his homeland.

As the new shoes he was given were causing him blisters beforehand, he decided to run the course barefoot, across the cobblestones and monumental track, just like an ancient warrior.

He crossed the finish line first, surprising everyone, clinching the gold medal back home, and setting a World Record and a personal best that he probably didn’t care much about.

Bikila’s story is about the unpredictable; it underscores how unpredictability is intrinsic to running. It’s a response to our primitive beings, a response no matter the weather, the day, the time, the pain—it's just about surrendering yourself to the unpredictable with grace.